So, it has happened. School days are upon us. Duckling officially started in Reception last week, and a minor wet pants incident and general exhaustion aside, so far he seems to be loving it. He even sings the praises of school dinners.
I too am relishing the comparative silence and freedom of just having the one child to look after for most of the week. There is one thing I'm struggling with though - aside from missing him (just a little bit) - and that's school gate social etiquette. Given that I'm SAHM these days, I have to get my adult interaction wherever I can find it. School is not like nursery however. Instead of ten or so other Mums waiting outside the gate, making it fairly easy to strike up conversations, there are literally hundreds. It's a scrum, and it's difficult to even spot people I know, let alone talk to them. It doesn't help that I'm inherently shy either.
Take today. I arrived at the school and saw my friend (let's call her Sarah) and her daughter on the other side of the road. She lives west of the school - as do most of the families that go there. I meanwhile live to the east. I waved, she waved, the kids yelled hi at each other and we processed down opposite sides of the road, until we reached the zebra crossing in front of the school. At this point, I had a dilemma. Should I wait for Sarah to cross over, blocking the pavement with my pushchair and causing a build up of impatient parents behind me, or should I just go with the flow and hope I'd catch her outside the classroom? I chose the former, and after Duckling had been kissed, cuddled and dispatched, I looked around for her. She was over in the corner, chatting to her daughter, who was having a bit of a weep. I hovered for a moment or two, but she didn't look up and I didn't want to interrupt. Then Ducklingette started grizzling, so I decided to start slowly heading for the gate, thinking maybe she'd catch up when she spotted me. She didn't, and before I knew it, I was caught in the flow of departing parents again and was back on the east side of the road with no one to talk to, simultaneously relieved and disappointed that I didn't have to put my morning brain in gear to chat, but also worried that she would find me rude for not having waited for her.
This is a scenario that has played out in various forms with various people over the past week or two and I just don't feel I'm getting it right. What is the etiquette for chatting to and/or walking back with other parents at drop off / pick up? If I see a parent I know, should I:
a) walk straight over and engage them in conversation, sticking to them like glue even if that means getting in everyone's way or looking like a lemon when they need to stop to speak to their child / a teacher / another parent?
b) wait for them in a designated place outside school, pounce on them as they appear, follow them down their side of the pavement shouting questions and mishearing responses while weaving single file between a fence and poorly parked cars, then say a hurried farewell and get stuck for five minutes trying to cross back onto the other side of the road to get home.
c) acknowledge them with a wave and a smile but don't bother trying to converse unless both conveniently waiting alongside each other as the kids come out / go in.
d) bypass the whole issue by keeping my head down and pretending to be distracted by the kids.
Currently my method is mostly c (or if I'm honest, d) with one disastrous attempt at b. I know there are a bunch of Mums (that I sort of know from Duckling's nursery days) who routinely wait for each other, as I see them each morning, standing by the crossing until the whole West Side gang (often including Sarah) is assembled so they can walk back together and have a good old chinwag. I try to smile and wave as I head off east, but they never really acknowledge me as they're usually too busy chatting amongst themselves. It's not that I'm jealous - OK, I am a bit jealous - I just don't know how to infiltrate their group without looking like a desperate, needy teenager.
I suspect the answer is probably not to. I am RUBBISH at being cool so I'd never fit in with the clique anyway. All it would take would be an admission that I've never watched Strictly (I really haven't) and it would be my secondary school days all over again - the popular girls laughing at me for being such a massive SQUARE. Which they did a lot. Because I was.
So, I think my plan of attack next week is to worry less about offending people and transgressing the unwritten rules of the school gate (as I'm not really sure that anyone knows exactly what they are anyway) and just go with the flow. In the chaos of the school run, you're never going to be able to have a meaningful conversation with anyone anyway (particularly not with a toddler in tow who regularly wants OUT OUT OUT of her pushchair), so unless the opportunity conveniently arises, I'll stick with smiling and waving while I work, ninja style, to get Duckling in and out of his classroom. If I get close enough for long enough to chat, great! If not, well there's always semaphore, or the 21st century equivalent: WhatsApp. LOL 🙋♀️