Wednesday 23 January 2019

Victoria White: Dreading saying that final goodbye to the sisterhood of the school gate

We're into the last three weeks of the primary school term and all the bets are off. The kids are driven mad by the endless daylight. They really can't hack school anymore.

They can smell the summer and they want it bad.

But there's a group of mothers in my school who are very quiet. They're about to lose the structure of their days and a lot of their social life because their last kid is leaving national school.


I have a child who's leaving too, but I have two more to go so I have a few years' grace. But many of the sixth class mothers are into their last three weeks of gossip at the school gate.

"I just can't deal with it," said one friend. Forget the past pupils' union, she's planning get-togethers and social activities in the school for the ex-mammies.

"The kids go on to other schools and they'll probably forget all about their national school. We won't," she says.

Like so many Irish mammies, she gave up her day job and opted to do bits of work from home once she had kids. Like so many Irish mammies, she also felt very isolated. Until her kids went to school. Then she found a new purpose. Her life had a shape and she had a ready-made social life of a kind which stay-at-home dads find more difficult to tap into.

This mammy threw herself into the activities of the school, helping with the fund-raising, with school tours and even in the classroom. She found that when a group of mammies got together the ideas just kept coming. A small business grew out of one of these conversations, and she pitched in to do a few hours' work.

But the most important thing she got out of the school, she says, was friendship. She's single so she thinks it might have meant all the more to her. But the other mammies drew on the support network too.

When one woman's husband died, an army of mammies descended on the house and organised a rota to take the kids, cook the food. When another got cancer, a dinner rota was organised in the staff room. The sick woman was a newcomer to this country, but she said she could never leave Ireland after what those women did for her.

Some of these friendships will last, but some won't, says my friend, because people are busy nowadays and it will be hard to keep in touch without the ritual of the school gate.

With just three more weeks to go, my friend says she is "blocking it out".

The National Parents' Council is looking at parents' involvement in education this Saturday in a conference which explores practical ways for parents to help their children learn. They say parents' involvement matters more to children's education than money or social class or how educated their parents are and goes, as one of the talks is entitled, "Beyond Buns and Basketball".

But the buns and basketball are important too, because of the deep friendships mammies make as they arrange doilies on plates and put up bunting.


For thousands of mums, particularly those with no work-place, the world is suddenly going to be a much lonelier place in three weeks' time.

No-one talks about this transition, but that's hardly surprising because they don't talk about what goes on at the school gate either.

It's just mammies, after all. It's not about making money or making headlines.

But as far as I'm concerned, these mammies are engines of the economy, from swapping play dates to covering childcare crises to scraping the Blu-Tack off the spoons of egg-and-spoon race contenders. They've created the last community centres we have.

We should be looking at the communities around our national schools and asking why we can't make other communities like them. We should be asking the mammies how it's done.

Information on the National Parents' Council's primary conference, 'Your Child Needs You', from www.npc.ie/01-887 4488

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