So, Rory's been given this task to complete for his first day of school.
"As part of the settling in process for your child in September, it is always nice to have something special from home in school with them," says the letter from the Early Years Team. "We would like to ask you to work with your child over the summer to create a 'My Special Things' box, which they can decorate to make special...in here your child can pop little items that remind them of home, such as a family photograph, a little note of encouragement and a small toy."
Horseshit. We all know that this is not so much to do with settling in as it is an exercise in judgement. Believe me, I used to be a Reception teacher; I know these things.
While it is undoubtedly nice for the children to have something with them to act as a prompt for conversations about home during their first week at school, what the staff really want to know is the following:
1. How slack is the child's parent.
2. How much does the parent do with the child at home?
3. What is their home life like?
Woe betide the parent who forgets to bring the shoe box to school on the first day. You get an instant black mark in the slack book for that. (Usually, the forgetter of the shoe box would be me, but I only live a 2 minute walk from school, so when I inevitably forget it and see everyone else standing there smugly with theirs I can just double back and get it. I've got this one covered). And don't think they won't be able to tell who forgot about it until 10 minutes before bedtime the night before. They Will Know. PVA glue still a bit tacky under the glitter? Tut. Disorganized. Sad-head-shake in your direction, sir and madam. They will also be able to tell if you've decorated it yourself because it will be too pristine. Yours is the child with the perfect french plait and the handwriting that can only be achieved in a 4 year old via threats and bribery, yes? Oh dear oh dear, Mrs Try-Hard; you're on the 'fussy parent' list and you're not coming off again until you send your child to school looking like a normal 4 year old (slightly grubby, a bit scruffy, sleep still in corners of eyes, scuffed shoes) instead of a show pony. Don't produce a shoe box at all despite reminders 2 days in? Well, you might as well commit school run suicide.
But even if you negotiate your way through the above obstacles, you're not out of the woods yet. Oh no. Because you could be like me and settle down in week 2 of the holidays to decorate the shoe box with your child, let them do it all themselves, not so much as twitch when it looks really crappy and have a strategy in place for not forgetting it on the first day. But your child still gets to choose what to put in it. And that's why I've fallen at the last hurdle.
Having been at home with Rory for the past 4 years, and having done an awful lot of stereotypical lovely, old fashioned stuff with him - crunchy autumn walks, baking, blackberry picking, crafts, painting, games, junk modelling, trips to the park, trips to the seaside, days at the farm and so on - I foolishly imagined that he might choose to fill his box with a charming family portrait - one in which we all look normal, (although to be fair, there are not many of those in existence), perhaps a special shell from a day at the beach, a Lego man from long days of playing Lego with Daddy, his favourite cheese scone recipe, the rusty key we found on an impromptu nature ramble and one of the little books that he can read on his own.
Instead, he has seen fit to sum up four years of my parenting by filling his shoe box with a half empty packet of crisps, a Disney Cars DVD, a piece of paper on which he has written 'wee and poo' all by himself (is it too much to hope that they may be impressed with his advanced phonetic knowledge here?), a book of 1950s pin-up girls - some of whom have naked bosoms - that he found lurking at the back of the bookcase, and a large assortment of Happy Meal toys. All topped off with a photo of us all covered in jam and cream after a food fight.
I am escaping the labels of slack parent, pushy mum, perfectionist and too-lazy-to-care scally, only to land firmly in 'unfit mother' territory. Unless I can re-write history and tempt him to include one of those shells that I insisted on taking home from the beach the other day. And sneak the Happy Meal stuff into the bin. And...oh forget it.