Well, gosh. We’ve come to the FINAL PART of my Spotter’s Guide to those crazy creatures, Parents, in their natural habitat – The School Run!
If you’re new to this, then you’re probably wondering what is going on, and what you’re doing here. Just to put everything into context (and to waste probably about 30 more minutes of your precious, and ever decreasing, lifespan), here are the other species of Parent on the School Run:
PART ONE: The Gang
PART TWO: The Belligerent One Who Always Argues With The School
PART THREE: The Organiser
PART FOUR: The Fighty One
PART FIVE: The One Who Doesn’t Give A Shit
PART SIX: The Quiet One On Their Own
PART SEVEN: The Alternative Parent
PART EIGHT: The Bragger
PART NINE: The Dump-and-Run
PART TEN: The Dad
Read, enjoy, and the next time you do a School Run, silently observe all the different species of Parent. Hopefully you will have a greater understanding of your fellow participants on the School Run (remember that you’re an example of a species yourself). Hopefully this may give you an insight into the different behaviours and social rituals. And hopefully, nobody is going to march over to you and demand to know why the fuck you’re staring at everyone through binoculars and scribbling in a well-thumbed notebook.
DISCLAIMER: None of the examples in this series are people I know in real life. Don’t worry, it ain’t you, guys.
(Please Note: I’m talking British Parents here. Other Parents in places foreign to me may well gather in different ways).
Here we go, last episode…
The One Nobody Seems To Like
There is always a Parent who nobody likes. It’s a Parent who is, to all intents and purposes, just like any other. But look at them on our imaginary November morning. They don’t stand out in a crowd at first glance. They’re not made of teeth. They don’t leave a slime trail. They’re not hissing insults at everyone. They’re not drunk, they’re not shouting. They don’t look awful. But look closer. There are subtle indications to their pariah status. They’re not alone, they’re usually talking to someone (sometimes talking at). But all around is a large space, and people don’t generally interact with this Parent. Nobody wants them in The Gang, and if they are in a Gang, they’re a pretty isolated bunch. Nobody wants to hear their Bragging. Nobody is interested in their petty and pathetic reasons to be Belligerent. No one really wants to take part in anything they’re Organising.
The One Nobody Seems To Like is a mystery. The only certainty is that nobody really likes them. Maybe they’re slightly obnoxious at the kids’ birthday parties? Maybe they really lost their temper at someone else’s kid in an unreasonable fashion? Or maybe they’re a bit too Alternative, talking too much about their astral projection therapies and curing cancer using lumps of charcoal? Maybe they’re a silent bully, presenting a friendly if slightly frantic appearance to all the other folks on the ‘Run, and yet anonymously picking on other Parents behind their backs, shopping unemployed or disabled parents to the benefit fraud investigators for no reason whatsoever, other than to abuse the system in a pathetic attempt to get some sort of power? Maybe they’ve been Fighty too many times? Maybe they hide their Dump-and-Run child neglect behind a veil of respectability and wealth?
The Gang all mutter about them. The Quiet Ones hope they don’t get cornered by them. The Organisers roll their eyes if they promise to take part in the fete. The Dads smile and don’t really engage much with them.
Whoever they are, they’re just disliked by everyone. Maybe they’re misunderstood? Maybe no one has given them a chance? Or maybe they really are just dicks?
As in much of society, there are some people who are gregarious, some people who are more introverted and prefer smaller groups, there are people who are natural loners and are content to be left to themselves, and there are some people who everyone just abhors.
That one person breaks down the careful School Run society on this November dawn. Everyone shudders as they pass by. And this is when things turn dark. People mutter. Why are they so disliked? What did they do? A quiet murmur goes around – they’re a bad parent.
That’s it. That’s the kiss of death on the School Run. The Bad Parent. For reasons that are not completely clear, the word is that they are Bad Parents… and that does give justification to dislike them, doesn’t it? But you see no obvious reason to believe this. The kids look and sound fine, they seem a happy family. Maybe you just write them off as being another Quiet One, but no, this person does talk to people. They engage in a way that Quiet Ones do not. It’s just when they engage in conversation, there’s a subtle change of tone in body language. A keen Parent-Twitcher would notice all the other Parents’ hackles being raised, weight shifted around on the feet, the conversation is a little stilted.
You chat to the Gang – their hivemind despises this Parent. A lot of quiet hushed conversation is muttered, and you realise that there are some serious issues. One parent says “I’d like to hit him/her”. Oof. That’s a bit harsh. Based on what? Some innuendo?
One day you find out. You find yourself alongside the parent, who like all the Parents on the School Run, you’ve effectively known for years, except you’ve rarely spoken. So you chat, and you converse, and all the rumours you’ve heard start whispering at the back of your mind, and you realise that, while not the outright Beelzebub you’ve been warned about, the One Nobody Seems To Like is definitely unnerving you. They laugh too readily. They try to be too funny too often in a slightly unctuous way, but what they’re saying isn’t funny at all, but a bit annoying. They talk in a jittery, high-pitched chatter. Their conversation is awkward and stilted, and you realise that actually, they’re a bit too intense. They say some things that, while not outright horrible, are a little bit unpleasant – subtle hints of racism or homophobia, but nothing that would make you snap back. They’re definitely Belligerent towards the school. They drop hints that some of the other Parents are not as honest or law-abiding as they appear, and this also makes you feel a bit uneasy. You’ve heard nasty gossip on the School Run before, but this seems more than just petty. No, there’s something you can’t quite put your finger on, but it’s definitely there.
That’s it? They’re intense? Is that it? But no, then all the innuendos come flooding back. Nobody likes them – it’s rumoured even the teachers don’t like them at all. This has a negative effect, even on the kids. Nastier parents might even suggest to their children that you don’t hang around with the Unpopular One’s offspring. Bit unfair, that. It’s not the kid’s fault they have an intense unfunny parent. But everyone’s buttocks are clenched at the big birthday parties – if the kid is invited, will the Parent show up? Tight anuses are only relaxed when The Unpopular One does a Dump-And-Run. Phew. Could’ve been cornered there, and would’ve had to make polite British conversation over cupcakes and tea. Ugh! The very worst thing ever!
Plus Side: Well, at least it’s not me. I’m pretty sure it’s not me. Phew!
Minus Side: Yeah, but would anyone tell me if it was me??
APPEARANCE: I dunno, they’re just annoying
CALL: Screechy, squawky guffawing. Nasty, obnoxious, unpleasant noises.
HABITAT: The same School Run as you, unfortunately
PARENTS ON THE SCHOOL RUN: A SPOTTER’S GUIDE
We see them, every day. Not just the Unpopular Ones, but all the different species of Parent. Here is where the child-bearing of our nation congregate and jostle for position. Things are said and decided. The School Run is the ultimate five-minute parliament of the Parent Nation.
The entire community of the School Run is only together twice a day, on weekdays only, for just a few minutes, in every corner of the nation. In that time a whole range of social interactions take place. Some of which have lasting effect on entire lives. Some just breeze in and out of the daily ritual. It’s a very discreet blend of body language, conversation, gossip, and rumour.
The School Run is a weird mirror of how we view ourselves and our kids. We project ourselves onto the Run – how we dress, how we discipline our kids, how we come across to others. It’s where snap judgments are made. It’s a place where both Parent and Child are on display.
It’s also one of the few but regular times we see our kids with their peers, in the brief two minutes before they line up and march into school, and when they blast out at the end of the day. Their behaviour, and ours, are on display in front of all the other Parents. No wonder we behave in such exaggerated ways on the School Run. It’s a social exhibition in front of all the other creatures, and we are on show as much as our children. It’d be a shame to come out as anything other than a winner; nobody wants to be seen to fail here. No wonder it has become a competition.
Good God, we’ve reached PART TEN of the series that the critics have said… nothing about so far (although someone on Mumsnet said it was ‘smug’, to which I say: Yup, fair point). This series has been concerned with one thing only: To observe and be judgmental (and smug) about the different species of Parent on the School Run.
If you’ve come straight to this chapter, and you’re confused by some of the terminology used here (The Gang, Belligerent, etc), why not peruse the prior pamphlets for proper ponderance? Yes, why not?:
(Alice recently did Roman numerals, and I’m totally into using them now)
Disclaimer: None of the examples of Parent in this series are people I know in real life, although in this episode I am referring explicitly to one actual example of a person I know – me. But you cannot claim it’s about you, because I’m me, and you’re you, and that’s that.
(Please note: Throughout this series, I have observed the UK species of Parent. If you’re prepared to fly me around the world in first class, put me up in posh hotels, feed me gourmet food, keep me entertained in pole-dancing clubs (ssssh, don’t tell my wife), and pay me a decent salary, I would be happy to provide a guide for other countries as well. Let’s start with France. I like French food.)
Up to this point in this Spotter’s Guide, the genders of the parents have been more or less ambiguous. However, for reasons that should be plainly obvious, of all the species of Parent you can observe on the School Run, I associate myself with The Dad most of all, and they’re a category all of their own.
Being a Dad on the School Run can be quite daunting. There aren’t many other Dads around to ally with, and the natural state of The Dad is to be stoic and somewhat detached from the MumScrum. The Dad will probably feel somewhat intimidated by The Mums, particularly if The Mums form The Gang, because it would remind him of his own schooldays and being wary of gangs of chattering girls. As everyone knows, a close-knit gang of confident and chattering girls is more terrifying than an entire squad of Kamikaze Bomb-Sharks. You know the sort of thing that girls are capable of: Ridicule, laughter, name-calling… Oh God, it’s all coming back to me! STOP LAUGHING AT ME, GIRLS!!
The solution to this is of course something I wish I did all those years ago: Wear a cape. I look amazing in a cape. If I had worn a cape to school, all the teenage girls would have thought I was amazing, and they might have shown me their bras. Sadly, I did not know this back then, and I didn’t see a bra until I was 32 years old (or, if you prefer, XXXII). Still, I’m older and wiser now. I know that a cape opens many doors and can reveal many shelves, all of which contain bras.
If a Dad does not have a cape, I recommend some sort of ornate cane. A few years ago, I had a nasty bout of Plantar fasciitis which was not funny at all, and meant that walking was excruciatingly painful. With great presence of mind, Sarah immediately ordered a cane from Ebay. It arrived within 24 hours (XXIV hours), and is a lovely, dark wood with a brass eagle’s head as the grip. The following morning, I hobbled into school to much appreciative comments from The Mums. Nobody flashed me their bra, but it definitely got impressive nods. Now if only I had a brief debilitating condition that required a cape…
It goes without saying that Dads are as much a part of The School Run as Mums. And, speaking personally, I love doing the School Run, and rather miss it when I can’t. It’s a nice excuse to walk, I get some quality chat time with my girl, and I get to natter with other mums.
Before I got chummy with The Mums, I was The Lonely, Quiet Dad on the School Run. And yes, I felt exposed and awkward. I’ve since talked to other Stay At Home Dads and they too often feel this way. I kidded myself that I was happy being quiet, but actually, I envied The Mums with their easy nattering and friendly support. There’s an edge of slight paranoia to being a distinct and obvious figure on the school run, and my advice is this: Make friends. Have conversations. Otherwise, there are many long years of Primary School (VII years, to be precise), the daily ‘Run can be a lonely place, you’ll see the same people most days, and through our kids we will have something in common. There will be something to say to one another.
But observe the Dad. He is standing out somewhat. He is unsure of himself, and this is society’s fault. There is something still a bit uncanny about The Dad on the School Run, and The Dad knows this. We shouldn’t treat Dads on the School Run as some sort of novelty, and yet The Dads on School Run are still in the minority, particularly Dads who do the drop-off AND the pickup. The uncanny factor is amplified here. If the Dad is quiet and nobody talks to him, do people start to wonder about him? Do people wonder if he has employment issues? Do people find it strange that there’s no Mum around to do the ‘Run for the family? Does the Mum of the family feel guilty for not doing the School Run?
Often quite shy, sometimes The Dad is the Quiet One. Sometimes – especially if he’s wearing boring ‘office’ clothes – he can be the Dump-And-Run type, or at least he marches into the playground, says goodbye to the children, and off he buggers. Sometimes he can be the Fighty One, so it’s best to always approach warily, talking in a calm voice, and carrying a stick (preferably with a bra tied to it, it will both distract and sedate him).
Sometimes he’s a Stay-At-Home-Dad, in which case, respect is to be accorded, in case he feels a bit chippy about it (not me, nooooooo). A Dad is often a voice of reason, and more appreciative of Gang-related gossip than you might think.Every School Run Gang needs a Dad, otherwise The Gang does not have balance in its Force. The Dad often brings a perspective to School meetings that are welcome. However, A Belligerent Dad can be a slightly overbearing figure in the playground, and can be a bumpain to the teaching staff if a male Belligerent starts haranguing. Generally, though, the Dad is a welcome presence in any playground. That said, when a Dad is placed alongside another School Run Dad, they become taciturn, withdrawn, unable to make proper eye contact, and will probably talk about cars, work, last night’s sportsball, planes, computer games, etc.
Plus Side: They’re men. Men are great!!
Minus Side: Could be slightly embarrassed at being one of the few Dads on the School Run. Angry at society for not recognising the vital role Dads play in the upbringing of kids. Why must Dads have to be the breadwinners? Surely men can look after the kids as well?? Fuck society!
Yeah, constantly ranting about that sort of thing is a bit off-putting to other parents.
APPEARANCE: Usually between 5’4″ and 6’7″. Have the ability to grow a beard, can often speak in a deep voice, and will possess a penis, although this is hopefully not normally visible on the School Run. Prefers trousers.
CALL: “Get off me, woman! I’m married!!”
HABITAT: Most men hibernate during Wednesday. Can often be found in an underpass watching squirrels fight tortoises. Bets are exchanged. Last time I went to a bout, I won £C!!
Well, hello and welcome to PART NINE of this Spotter’s Guide to those wacky and bizarre creatures, PARENTS, doing that crazy daily ritual, THE SCHOOL RUN! How are we all doing? Are we having a good time?? I SAID ARE WE HAV- oh, it’s not a stadium gig and you’re not going to answer me (except one at a time by email, it’s not a good crowd noise).
I hope you are having a good time.
If you’ve clicked on this, and you’ve not read the other eight parts of this spotter’s guide, don’t worry. Here are all the other eight parts:
If that’s all “tl;dr”, then the gist is: Parents, eh?
DISCLAIMER: None of the examples in this series are people I know in real life. I’m really just listing a whole bunch of parental stereotypes that just so happen, by coincidence, to crop up on the school run. If you feel I have been unfair, then please do nothing about it.
(Please Note: This is a guide to the UK species. Non-UK species can be observed using similar methods, but be forewarned that in other territories, parents are more likely to have venomous stings)
It’s our imaginary November morning again. The sky is grey and overcast. The wind is chilly. There are the usual gaggle of human beings crowded around the school gate, a scrum of adults and children. The car pulls up, the kid gets out, the adult doesn’t. There’s a shout of farewell and the car drives off, and the kid makes their own way into the school. The child looks small and vulnerable. The Gang tuts and mutters. The Alt Parent wants to give the poor kid a hug. The Belligerent wants to have a word about this to someone.
Distantly related to The-Not-Giving-A-Shit, The-Dump-and-Run parent barely makes an appearance. It’s hard to make a study of them in the field. They do the same thing at the birthday parties. They’re nice and polite, but you don’t really get to know them, and they’re not really part of the School-Run Community. Maybe they have a very busy job? Maybe they’ve got lots of other things to do? Maybe they love their kids very much and they need to be in work before 9am through rush-hour traffic? Maybe they think it’s best that the kid is self-reliant and disciplined enough to get into school by themselves? Maybe they really can’t make the Sports Day, or the Nativity on a consistent basis due to external pressures that are their own business and none of ours?
Maybe all of those things. Maybe I shouldn’t judge.
Nah, fuck it. I’m going to judge anyway. Maybe they’re an arsehole who don’t notice their kid walking into school by themselves, who don’t see the kid looking enviously at their classmates getting hugs and kisses from their parents, and who don’t give their children the support at plays or sports that the kids crave so much.
Or maybe they’re not an arsehole, and I’m sorry for calling them arseholes. It’s not like the Dump-and-Run is abandoning their kids. And it’s not as if the Dump-and-Run doesn’t love their kids. I’m almost certainly being horribly unfair. Maybe I’m the flawed parent, who walks their kid across any road in fear of some terrible accident that won’t happen, who insists on holding hands in public in case of the unlikely event that the dreaded Bunty Man of tabloid fame comes and takes her away? Maybe I should be a bit more confident in her abilities, and drop her at the school gates and allow her to make her own way into school without my guidance? It’ll teach her to take responsibility for walking across a small area of tarmac all by herself, at which point the school can look after her. My daughter’s old enough now. She doesn’t need me. She can fend for herself, and make a nest out of leaves come nightfall.
Yeah, but I can’t. I can’t just sod the fuck off and leave my kid to make their own way in. I just can’t, that little gappy-tooth face, that little ray of quirky sunshine. I can’t turn away from that. I actually like the whole saying-goodbye ritual. And I also like my morning natter with the other mums. Maybe the Dump-and-Run is just another Quiet One, and doesn’t want to get involved. Maybe. It’s hard to know. They are the Parent I understand the least. I just don’t get it, and maybe that’s my problem. And they don’t impact on my life all that much. They’re usually zooming off by the time their child has passed through the gate, leaving a very discreet sound of tuts in their wake. I just feel sorry for the kids, I guess.
If you’re a Dump-And-Run, how do you feel about it? Guilty? Or is there a sensible reason why you’re not staying there until the kid enters school? And don’t say “Work”. Fuck work. Work sucks.
Plus Side: Self-reliant kid. Another boring parent you don’t need to get to know.
Minus Side: Years of bitter resentment from the child probably. “You never walked me into the school, Mum! You just left me there and drove off! I HATE YOU!!!” & etc.
APPEARANCE: Looks like a Mercedes to me. E class. Not that posh.
CALL: “Bye darli-” [door slam, drive off]
HABITAT: Not school.
Crikey! Well it’s that time again, people. As you may have gathered by now, we are exploring the different species of Parent on the School Run. We’ve already looked at a fair number, so if this is your first installment, I offer you a hearty welcome and I urge you to start with Part One, then go on to Part Two, followed by Part Three, and then look at Part Four. Read Part Five for continuity’s sake (although it is rather good, as are all the others, don’t mean to blow my own trumpet, but…), and then Parts Six and Seven to get up to date.
If you like all this nonsense (and I don’t blame you if you don’t, and equally don’t blame you if you do) feel free to share it amongst your many lovely friends and acquaintances using social media (other forms of social media are also available).
DISCLAIMER: None of the examples in this series are people I know in real life. This guide is meant as an observational in-field guide of various Parent species, and do not relate to individual characters. If, by some coincidence, you know me personally, and feel you either know one of these characters, or indeed ARE one of these characters, then I can assure you that you are being stupid and wrong.
(Please Note: This Spotter’s Guide is the UK edition. The Worldwide edition will be shortly published, just as soon as somebody has paid me a fuckload of money to carry out research. So far, no takers. I’m told it’s not commercially viable, but that’s utter nonsense. There is clearly a need)
The Alternative Parent
You know the sort: Dreads, tattoos, Nepalese shirt, no bra – and that’s just the men LOL! – and piercings, etc., right? Wellllll, not necessarily. Alternative parents can be the source of much muttering, tuts and gossip if a conservative Gang is holding court at the school gates. Alternative parents walk their kids to school, or (holy crap!) RIDE A BIKE!! I mean, proper radical stuff, yeah? In any case, they’re doing things their way. And some people have a problem with it.
The Alt Parent could also fall into any of the School Run Parent Stereotypes. Often they’re The Quiet One. Sometimes they might Not Give A Shit. They can be The Belligerent, or The Organiser. In any case, unless they’re The Fighty One, they’re actually the one you should closely ally yourself with.
It takes guts to be unconventional. And you don’t need to call your child Raincloud, and listen to Throbbing Gristle in order to be alternative. Alternative Parents come from a wide range of backgrounds, and come in all shapes and sizes. And despite the dreads/tattoos stereotype, they dress in all sorts of ways – sometimes very conventionally – but always in their own way. The only thing Alt Parents have in common with each other is that they don’t always conform to society. They might do this in small ways, or glaring, big, freak-flag ways. This doesn’t mean their kids aren’t brought up with high standards of discipline – if anything the Alt Parent might be a firm stickler for manners, strong work ethic, morals, being politically aware at a young age, self-confidence, and social consciousness.
The Alt Parent can be competitive in a weird way (like letting you know their kids have already been to four large music festivals by the age of 9), but it’s not the same as outright Bragging. It’s more to do with reinforcing their own distinctiveness than it is to positioning their child at the upper end of some sort of hierarchy. And sometimes, the Alt Parent can have a bit of a chip on their shoulder about society. But frankly, when you’re faced with some occasional tuts and disapproving glares at the way you and your family are dressed, or because of what the family believes in… well, you’d be a bit chippy and defensive too.
The Alt Parent is more concerned with being seen as a ‘cool’ parent. They want to be relevant, up-to-date, relaxed and liberal. They are often artistic, and despite their steadily advancing years, they often like to let it be known that their enthusiasm for loud, banging/crashing, dissonant, pounding, dancey, moshy music is still running at a near-teenage level. Alt Parents will still have an abiding love for obscure music (or at least, obscure enough for the other parents to be slightly baffled) long after most of the other School Run Parents have given up and bought Adele CDs (“because it’s popular!”), or the latest Now-That’s-What-I-Call-Driving-Music compilation as a way of listening to Queen like they used to. The male Alt Parent, in his original Future Sound of London t-shirt, is more likely to still be seen at the back of local gigs, nodding his head in a knowing fashion, just not down the front anymore. His back is dodgy, he’s more tired these days, and he usually is home by 10:30pm most weeknights.
The Alt Parent will often be the most imaginative; producing the most interesting dioramas for homework, putting on the most imaginative parties, in a way that might make other parents jealous. In some respects, this could be seen as a sort of passive-aggressive Bragging. However, the Alt Parent would never openly admit to getting involved in anything so confrontational as an outright brag. Instead, they let the organic food, the political awareness, the uniquely decorated house, the clothing, the beautifully crafted trinkets, the homemade art, the music taste, their child’s self-confidence and free spirit, and the family’s refusal to toe the society line in some way, speak for itself. It’s not bragging, it’s just a better lifestyle, and the other parents are quietly envious.
The Alt Parent is often honest, principled, down-to-earth, practical and thoughtful. Sometimes they’re much more ‘switched on’ than other parents. They’re the ones who will call the School out on any Schoolcrap other than The Belligerent. They might question School policy. They’re the ones to pick up on bullying in the playground and do something about it. They’re the ones who, when asked by The Organiser to do something, will either throw themselves into whatever it is and make it work, or flat out refuse with a damn good excuse. Will often be the voice of reason if a Gang becomes a Mob. Do not make the mistake of thinking that the Alt Parent is a drug-addled loony, a flake, or some sort of dangerous subversive. The Alt Parent usually knows what they’re doing.
Plus Side: No-nonsense, practical, emotionally connected, can be the best ally, the kids are no less maladjusted than their classmates, and are often savvier than the classroom average because the parent has taught them to see through society’s bullshit.
Minus Side: Tangle with at your own risk. Might have some very funny ideas that may be hard to swallow if you’re more in tune with the mainstream of society. Likely to insist on only playing with wooden toys and not eating sweets, which as we all know, is crazy-talk and wrong (unless their kid is allergic to plastic and/or diabetic, in which case, fair enough).
APPEARANCE: Non conformist, bright colours, dreads, beads, impressive jewellry and/or impressive trousers
CALL: “Yeah, it’s a good dance, innit? Persephone learned that at Shambala this year whilst listening to Asian Dub Foundation…”
HABITAT: They’re the ones on the school field after school in the summer months blowing bubbles from a bubble sword and getting their kids to learn Diablo tricks.
Once again we delve into our guide to the world of The School Run to see what grotesque has escaped. Look ye now on the words below and take heed of the terrible creature we describe. Run aghast from the horrors described within, but ensure ye all that thou put a link to This Blog on your Facebook Page.
If you’re new here, you’re probably going to think “the fuck is this??”. That’s fair enough. We’re looking at the various Parent Species on The School Run, taking note of the various characters we are likely to encounter. If you wish to get the full backstory on all of this, please read in order from Part One to Part Two to Part Three to Part Four to Part Five to Part Six first. Or start reading here. Meh. I don’t care what you do.
DISCLAIMER: None of the examples in this series are people I know in real life. Or, to put it another way, I have met examples of these people, but they’re not the people on MY school run.
(Please Note: This is a guide to UK Parents and their stereotypes. Unless you wish to write your own guide, please read the guide in your local accent and see if the same can be said for your locality).
Often hiding in plain sight, mixing with The Gang, lurking on the fringes, joining in the discussion. Up to that point, they could be anyone. Just don’t let them say anything about their life or their kids, because you will want to strangle them after just two minutes.
Their kid can do no wrong. The kid’s achievements are peerless. Their kid does sport, musical instruments, school plays, and is believed (by the braggee) to be academically gifted. But watch out if the kid gets told off, or doesn’t get a good write up in the end of term report, or doesn’t get a main part in the play. Watch The Bragger go seriously Belligerent, and try to change the teacher’s mind (“It’s clearly an A+, why would you claim otherwise??/They’re so obviously MADE to play the role of the Virgin Mary!”). It’s a complete hoot!
They are the parent who will write in the soft-toy diary about how they went to St Moritz for a sudden skiing trip; or who will bring in bottles of homemade truffle-infused oil to sell at the School Fete. They are the ones who will make you feel like a shit parent, in spite of all the things you do for your own kid, because you haven’t taken your children on a backroom tour of DisneyWorld yet, or that your child is not playing first violin in the county orchestra at the age of 8. They’re the ones clogging up the School Run with their Range Rover Evoque, or who are keeping an accurate tally of their exceptional little Hugo and his Star Of The Day awards for each year. They’re the type of people who make their own bread, but who will go out of their way to ensure you know that they make their own bread. Bleurgh!
The Bragger has to tell you how brilliant their child is. It’s a psychological compulsion, and one that never fails to annoy. The Bragger does not do self-deprecating. You hope for a glimpse of humility, but you’re not likely to get it. Instead, you will hear how their child has got perfect handwriting, got a Gold Star in something-or-other, is already Grade Five on piano, or is the principal dancer in the local ballet school. In the back of your mind, you’re inclined to go “big fucking deal” to all this, but because you’re polite (and because The Bragger might turn into The Fighty One), you wimp out. It’s a shame, because with a little bravery, you might discover that The Bragger is, at all times, two harsh words away from a complete confidence meltdown.
Inevitably, the child is average. Perfectly ordinary and bright in their own way; might be somewhere near the top of the class, but also might well be mucking in with the middles. There is fun to be had if said child is a sulky proto-goth, terminally depressed by their parents’ braggadocio. However, the child may pile on the agony by becoming a smug bully under the tutelage of their exacting parent, keen to point out the deficiencies in every other child, including clothing faux-pas (how can they berate other kids for wearing exactly the same school uniform? Well, they manage it somehow), lack of technology (console, tablet, etc), interest in ‘abnormal’ music, or generally not being perfect enough.
But it’s not fair to pick on the kid. They can’t help having those parents. And to be honest, we’re all a little bit Bragger about our children sometimes. We’re all convinced our child is the Chosen One who will lead humanity into a Golden Age at some time or other. However, it’s like all inhibitions. Some people will be less inhibited about talking up their child’s potential than others.
You hope that by the end of Primary School, The Bragger – convinced of their child’s excellence and distinction – enrolls the child into the nearby third-rate private school. You hope that the parent eventually reaches some sort of crisis, and that the reality of who they are and what they do will come home to them, and life deals them a cruel but fair blow to their superiority. You hope that the child, if the child is a prick, would gain a spoonful of cynicism and embarrassment, and would become a decent adult. In a perfect world, this would happen. But sadly, this is not a perfect world, and people like this don’t get their just desserts, never change, and usually end up being successful and powerful. Fuck this horrid, bitter, unfair world.
Plus Side: Well, at least they’re pleased with themselves.
Minus Side: If you’re stuck talking to them at a child’s birthday party, and talk inevitably turns to them telling you about their child and family, you will want to shove their heads in the trifle. But you won’t. Coward.
APPEARANCE: Difficult to tell until they open their mouths. It could be you… or you… or… YOU. It’s not me. Oh no.
CALL: “Did you hear that Jocasta has moved up a swimming class?? Oh you didn’t? Well let me tell you: Jocasta has moved up a swimming class! Isn’t that brilliant??! She’s clearly so talented!”
HABITAT: Rushing up to you with a breathless smile to tell you about something awesome their kid has done for fuck’s sake.
Oh God, it’s that thing again! Time to roll up your sleeves, peer at your peers, and allow me to make judgmental remarks on some close friends of yours.
The Parents we encounter on the School Run are a strange bunch, each made up of tiny little individual characters with their own little foibles.
This week, we’re looking at five more examples of Parentkind, starting with one of the most difficult species of Parent to observe…
DISCLAIMER: Now, I don’t think I’ve been clear enough on this, but none of the examples in this series are people I know in real life. Not one of these examples are explicitly about any one person, and any similarity is purely coincidental. If you recognise yourself, or others, in any of these descriptions, then you are mistaken and incredibly paranoid. You need to seek help now. Before they get you too.
(Please Note: If you’re reading this anywhere in the world that is not the UK and you’re thinking “By jingo! This chap just doesn’t understand the Parents on the School Run in my locale! I shall write to him on Twitter (@DaddyBurnsSalad) and tell him to kill himself“, then I must urge you to reconsider your actions. This is a guide to the UK species of Parent. You go and write your own entertaining and highly judgmental guide to your country’s own School Run Species if you’re so inclined).
The Quiet One
You need to keep an eye on the Quiet Ones. Quiet People arouse suspicion in any community, so to find a quiet person on a School Run – and they are on every School Run – is usually a sign for everyone else to panic. Quiet Ones in wider society are the most intriguing and can be surprising. After the band splits up, they’re the ones who suddenly emerge with the best solo album. They’re also the ones in the neighbourhood most likely to become serial killers, cannibals, paedophiles, really into kinky sex, or fascist leaders. Or – and this is the most unlikely, to be honest – they’re just quiet people who don’t like making a fuss, and who live quietly, not bothering anyone, and not really wanting to be bothered in return. It’s one of society’s uglier characteristics that Quiet Ones are treated with mistrust and paranoia.
The Quiet Ones on the School Run are usually apart from the rest of the various groups. Not necessarily shy, or anti-social, just less likely to get involved with people in such an exposed, public, social interaction.
Observe the scene on our imaginary November morning: The Gang huddles in shrieking laughter and gossip, being harassed into contributing to a school event by The Organiser, smirking at The Belligerent’s latest crusade against outrage, tutting at the Fighty One’s occasional explosions, and shrugging in solidarity with the Not-Giving-A-Shit. Their gaze falls upon The Quiet One and they pause, confused. The Quiet One will usually nod a hello, occasionally exchanging small-talk pleasantries, they say their farewells to their kids, and then they’re gone. They do not go for an over-priced coffee with the stay-at-home members of The Gang. They do not wish to attend the morning’s parent-forum meeting as nagged to by The Organiser. They do not stick around to watch The Belligerent storm from the school office muttering “for Fuck’s SAKE!”. And they don’t lie in wait for The Fighty One, looking for the opportunity to get the first punch in, and to indulge in a legendary smackdown, which results in Fighty leaving the field with shattered teeth. No. The Quiet One just goes home.
Quiet Ones generally don’t want to get involved in all that bullshit. They arrive, drop the kids, and go after nodding a few hellos. Some Quiet Ones do not want to be approached during the School Run, others are happy to be conversational. Often, Quiet Ones will form genial alliances with only one or two other parents, and be perfectly amiable with everyone, but will generally stand apart from the larger groups. In rare cases, two or three Quiet Ones may form a Gang of their own. A Quiet One may well run a cake stall at a school fete, and may pipe up with an observant and well-thought argument in a meeting, and will often throw imaginative and legendary children’s parties, but overall will not make a huge fuss about anything.
But, just to make sure, keep them in your peripheral vision at all times.
Plus Side: Less likely to be an obnoxious prick
Minus Side: Not always approachable, and may be hard work to talk to. Usually known as _____’s Mum/Dad. Difficult to get to know.
HABITAT: Somewhere quiet
We’ve hit PART FIVE, people! There were some* who told me it couldn’t be done, but I’ve done it – five posts in a week, and there’s still more to go!
(actually, I’m thinking I might take Saturday and Sunday off because God* told me to).
If you’ve found yourself on here and wondering what the f-bomb is going on here, then cast your f-bombing eyes here, motherf-bombs (and read in order):
So now you know everything.
*OK, nobody told me. I lied.
DISCLAIMER: None of the examples in this series are people I know in real life. They are just stereotypes. Everybody is a mixture of all of these things, it’s just that some people are more of a stereotype than others. It’s like the thing where people characterise drummers to be the stupid ones in bands, even though I’ve never actually met a stupid drummer. I’ve met permanently-confused drummers, but that’s not quite the same thing.
(Please Note: This is a guide to the UK species. I cannot say for sure whether parents on School Runs behave like these various personality types; although if parents were salmon, and School Runs were Salmon Runs, then I suppose there would be some similarities. Salmon of various different species have to find spawning rivers, negotiate waterfalls and obstructions, and bears. And so do School Run Parents. Especially the bit about bears. Lots of bears on the School Run, y’know).
The One Who Doesn’t Give A Shit
Letter home? Bollocks to it. Homework? Nah. School Fete? Nope. School Play? Too busy. Getting the kid to wear the most spotless school uniform? Meh. We are all this person. We all don’t give a shit at some point. We give up on homework. We can’t get to every meeting with the teacher. We can’t attend every single public performance. We don’t check to see if every school uniform garment is looking completely stain-free. Really don’t want to have anything to do with The Christmas Fayre. Spelling test? Nah, stuff it. Life’s too short. OFSTED inspection? So what. SATs exams? It’s the school’s problem, why should the kids work themselves into an emotional husk?
Nah, don’t bother. The School shoves so much down our throats, it’s hardly surprising that we occasionally cannot muster the fucks to give about Every Single Sodding Thing the School does. OK, some things get ignored. Letters go astray. Money and forms do not get returned on time. Piano practice does not get done. Lines are not learned. Spelling is not practiced and books are not read. Fine, we’re all guilty of that. I certainly am. I am sometimes The One Who Doesn’t Give A Shit more than any of the other stereotypes we have discussed thus far.
Some parents don’t give a shit all the time, and this drives the schools up the wall. Especially if the child is excluded from school trips or treats, or non-uniform days, or has forgotten key homeworks, or misses out on taking part in a performance, or is denied certain services.
Sometimes the Not Giving A Shit Parent makes life a bit embarrassing for the kid. Like the time we showed up to school,and I wondered why everyone else had Indiana Jones-style hats, and velociraptor backpacks. It turned out I forgot (or didn’t know, or never bothered to read the letter, one of those is probably true) that it was a non-uniform trip to the local Forest School, and the kids were supposed to be dressing up as explorers. Alice showed up in her school uniform, and was the only kid who wasn’t wearing awesome, comfortable and very cool clothes. Alice went from normal to upset in less than three seconds after realisation. My frantic apologies to her – because it was my stupid fault – seemed ineffective. I then had to run back home, pack a Tesco bag (classy and prepared, yeah?) full of Alice’s favourite outdoorsy clothes, and raced back to the school before they left the classroom.
And some parents don’t give a shit to the extent that they show up to the School Run in their pyjamas. Now, I’m NOT judging anyone who wants to show up in their onesie or pyjama or nightie or negligee. I’m not. I’mnotI’mnotI’mnotI’mnotI’mnotI’mnot. I swear I’m not…
Not Giving A Shit can be quite a refreshing approach to the scrum of the School Run. There’s an awful lot about School stuff that is not as important as it likes to make out. Disassociation from the gossip and nonsense that some people get really wound up about is a very enviable position to have. Not getting involved in every single school activity means more spare time. I mean, obviously do some of it – to completely not take part is not advisable, because refusing to do anything for your child and their School makes you a bit of an arsehole – but not all of it.
And, let’s be frank, there are times when we all feel that the School expects us, as parents, to do more than is practical or reasonable. I don’t mind helping with homework, or taking part in activities, but I do get fed up at having quite as much homework that is specifically aimed at parents taking part**. I get that there are complicated but essential family-bonding reasons why children benefit from having parents help out, but I don’t like the feeling that I am getting marked in some way.
(**Confession time: In our house, because I really cannot be trusted with scissors or sticky tape because of all the swearing, mess and inevitable tears from me because I HATE BASTARD SELLOTAPE, Sarah oversees the making of homework dioramas with Alice. Last weekend Sarah gave up hours of her free time to make a superb cake version of Stonehenge. Last year, Sarah built a Tudor House for the Great Fire of London topic. Much as I am currently ranting about it, the collaborative parent/child homework stuff is overwhelmingly done by Sarah in our house, because she is a fantastic craft-person, and she is a fabulous wife and mother).
I do also get occasionally annoyed that the School insists on us taking part in so many events. Surely, they can manage without us? That’s why schools have staff (albeit poorly paid and craply funded). Sadly, much as I regret that there has to be a need for it, this is why it is essential for the School community to have a parent be The Organiser
Look, I’ve been to school. I’ve done it. I did it for 14 years, sat the exams, played in the wind band, took part in the team sports, did the school plays, and helped out at the events. I enjoyed it. But I’ve done all that. I’m an adult now, and I don’t have to attend school any more, or do schoolwork, and it bugs me that I am expected to on quite such a scale. I don’t mind doing it for my daughter’s benefit, but sometimes I feel as though I’m doing it for the school’s. And that’s why, sometimes, I get a case of the fuckits.
Hang on, what were we talking about?
Oh yeah, parents who couldn’t care less on the school run.
Actually, I can’t be bothered any more.
Plus Side: Laid back approach, relaxed attitude to School Bullshit, not that bothered, The Organiser doesn’t even try to recruit you into running a stall anymore – WIN!!!!
Minus Side: Sudden realisation that today is charity non-uniform day and your kid is in uniform unlike everyone else!! What homework? When?? It’s a SCHOOL TRIP??! And lastly: If you don’t give enough of a shit to even escort your child to the school gate (see the forthcoming guide to the Dump-and-Run Parent), then I’m sorry, but The Gang will gossip about you and pass judgement in their special courtroom.
APPEARANCE: Pyjamas. Shrugging. Nonchalant attitude to school nonsense. Not showing up to every single sodding thing. Not interested in School gossip.
CALL: “Laterz, kid”
HABITAT: Ploughing the field of fucks, and finding none to harvest
Hey folks, we’ve reached Part Four of our Spotter’s Guide to Parents on the School Run! If this is your first episode, I should explain what’s going on: I’m being snarky about loads of people in a really judgmental way, and it’s BRILLIANT FUN!!
Here are the other parts, to get you in the mood for today’s minor-league bitching:
DISCLAIMER: None of the examples in this series are people I know in real life. If you’re on the School Run, and feel you have been slighted, and you fancy getting cross with me about this series, just remember that none of this is about you. However, if you do insist on being all angry about it, and you get right up in my face, just know that I will listen to what you have to say, take on board your concerns and criticisms, and then scuttle off and write all about the encounter on a blog somewhere.
(Please Note: This is a guide to the UK species. Other locations in this incredible world of ours might see different behaviours, I dunno. Do other countries have School Runs? If you don’t in your location, feel free to write to me and tell me stuff. I like people telling me stuff).
The Fighty One
Imagine the scenario: It’s a School Run morning in November. The usual stuff – Gossip with The Gang, harangued by The Organiser to help out at something or other, watching The Belligerent marching across the playground – when suddenly, you hear raised voices. Angry swearing. A slap, a punch, an ugly brawl. Screaming. Shouting. The Gang aghast. The Belligerent marching straight to the Headteacher demanding these fighting people get banned from the playground. The Organiser flapping their clipboard at the offending parties to get them to behave. Separation. Muttering. People shaking their heads. Someone shouting “You FUCKING CUNT!”. Children crying, and being rushed into the school in a hurry. Staff trying to calm everything down. Grown adults being escorted from the school premises. Small children now using the phrase “You fucking cunt!” in a gleeful fashion for the rest of the day.
A letter goes home the following day reminding the “whole school community” of the responsibility for all parents to behave appropriately (i.e. don’t be a dick on school grounds). Gossip, gossip, gossip. One or more of the participants is banned from school property and they become a glowering figure on the perimeter of the school. Repeat every six months or so.
There’s always the risk of a Fighty One being on your School Run. Carrying years of resentment, bitter, angry, doesn’t like being looked at. Has a long-running beef with another parent. Not just quick to anger, but quick to explode. Doesn’t care where they are, or who is watching, or how it affects all the children in the vicinity, just as long as they can get their shouty-shout on. Can be racist, sexist, disablist, homophobic, often uses incredibly crude language to describe the hapless person they are haranguing. Of course, if two Fighty Ones get fighty, then they’re both as bad as each other. The Fighty One needn’t necessarily be a man, and needn’t be a dodgy, Begbie-like character of poor education; there are plenty of wealthy, educated, intelligent people, who turn into aggressive wankers if their buttons are slightly pressed.
I’ve seen it happen, and it’s not funny (no wait, IT SUPER IS! But only if you’re not the one being on the receiving end of Fighty One’s ire). First time I witnessed such a thing, and I’ve witnessed it more than once, I didn’t find it funny to watch a grown man screeching insults in a woman’s face and threatening her husband with a pounding. I went home quite shaken and rang my mum, and asked her if this sort of thing happened when she took me to school, just ten *cough* years ago. Of course not, she said. Why would anyone do such a thing? Maybe it’s a new thing. Like mobile phones.
Let’s blame this on mobile phones!
I’m not just talking about actual fisticuffs here. We all get into arguments from time to time – even The Gang has the potential to sometimes have a short little squabble, a hurried gossip, and then either a making-up, or a group-ostracizing of the offending party. My definition of ‘Fighty’ includes anyone who gets angry enough to lose control, shout loud enough for all to hear, and uses effing-and-jeffing in front of the children. In front of the flipping children, I ask you…
Plus Side: Adults on the School Run who fight in school playground with other parents, who swear vicious brutal insults in front of school children, who get physically aggressive with the teachers, who have to be escorted from the premises… there’s no plus side to them. They’re complete arseholes.
Minus Side: Potential to be a violent, racist (etc), twat
APPEARANCE: Furious, glaring, aggressive, makes eye contact with people then demands to know what the other person is looking at,
CALL: Variations on “FUCK!/SHIT!/WANKER!/SLAG!/WHORE!/COME ON THEN!/KILL!/PERVERT!/CUNT!/QUEER!/PAEDO!/I KNOW WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE!/GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM!/WHAT ARE YOU ALL FUCKING LOOKING AT?”
HABITAT: School perimeter fence, glaring a lot. Not being terribly friendly. Being hurriedly ushered into the Headteacher’s office. Being hurriedly ushered into a police car. In court. Front of the local newspaper with outraged article on page 4.
We have now reached the third part of my incredibly informative and highly valuable and succinct, and totally accurate and representative field guide to the different species of parent doing the School Run.
Part One was all about The Gang, the group of parents at the School Gate who either welcome you with open arms, or huddle together and mutter as you pass.
Part Two was concerning The Belligerent One Who Argues With The School – a distinct species who likes to bully entire institutions into serving the wishes of just one parent.
DISCLAIMER: None of the examples in this series are people I know in real life. Or rather, they’re examples based on EVERY SINGLE PERSON I’ve ever met, ever. It is not about you, for once.
(Please Note: This is a guide to the UK species. Parent plumage, call, and behaviour may vary in other countries. For example, the North American Parent may have spots on their spinal crest for all I know).
Someone has got to do it, haven’t they? Otherwise nothing will ever get done. Happy-to-help, supportive and with a get-up-and-go! sensibility, The Organiser is a key member of the school community. Schools need some parents to be Organisers. Haven’t the teachers got enough crap to do? The Organiser gets things done. The School Fete? They make it happen. The Bake Sale? They’ll co-ordinate stalls and cajole other parents into being contributors. Children-In-Need Raffle? They arranged it back last June. Getting the School Library equipped with voluntary contributions? They’ve got it sorted. Who else would do such a thing?
Well, The Organiser does. There are some people born to organise things, and they’re really good at it. A good Organiser Parent will knock up parties, costumes, exciting homeworks, and dizzyingly brilliant dioramas for their kids. Imagine what they could do for the entire school… basically, the whole concept of Parent/School relationships and committees and meetings and forums and events would crumble overnight if The Rapture took all the Organisers into heaven, leaving the rest of us behind on the sinful Earth, awaiting the Horns of the Apocalypse and the clippity-clop of four sets of hooves.
On first impression, the Organiser is slightly intense, but a jolly good sort. Depending on the ego of the person, the Organiser could turn out to be either one of those quietly efficient and charismatic figures who makes things happen and takes not a word of thanks in payment; or is every other parents’ worst nightmare – a vicious, insistent monster who nags you into … urgh… taking part and can ruin you with 3 guilt-laden words if you refuse.
Plus Side: They work bloody hard, often on top of their regular job (although sometimes it could be someone in NEED of a job, or just something to do during daylight hours). Perky, quietly assertive, dedicated. The School would despair if nobody stepped forward and did these things. Because the School simply cannot do this shit on their own. Will organise a Christmas Fayre complete with avuncular and criminal-records-checked Santa, a tombola, a range of stalls, bloody loads of cakes, a PA system, a school disco, even members of School staff who are so inclined. All with two weeks notice and a clipboard. A vital component of the School’s links with the parents.
Minus Side: Slightly shrill, often dominant, can be a busybody, massive ego, can take umbrage if their demands are not met and can flounce out of meetings and resign from their role if they don’t get their way – because if they don’t do it, the whole thing will be a disaster. They can also be a bit of a coercive bully forcing people into doing something they don’t want to do. Expecting cakes, stalls, and bloody miracles to happen at a moment’s notice. Will regard a non-committal response to a query as a binding blood contract (“Well, you said you’d be up for baking 30 cupcakes back in September. Remember? You said: ‘I could possibly do it, I’ll have to check the diary and get back to you’. Well, I remember you saying it, and I’m holding you to it. You don’t want to let the whole school down, do you? Jolly good!”).
APPEARANCE: Clipboard, list of everyone’s email address, raffle tickets
CALL: “Are you free to help out on Friday afternoon for the…?”
HABITAT: Committees, meetings, school admin offices, chatting with the Headteacher on first-name terms, seemingly everywhere around the school with limitless powers