The school uniform shop

So back to school – it’s complicated.

On the one hand, you’re reminded how fast time is passing and feel nostalgic about years gone by when your kids wore pint-sized uniforms and looked so cute and small in their back-to-school Facebook photos.

On the other hand, you’re doing a happy dance and ready to pop some bottles because, HALLELUJAH, the summer is almost OVER.

But first, there’s all the organising to do – the buying of supplies and uniforms, the labeling of clothes, the food shopping for snacks and lunch boxes, the fitting of school shoes, and the brow-beating of your children to get them to finally do their holiday homework.

I saw a Tweet the other day that made me smile – Real American Dadass wrote: “Back to school shopping is kinda like Christmas shopping. It’s an expensive pain in the ass but it leads to a great celebration.”

How true this is, especially when the school uniform shop is as packed as the malls just before Christmas. Of course, we could have gone weeks ago, but that would have been too sensible and anyway my boys – who are shooting up like beanstalks – might have outgrown everything.

Screen Shot 2017-09-04 at 02.06.34Son1, fast approaching his teens, was barely speaking to us as we drove to the store; Son2 wanted to know what reward he’d get for coming with us. I’d persuaded DH to come too, and he looked grim, the memory of being dragged to school uniform stores and made to try on countless items of clothes by his own mother still fresh in his mind.

The queue to park was the first sign of the upcoming chaos, then there was the look on the other parents’ faces: a sort of hollow-eyed, tense, almost defiant refusal to engage: I know we’re all in this together, I know it’s hell, but I’ve been waiting for 25 minutes so just let me hog this poor salesgirl for a bit longer, ok?

I joined the throng at a desk serving uniforms for our school, and tried to block out the soundtrack of impatient exclamations: “You’ve given me the wrong size!” “Do you have this in a 12?” “Don’t you have intermediate sizes?” “There’s threads coming out of this!” (Ironic that the store is called Threads.)

My children were jostling with each other like hamsters, and when made to try items on they pulled faces like they’d eaten a lemon.

“It fits fine Mum,” huffed Son1, even though the trousers were so tight they’d have cut off the blood supply to his lower body. He pulled a face again. “Can we go now?”

“Try these!” I handed him a larger size and he eyed me like I was giving him explosives.

In all fairness, the lady who helped us was fast and efficient, but then in the queue to pay, our escape plan came to a juddering halt. The dad in front was on a mission to organise tailoring. Our school requires blazers and the kids have to be measured so they fit properly. I’d accepted my fate that the tailor wasn’t available until Saturday, but not so this Dad. He wasn’t here on Sat. The woman on the only cash register began making phone calls – all round Dubai to track down another tailor.

Why I thought we’d get out of the shop anytime soon, I don’t know (Open more than one cash register? How ridiculous! That would be … customer service!)

“Excuse me, is there another till?” I ventured after a while. I tried to be polite.

“We’ve been waiting a long time too,” growled Frustrated Dad, deep lines burrowing their way across his forehead as though his kid had drawn them with a pencil. We glared at each other – unwittingly pitted against one another in a who’s been waiting the longest? contest.

But it worked. All of a sudden, a young salesboy woke up and noticed the queue snaking round the shop. We got out … just. Thank God that’s nearly (there’s still Saturday to go) over.


Organised Mum’s fait accompli

My boys are attending different schools this academic year (long story), so this week, whilst prodding them with an iron poker to prevent them napping in the car, I’ve been running from pillar to post, spending a small fortune on two sets of (different) uniforms, shoes, lunch boxes and water cups.

I’ve tried really hard to get it right, to make sure each boy is kitted out properly, with well-fitting shorts and shirts, that are labelled, and with hats that I know will get lost (due to the sun, there’s a no-hat/no-play policy).

You think you’ll just get it done on time, then you bump into her: Organised Mum. Yummy mummy-of-three-hen-pecked-children extraordinaire.

Organised Mum browses the uniform store at leisure, while everyone else’s shopping trip screeches to a halt due to the out-of-stock hats
You meet her at the uniform shop – except she’s not there to buy uniforms. She bought those in June, long before the store ran out of book bags and PE shirts. She’s there to buy a new wall planner, because last year’s didn’t have enough space for all their extra curricula activities.

“Are you ready for school?” she trills, with the smug air of someone who could quite easily spend this week by the pool. “Olivia can’t wait for school to start, can you darling?”

You see, Organised Mum has every reason to gloat, because she spent her entire summer planning for this moment. The Organised family went to the Rockies to climb mountains in July, with two weeks in St Tropez on the way back. But she never took her eye off the start of the new term.

Her children were measured and fitted for shoes on a stop-over in London; haircuts were done at Vidal Sassoon in Mayfair; her maid sewed satin labels on while they were away; and she restocked their stationery supplies with some stylish new lines sold exclusively at a French boutique.

Organised Mum has all the time in the world this week, and it’s beyond her that other mothers might still be buying last-minute uniforms. She finds a wall planner she likes and asks at the till if she can pre-order a diary for 2013. As she discusses typefaces, the working mothers in the line behind her, with approximately 10 minutes to get all their back-to-school supplies and get back to their desks, start silently cursing.

She leaves her details and the queue exhales a sigh of relief as she moves aside, but she’s not finished yet. With Mr Organised, a big cheese in oil pipelines, away in Saudi, she fancies a little more adult interaction and asks what activities we’re signing up for this term.

“We’re doing some extra French tuition,” she says. “The girls practised so hard on holiday. Go on, Trixabelle, say something in French. She sounds so clever when she speaks French.

“And we’ll be at the swimming trials, of course. Harry was very inspired by the Olympics … You never know!” she tinkles proudly.

“Maybe see you at the pool later,” she calls, as she breezes out the door into the sunshine.

Maybe not, Organised Mum. Some of us still have shopping to do.