I've come to realise that this parenting thing is a steep and oh, so constant learning curve. We never have it nailed. Just as we get them sleeping, we need to get them eating. Then they need to walk and talk and before you know it you're trying to convince them to use a toilet rather than curling down a turd in the middle of the local library (true story). None of this is easy; it keeps you on your toes and, in moments of quiet reflection (read: rocking back and forth in the corner asking, "When will this be over?) you'll wonder if you'll ever be able to rest easy again. The answer is, quite simply, no. Now that we've more or less got the sleeping, eating, walking, talking thing down (don't talk to me about potty training), we're onto the next thing: schools. Except that I didn't really think it was a 'thing', at least not yet because, well, she's only two, right? Wrong. It's become startlingly apparent to me recently, as I observe my fellow local mamas, that school is definitely something I should be getting my knickers in a twist about.
So, dutifully, I have. Consider my panties bunched. The rational part of my brain (unfortunately, the weaker part that suffers from chronic shyness and low self-esteem) knows that this isn't something to lose sleep over. She'll get into school somewhere! She's smart! She'll do well anywhere! Unfortunately, the totally bonkers-hyper-anxiety-addicted part of my brain (the strong, brutish bully) is not so sanguine about the whole thing. Essentially, I've managed to convince myself that The Small will end up at St. Shitsville where she'll fail all the SATs exams that I don't even agree with or care about and be forever damned to a life of petty crime, unemployment and three unwanted pregnancies before she's 12. She'll end up living at home until she dies of an unfulfilled soul and a shrivelled up brain.
I have a penchant for the dramatic.
Anyway, the point is, I'm spiralling out of control. No matter where I look, I can't seem to find a page on the internet ANYWHERE that tells me exactly what I, as a concerned parent, should do or could do to help better my Small's chances of a half-decent education in London Town. There's some blurb on the local council website about application deadlines but there's no information about what I do if we're only in the catchment area for one school which, after witnessing the chaos at kicking out time and speaking to local parents, sounds moderately better than a stint in Josef Fritzl's basement (too much?)
I can't find any info about whether I can apply to any damn school I want, regardless of catchment areas. What are the best tactics are to ensure a place? Should I be going to see these schools now? Can I join the PTA or the Governors? Bake a batch of cookies for charity mornings? Get one of those estate agent signs to put in my front garden advertising the school's egg and spoon race? I'll literally do whatever it takes to get The Small into a decent school...I'm just not sure what that is.
Then, of course, there's church. I don't even know where to start with this hot topic. We didn't christen Billie because, in our entire adult life (excluding the odd carol service, wedding and funeral) we'd never stepped foot in church so why would we? Yet, I'm struggling to think of a local parent I know right now that isn't going down this route. One set of parents are taking their Small to the Catholic church and the C of E church! They are spouting a 'whatever it takes' attitude, which as you know, I'm totally down with but I'm just not sure I can go through with it without crumbling into a pile of nervous laughter and a guilt-induced confession that I'm only doing it to get into a decent school.
We'd have to get her Christened for a start which would require swallowing all my dignity and walking into the church and saying something along the lines of, "Yeah, I know we've lived here for three years, it's just that we simply haven't had a moment to give up our precious Sunday mornings that we mostly spend eating eggy-toast in bed with CBeebies on to get this sorted out yet. I know 3 is a little older than you'd normally like for a Christening...oh and I promise you this has absolutely nothing to do with schools even though I've never once been to a Sunday morning church service in my entire life...but it would be ace if we could go ahead and book a time to dunk her in some of that holy water and say Amen?"
I don't necessarily have a problem with doing that - after all it's amazing how shaky your stead-fast principles become when it comes to your precious offspring - but is it necessary? I have no idea because there isn't a web page telling me.
I don't want to get to a point when she misses out on an amazing place at the C of E bilingual school (yes, that's a real thing) because we're out of the catchment area. "If only she was baptised," I imagine the headteacher saying to me as I drown in a puddle of my own tears and guilt. How warm and cosy would my principles keep me then as I toddle of to St. Shitsville?
Quite simply, if there's anyone out there reading this right now who knows how the fudge I'm supposed to manage this overcrowded, underfunded, state school system to ensure my Small turns out to be more than the kid that eats glitter and is friends with a sandwich, I'd be extremely grateful. If you're an expert on all things schools then I'll rope you in to the NSSN circle and organise an event so that you can help other parents out too. We'd make a killing...
Otherwise, I'm going to have to sell the house and move to well, anywhere else but London.