‘Run!’ I scream as we charge breathlessly through the school gates, the seconds ticking dangerously towards nine o’clock. ‘Run!’ I scream again.
J rushes towards the classroom, trailing his book bag and his oversized jumper, and almost tripping over his new dinosaur school shoes. I follow breathlessly, hampered by my pregnant belly and the pushchair with its dodgy wheel.
The teacher is coming the other way, padlock in palm, ready to shut out late comers and laggers, offspring of bad mothers. People like us.
J is just centimetres away, but the teacher is there first. She slams the gate, clangs the bolt and brandishes the padlock.
‘Would you please go through the office,’ she barks.
FFS. She hasn’t even turned the key. It’s 8.59 and 50 seconds.
J hasn’t even been back a week and already we have to make our debut in the late register. I glance at the office clock. It’s just gone nine, but I make a point of writing 8.59 in the ‘time in’ column. Next is the ‘reason’ column, where you are required to explain your lateness; to make excuses for slovenly parenting and poor time management.
J’s reception year was peppered with regular contributions to this column: ‘traffic … dustbin lorry … ice …. roadworks,’ and other unimaginative foils for my general lack of organisation, and allergy to mornings.
But this morning, I am too fuming, to even bother penning an excuse. And if I was to write the truth, chances are they would either not believe me, or call social services. I leave the column blank and angry.
So here is the real reason why J was late on his fifth day back at school.
We are living in a CARAVAN. Yes, a claustrophobic, tinned piece of temporary accommodation, barely bigger than a wendy house. Yes, a sodding caravan, while our own house is demolished and rebuilt before the baby arrives. Or quite possibly, after.
Caravans, I have discovered, are like saunas during the day, and igloos at night. We woke up this morning, freezing, after another horrible night’s sleep. Four of us squashed into one double bed. The bed then needs dismantling and reassembling into a table, before we can attempt to eat breakfast.
Healthy eating is almost impossible. The egg-box sized fridge is barely big enough for a pint of milk and a carton of orange juice, so the kids eat bread and nutella. At least they’re happy.
We’re just about to leave, when J announces he needs a poo. This is not an usual event. Normally, it would only delay us by a few minutes. However, under present conditions, the call of nature involves a trip across a field to a communal toilet block. Brilliant. I decide we might as well stop on the way to collect some water from the tap, as we don’t have fresh water in the caravan either.
J answers the call of nature, and we traipse back to the caravan, only to discover that in our haste I had forgotten to shut the door. A robin is now flapping mentally against the pvc windows. It’s like something out of Hitchcock spoof, except I am in no mood for humour.
I finally shoo the bird outside, to cries of ‘don’t kill it, Mummy,’ and we pile into the car. By now there is a queue of caravans at the barrier.
It takes ages just to get off the site – which is conveniently located miles away from school, and on route to the M25. Inevitably, the traffic is horrendous, the lights are all against us, and J and D start arguing in the back so I take a wrong turn.
By the time we arrive, my blood pressure must be in the danger zone, and I worry I’m at risk of trailer park induced pre-eclapmsia.
Quite frankly it’s a miracle J has made it to school at all this week. And given the circumstances, they can stuff the late register.