It's summer fete season and I have the good fortune to have an unwell child, which means I have a legitimate excuse to avoid the school gate with its ever present press gang of PTA members. Of course if I dare to breach the perimetre of the school gates in a dash to drop or pick up from nursery I must run the gauntlet of their clip boards and oh-so-polite notices in the classroom door.
It's not that I mind helping out at the school, in fact I quite enjoy whipping up a batch of fairy cakes and I can even be persuaded to brave the baking hot school hall filled with shrieking children that is the fair itself, but God preserve me from manning a stall. I find dealing with my own children in the state of high excitement induced by crowds of their peer group and excessive consumption of overpriced candyfloss hard enough to cope with, let alone dealing with a whole school full of them.
I am just not a child-friendly person. I have friends who can instantly come down to the level of any child, coaxing smiles from tears, telling a joke that it pitched perfectly for their infant audience. These are the mums who have Tardis like bags that hold everything from sachets of Calpol to silencing snacks, a fascinating array of toys and enough nappies and wipes to service a nursery. I am the kind of mum who discovers that she forgot to pack tissues just after her child has sneezed a gush of snot down his face, or that I have no nappies or wipes as the poo seeps through a pastel babygro.
It might sound ironic, coming from a mum of four, but I can't cope with children en masse. Again I know many other mothers who think nothing of having dozens of children milling around their house, taking all the waifs and strays their children collect at nursery, school and in the park and feeding each and every one of them a nutritious home cooked tea. They have sleepovers for dozens and host vast parties for the whole class in their cramped back garden. The mere prospect has me hyperventilating into a brown paper bag.
I had the boys' cousin for a sleepover (our first) this weekend and I was tense with anxiety from the moment he arrived until his dad picked him up the next morning. Not that he was any trouble, well no more than three young boys always are, it's just that I couldn't relax with an alien child, albeit a related one, in our midst.
Perhaps it's because with my own children I can scream and shout at them to get them to behave, whereas with someone else's child I feel the urge to come across as reasonable and fun. Or perhaps it's just the fear that if something were to happen to him in my care I would never be forgiven or forgive myself, or perhaps I just don't like children, other than my own, that much. It's probably a bit of all of these things, but either way the experience has left a pall of exhaustion hanging over me for the entire weekend, so it clearly didn't agree with me.
This is why I duck and dive to avoid the clutches of the PTA. It's not that I don't wholeheartedly support their efforts and I am happy to shell out vast sums of cash to show my solidarity, I don't mind giving up my evenings to cake baking and stuffing pots for the jarbola stall, just please, please, please don't make me have to stand behind our class stall and deal with all those children. I have enough trouble coping with my own.