MY best friend and I turned 50, just over a year ago, in January 2012. On our big birthday we vowed that from now on, we would keep a bottle of champagne in our respective fridges at all times. Why? Basically, because we felt we were worth it. But also because with the wisdom of our great age, we know there are times when you just have to sit down and say, "I'm bloody well great and I am going to have a glass of bubbly for the hell of it!"
This Friday (drum roll please), my youngest child will walk out the gates of her National School for the last time and I will have completed 21 years . . . yes, that's right, 21 years of being a junior school parent. Yes, I was disorganised enough in my breeding to have had a major gap between oldest and youngest. But that's not the point. No, the point is 21 years.
21 years of Head Lice Notes. You know, the ones with a heading in extra-large, bold print that says, "URGENT – PLEASE CHECK YOUR CHILD'S HAIR" and then goes on to outline the "current outbreak" or "infestation" and finishes by helpfully telling you where you can buy the latest foul-smelling concoction to spread on your little darling's delicate head.
By the way, I found Tea Tree Spray to be a wonderful deterrent to the little blighters. My darlings were sprayed in it whenever the Head Lice Note came home; when I had finished scratching, that is.
21 years of lunch boxes which can be subjected to a 'health police' check at any time. And there's always at least one teacher in the school who takes this responsibility very, very seriously and will terrorise both you and your little darling throughout the year she teaches your little one.
As I got older and more jaded, the dread of being branded a bad mother abated. However, I do admit to operating the 'weekly apple' system. You know the game; the one where you put a nice red apple into the lunchbox on Monday. It comes home untouched but covered in crumbs from the sandwich. You rinse and replace it in the lunchbox on Tuesday and then repeat until Friday morning when you think, "feck it, it's Friday, we don't have to pretend to be healthy on Friday". And the apple goes in the bin and is replaced by a chocolate bar!
21 years of cake sales which took on a slightly sinister twist when an element of coercion was introduced by letting parents know that children who come in to school with cakes for the sale would be let off homework!
21 years of helping with teas and coffees at communions and confirmations and other events – well that's not quite true – I probably did less the older I got, but I've done my fair share all the same.
21 years of attempting to repair the knees of tracksuits.
21 years of summer camps.
21 years of trying to dry copy books from water damage from seepage from bottles not closed tightly enough.
21 years of homework meltdowns.
21 years of hearing multiplication tables and spellings and how to put words like 'inappropriate' into a sentence. And I still can't function without a calculator. My spelling is still pretty awful, too.
21 years of trying to remember my Irish while simultaneously stressing how it is important to have a working knowledge of our native tongue.
21 years of the Trocaire box and the annual Easter scramble to fill it with as much small change as possible, so my children wouldn't be mortified by the fact that once again we hadn't managed to put anything in the bloody box during Lent.
21 years of school tours, no-uniform days, of €2 for this and that, of Christmas concerts and nativity plays. Actually scratch nativity plays – I love nativity plays.
My baby's graduation was last week. 'Graduation' from National School? It was a long way from National School graduation I was reared, but I digress.
I sat with himself in the school hall and all the other parents of the class of 2013. I was old enough to be the mother of many of the other mammys and daddys. It was a sobering experience.
It was also the first of my three children's graduations at which I didn't cry. Oh no. . . inside, I was filled with a weary relief. It's been a long and winding road.
No wonder I feel so tired.
Today at 11.50 it all comes to an end. By noon you will hear the pop of the champagne cork in my corner of suburbia . . . because after 21 years, I know I'm bloody well great and I deserve it.