I like to think I do my bit for my children’s school – I bake cakes when the PTA asks for volunteers, I walk with a wiggling crocodile of 30 excited infants to the library or the swimming pool whenever I can, and I totally support the teachers with the reading, spellings and homework projects they send home. However, if I have to conjure up one more impossible-to-find outfit in place of school uniform, I may well stage some kind of embarrassing protest in the playground.
The letters and emails seem to come one after another. They always state that they don’t want you to go to a lot of effort or expense and to just make use of ordinary items you already have at home. But who HAS a Chinese emperor’s outfit hanging in the wardrobe? Or an evacuee costume? Strangely, brown and itchy isn’t our usual choice when buying clothes. What 11-year-old owns WHITE trousers – and what are the chances of them surviving more than one wearing once you’ve forked out for them? We’ve had days they’ve had to wear green (saving the planet), blue (anti-bullying, I think) and red (can’t remember now). We’ve had some kind of hybrid Ancient Greek/Roman civilisation day when they had to dress as a soldier or wear a toga (just use a white sheet and look up how to do it on YouTube, the email breezily advised). My efforts made him look more like a Halloween ghost – and then the safety pins failed and the whole thing fell down by morning break.
Children in Need spots are easy for girls, but for some reason spots on boys’ clothing are a very rare thing. I may or may not have spent one long night (when I had only one child and he’d only just started school and I was still trying to impress his Reception teacher with my enthusiasm) painting multicoloured spots onto a T-shirt and desperately trying to get them dry in time with a hair-dryer.
And then there’s World Book Day, when you have the added pressure of wanting them to dress as a character from a book that is vaguely age-appropriate and doesn’t feature either a Disney princess or some kind of assassin.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s lovely walking into a classroom full of Willy Wonkas, Alice in Wonderlands and Gangsta Grannies. I would never want to abolish the dressing-up and non-uniform days, but wouldn’t once or twice a year be enough? And please don’t pretend it’s going to be easy. My kids’ chest of drawers are full of much loved but slightly too small skirts and favourite T-shirts with stains that are never going to come out – no matter how deep I rummage, I’m not going to pull out Tudor robes or an astronaut suit.