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Is there anything bleaker than waking up in the morning and realising that you literally have nothing planned with your three-year-old other than a trip to the local park? OK, I do realise lots of things are bleaker – war, drug addiction and child poverty being just three – but some days I actually think I’d rather go to a warzone than my local playground (there are those who might say on particularly grim low-lit February mornings it resembles one, with its expanse of pockmarked concrete, and drifts of flyblown litter).

I haven’t quite plumbed the exact depths of exactly why it affects me this way (I need a few more years of therapy for that), but going to my local playpark makes me feel like a total misfit. My child is generally the only one having a full-blown, blue-in-the-face tantrum on the swings (‘I SAID, push me FASTER mummy!). The other mothers always seem to be in tight little gaggles of twos and threes. Their children are always perfectly dressed. They are generally in the bland suburban uniform of jeans, some kind of padded jacket and Ugg boots. Unlike me, they look perfectly, happily at home there, amidst the three-wheel Bugaboos and Micro scooters, the Jojo Maman Bebe playsuits and Baby Bjorn carriers. I look at them, and think ‘they’ll never want to talk to me.’

I’m aware this makes me sound like I am the one who has the problem (and in a way it’s true), and it’s my fault for living somewhere where wearing a pair of Converse trainers or reading The Guardian marks you out as a wacky leftfield individualist who dares to have their own thoughts occasionally, not just ones they saw in the Daily Mail (OK, I exaggerate, but not that much). But it’s true that there are few places where I feel more like an outsider than the park. Just the thought of going there instantly makes me feel inferior, stressed, weird and very, very bored indeed.

That isn’t the only reason I dread the park, however. There are the constant tantrums, as described before. There is generally the threat of one of the much older, rather aggressive school children who permanently seem to inhabit the under-7s play areas viciously kicking my son in the head on the climbing frame. There is the vague threat that my own child might accidentally hit or punch a younger child, leading to a minor law suit. There is the fact that an evil ice-cream vendor permanently parks his van outside the gates, which means I will inevitably have to fork out £2 for an ice-cream for my son on the way home.

There is the general fear that, while I look away for a split second, my son will tumble off one of the climbing frames, and smash his head in. And there is the slightly tense air of competitiveness amongst parents to get on the damned equipment to begin with, whether it’s claiming a turn on the swing or getting in line for the slides. I just can’t bear the middle-class elbows-out-ness of it all.

Ok, I grudgingly admit it – it’s nice to see my son’s enjoyment on the slide and roundabout. I want him to learn how to climb, and get a few adrenalin-based thrills on the slide. But, generally, when I take him, it is one of those selfless moments that as a mother I must practice every day, as I do something I would rather not, as I eavesdrop on blood-pressure raising conversations about catchment areas (my son got our 6th choice of primary school, so please just shut up!) and feel the hours of my life slipping away, every rotation of the roundabout another second not spent doing something more edifying. But I love my son, so I take him to the park anyway.

I’m proud to say that I am probably almost alone amongst the mummies I have met in never having pored over the Ofsted league tables online, weeping openly because I live in the ‘wrong’ street (and believe me, I do live on the ‘wrong’ street). OK, that is a bit of a lie – I have glanced at the ones in the newspaper, but only when my husband shoved them under my nose, and even then they made me feel a bit faint, and I had to sit down, and pretend I hadn’t really seen them. Because it was really all too depressing.

Why do mothers love reading Ofsted tables so much? Obviously none of us want to send our beloved offspring to a school where they’re going to get stabbed on their first day, get a Class A education in drug-dealing, but not actually learn to read or write and spend their days filming Happy Slappings on their mobiles. And that’s only the infants schools. Still I’m praying there isn’t as vast a difference between many of the schools as the tables initially suggest, for the primary schools at least. Surely the quality of a school depends on so many other factors as well as test results? And how do we really know if, just because a school scored 3% higher in one particular test, it’s really a nicer place for your child to spend most of his or her waking hours?  The report also depends on what happens on one measly day in the year, and doesn’t factor in things like how much private tutoring and pushy parents are skewing exam results.

Ultimately simple common sense tells us that not everyone is able to go to the ‘best’ school in an area, in the same way we can’t all be in the catchment for the ‘best’ hospital either. Of course, like everything else in life that inevitably means that the richest, most middle-class people, with the most sophisicated research skills, can afford to move to the priciest houses in the best catchments , and get the best state education for free. Which kind of defeats the whole object of the system (actually I reckon high-scoring state schools should be means-tested – if you earn over £150,000 or so, you should be forced to go private to create more space for everyone else).  With the current baby boom in place, and no real plan in place to address this population blip as far as I can tell, I dread to think what the scramble will be like for the ‘decent’ schools in my area by the time my little one gets to school age (hopefully by then I’ll be living in a sparsely populated area of rural Wales running an organic B&B or something, so I won’t need to worry. Particularly as, being married to a staunch atheist, it’s unlikely we’ll be going down the ‘I’ve just seen the light! That Pope Benedict 16th is one majorly cool dude! Let’s go get Baptised now!’ faith school route.)

Who knows, perhaps in a couple of years, when reality hits and the peer pressure bites, I’ll be poring over the lists with the worst of them, converting to Catholicism and plotting my escape to some suburban hellhole where my soul will shrivel up and die but my child will go to a school that offers viola lessons and GSCE Mandarin. But I wish to God that a system had been in place where parents were just forced to send their children to a particular school rather than being allowed to exercise ‘choice’, ultimately resulting in the undignified scrabble for places, and the ridiculous gap between good and bad secondary schools we see today.

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This blog is currently dedicated to stuff new mummies like. As opposed to stuff mummies of teenagers like. That's because we don't have teenagers yet. Give us a few years though. We're told it goes pretty quickly...

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