herald

Wednesday 7 December 2016

The end of primary school is harder for mammies than kids

A TEXT pings on my phone: "We have her at the 40 Foot. Back in an hour."

I'm relieved. My baby is OK. One of the mammies in the class is making sure of that.

How many texts like that have I had in the nine years my little girl has been in primary school and preschool? Thousands.

"Will I keep her for you?" "Can she sleep over?" "Will I feed her?"

I don't remember doing anything for anyone but I must have. Because that's how the community of mammies in our primary school works.

Like the first humans we have reared our kids together as a group of mammies.

Sure, we had our hierarchies, our Big Chimp Mammies and Little Chimp Mammies. But my kid was your kid and your kid was my kid.

Our children had the security and freedom of growing up in a community. And today it's gone. With about 50,000 other Irish kids my last child left primary school yesterday.

I'm on my own, all of a sudden.

The younger mammies who still have kids in the school will carry on, not believing that they will ever leave.

The older mammies watched a beautiful but heartbreaking video of those pudding-faced little babies wrapping their chubby fingers round crayons and dressed up for their Communion and cried into their last cup of coffee together.

We just kept asking the question none of us can answer: where did the time go?

Our little girls are wearing nail varnish and heels now and our little boys are strutting around in bomber jackets.

Inside, some of them are frightened of growing up and going to secondary school.

My little girl sits for hours in her room with the window open as if she's expecting Peter Pan to take her flying like Wendy on her last night in the nursery.

break

I wouldn't like to be her, getting into a bottle green uniform and facing over 100 girls I don't know.

But the truth is it's a bigger break for me than for her.

She will have a new community in secondary school before too long and she may yet have another one in college.

But I won't make new friends among the convent school mammies because I won't meet them if my daughter can help it.

There's no more school-gate at secondary school.

You're lucky if you can get the right numbers to text when your big boys and girls have gone AWOL.

I'm heading into the blue yonder. I have no community left.

The primary school mammies will make efforts to meet up, of course, and a few have become close friends.

But the safe and easy social circle is no more because we won't be meeting all the time like we used to.

I'm wondering if our 3,305 primary schools are the last communities we have?

Everyone used to live in communities except for a few lone wolves. But few people nowadays can rely on their churches for company.

There's the wonderful GAA of course, but more men than women rely on that for community and this mammy won't be togging out as a coach any time soon.

Nowadays we rely on work for company and I think that's a mistake.

Work is competitive and hierarchical.

Develop a health problem or hatch one baby too many and you could find yourself with no company at all.

It suits the extreme capitalist mind-set to have us build our lives around work, leaving our streets deserted and the elderly, the young and the disabled completely isolated.

But the gates of the primary schools of Ireland show that we will build communities if we get a chance.

They're the last water-holes where Irish women exchange information as women used to do when they washed their clothes together.

Friends tell me that the end of primary school means I have to stand on my own two feet rather than seeing myself as a mammy.

But I think it means I need to build a community around myself again and keep the school-gate open in my life.

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