Joburg Expat: Mom, Where is My School Tie?

June 26, 2012

Mom, Where is My School Tie?

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.

This is just the sanitized non-smelly at-home version of the school lost and found bin

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

7 comments :

Jozie Days said...

Oh Sine, this made me laugh! I sympathise with you 100%. I am in the same boat! Luckily we have our school shop on the school grounds - and they open at 6.45am! They are packed almost every morning with frustrated Moms and forgetful kids. "Oh Mom, I have house cross country today" (when you are almost at school driving down the famous William Nicol) "Well I am not turning back now - because we are going to be late (again)". So it is of to the school shop.

We have had several incidents with my 8 year old forgetting his school shoes at home. We don't let kids wear shoes in the house (an Italian habit) and so he is fully dressed and gets into the car - sometimes you will hear a little whimper half way to school as he realises that Mom is going to blow a fuse when she hears that she has to turn back to get school shoes - or if he is with Dad they phone Mom to say please bring the shoes to school! That is why I think you are very wise to have chosen a school within walking distance of home!

We also have a huge lost property section at school but I have never been brave enough to sift through to find our stuff - I do send the boys to try and locate missing items before spending more money replacing things. They have a great policy come end of term, anything that is not labeled and unclaimed and in good condition can be purchased for R5 or R10.So I send them with R50 to replace some of the things that they have out grown! Money raised is then donated to charity.

I have always loved school uniforms it is so much easier than trying to decide what to wear every day. It has been quite a transition for my eldest who is now at university.

I have managed through years of nagging to get them to pack their sports bags the night before and put them in the car. It really does help in the morning although no matter how early we get up we are always late! Now for me to pack lunch boxes the night before and I am sure we would all have a better morning!

Sine said...

LOL! I think we're all in the same boat. You had me laughing out loud at the little whimper from the backseat - I can only imagine what kind of fuse I would blow! And yes, walking to school helps in not forgetting your shoes, at least in winter. My daughter does do that sometimes in summer, as she loves walking barefoot. In fact our school used to allow bare feet but for some reason no more.

But you are right, put in perspective I still prefer the uniforms. You still end up spending less I think, even with all the replacements. And less "thinking" involved. Just "now where did I leave that tracksuit top" kind of thinking...

Love your school's policy, will suggest same at ours, as they are just now reorganizing the lost/found to make it more manageable.

Anonymous said...

Our home is finally packed. While throwing clothes out of my child's closet into a suitcase, I stumbled on a navy jumper I had acquired in advance for the private kindergarten she was to attend this fall...and cried. With us moving, and attending the American school, I dread the Hello Kitty ensembles and other things she will be wanting to wear. I love our school uniforms here. I was so looking forward to knee socks and Mary Jane shoes. My fifth grader,on the other hand, couldn't be happier. I do love the look of uniforms, but mostly I love not fighting over what my child can wear to school. Expat or not, I think any uniform school parent should get a huge kick from this post....except for the one perfect mom with the kids we all swear are robots or aliens.

Lara Kilfoil said...

Anonymous - we are packing up in a few weeks and our son will be starting at the American school Kindergarten as well! My husband in South African and has fond memories of his green blazer and track suits and was a little bummed about AISJ not having uniforms. I was a little disappointed too....until reading today's post!
Hope to meet you on the other side!!

Jessie said...

Our son was enrolled at Bryanston Primary for the first few months we were here. Like a good mom, I teared up and snapped 110 photos of "my little man" all snazzed up in his uniform. Within the first two weeks, he lost two entire uniforms, and one PE uniform, a school backpack, and a lunchbox. I realize that this reflects poorly on my disorganized child (I call him easy going) and clearly his is not the robot-child of a "perfect" mother. However, this is when is was totally OVER the uniform. And as I am helping him into layer upon layer of starchy discomfort, I couldn't help but wonder how wearing a tie and clothes that were completely uncomfortable were helping him learn. Ironically, as soon as we decided to move him to the American school, we found 647 Bryanston Primary uniform objects. Of course we did.

Sine said...

You really made me laugh there Jessie! Of course you would find all those objects as soon as you didn't need them anymore, good old Mr. Murphy at work there. Too bad Bryanston Primary didn't work out for you guys - I can see how you must have felt. Our kids felt like that for the first few weeks as well as some of the SA kids weren't as welcoming as I would have liked (especially on the girl side) and it's almost as if you had to prove yourself first before being accepted. Now of course they're all fine and it probably gave them huge self-confidence to have gotten over it, but I also think it was easier since they always had each other and weren't the only "new kid". Good luck at AISJ!

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