There aren’t many sights here in South Africa that warm my heart more than a whole bunch of school kids assembled for some event, all dressed in school uniform. There is something about these uniforms that makes me feel wholesome. And a bit colonial. These uniforms do more than just dress your children. They lend an aura of respect, of politeness, and of leadership. They were the biggest hang-up our kids had about going to a South African school, if you’ll remember, and I know one day seeing pictures of them will be the fondest reminder of our time in South Africa.
But there is also a dark, dark, side to them.
The side where, like today, my peaceful morning tea is interrupted with a piercing scream from upstairs, going something like “Moooooom, I can’t find my tracksuit pants!” That one closely followed, just as I have made my way to Impatience’s room to start looking, by “My tracksuit top is goooooooone!” from another direction. The side where I spend the next ten minutes rummaging through closets and laundry baskets. The side where I have to defend the at this time still absent housekeeper, who inevitably gets blamed for things not put in the right place. The side where the mere suggestion on my part that the tracksuit pants might have been forgotten at school last week results in a barrage of verbal abuse the likes of which can only emit from one’s own child. The side where throughout breakfast I am informed how it is really all just my fault. The side where I snap and tell my kids they can never ever have a playdate again until all lost stuff is found. The side where I later find the missing pants in my sewing basket, where I had put them with good intentions to fix a seam and promptly forgotten.
My choice this morning was sending one girl into the freezing cold with a jacket and short pants and the other with long pants but no jacket, or to send one fully clad and the other one more or less naked. Maybe that might have been a good natural consequence. They do say that natural consequences work best when raising children. I should know. I walked twenty miles to school each day, barefoot in the snow. What this was a natural consequence of I’ve forgotten. But I turned out alright, didn’t I?
It’s not like I don’t anticipate our morning mayhem. Time and again I have reminded my kids – every single day of their lives, they will tell you – to put out all their stuff THE NIGHT BEFORE! Mind you, I don’t like spending my evenings doing the run-around either, but at least then there’d be time to sort it all out. Mornings, not so much. Just making four boxed lunches runs on a very tight schedule. Have I told you that none of my kids like the same fruit? That two only eat peanut butter with jelly, one will have it only with sliced bananas, and the last doesn’t eat any peanut butter at all?
Which goes to show that I was lying. About that tea. I never have a peaceful morning tea, at least not BEFORE the kids leave for school. Every morning is hectic. If it’s not a missing uniform piece, it’s surely something else, like a dog-eared form that has spent the better part of a week in Zax’s backpack needing to be filled out with all sorts of data “absolutely, positively, today Mom, or I’ll get in trouble.” Or Sunshine sitting crying amidst a sea of socks, claiming that every single one “feels weird and doesn’t fit.” Or, my favorite, fifteen pictures to be printed out before school for some timeline project, which never fails to be the precise moment the ink cartridge has run out, the paper is jammed, or the spooler full.
But nothing quite irks me like lost stuff. I’m an anal German, okay? This shouldn’t be happening! I shouldn’t have to waltz into McCullagh&Bothwell every other week to replace clothes that have gone missing. It’s bad enough keeping up with popped-off blazer buttons (and no, the dental floss recommended to us at the doctor’s office, of all places, didn’t fare any better; I’m willing to give the bent paper clip method a try). I shouldn’t have to argue with my kids over who had what last and how it must have just mysteriously disappeared out of their room. And I sure as hell shouldn’t have to go to lost and found at school to try and find a missing item.
I mean, have you seen that place? It’s positively scary. Huge bins line the walls, labeled “track suit tops,” “lunch boxes,” “scarves&hats,” “track suit pants,” “towels” etc. Good idea right? But do you know what? Just like in the girls’ rooms here at our house, instead of each bin containing only items of that label, each bin contains everything. Including smelly socks and wet towels. Going through every one of them and checking all the tags nearly kills you, it’s so disgusting. It’s not like you can just glance over it. Uniforms all look the same, remember? You absolutely positively have to take out each piece of clothing so you can check the label. While trying to hold your breath so that the smell doesn’t bring you to an untimely end. It all of a sudden makes the uniform shop seem like the place you really want to be, screw the cost. “I think Impatience has almost outgrown these pants anyway,” is typically my thinking. The temptation to just do a pick-and-run, i.e. take a pair of pants that looks about the right size and isn’t labeled, is overwhelming. Except my anal German side usually keeps me from doing that. The right pants have to be SOMEWHERE is always my final thought before I faint.
Sometimes these things do show up again on their own. Just as mysteriously as they have disappeared. And typically right AFTER I’ve gone out and bought a replacement. And sometimes I actually do find them, triumphantly. I cannot tell you how much pleasure it gives me to find something that my kids lost. I saw a joke on Facebook the other day along the lines of “It’s only ever really lost if your mom can’t find it,” and it’s so very true. (Although I never actually spend any time on Facebook, in case Noisette asks you.)
What I’m actually dreaming of is a special kind of scanner. Sort of like an airport scanner. My kids would have to walk through every morning and it would record everything they are taking with them. Upon returning home, they’d have to walk through it again and would only be let into the house if everything matched. Otherwise, they’d have to return to school right away to go search for whatever is missing. Or at least acknowledge, for ONCE, that it was THEM who lost it. Mom, you were right and I was wrong.
Maybe someone will take this up as the next great idea for an iPhone app. Except not me. I’m busy. Excuse me while I now go search for Jabulani’s rugby shirt.
Epilogue: Weeks later Impatience’s missing track suit pants reappeared. I saw Zax, who is 15, walking out of the house with them. The fact that they barely reached below his knees gave them away. But do you think he would have noticed something was amiss?
Further reading: School Uniforms Revisited – Pros and Cons