When it comes to making new friends, we all need a little push, Michael Cook finds
As the children start their new school, we worry how they'll get on. Not about their academic progress. Being busy-body parents, we have questioned and probed and delved to find a school that we are confident will challenge, inspire and stretch our children, and stop Alfie mixing up his Bs and Ds. No, our nightmare premonition is of two academically-fulfilled young prodigies going out into the world, clutching double firsts in physics and philosophy, headed off for glittering careers and untold riches. With no mates.
I mean, what if no one wants to be their friend? What if, by switching schools at the ages of six and eight, we have fatally disrupted their burgeoning inter-personal networks and condemned them to view social interaction as inevitably destined for failure? Or what if the other kids just say they smell?
Luckily, thanks to the supportive atmosphere in school (and a new bottle of shower gel) our fears are unfounded. Poppy is greeted with delight and amazement, mostly on account of bringing the same lunchbox as one of the other girls. This startling coincidence is interpreted as a sign from Fate rather than a sign that we both shop at the Asda round the corner, and is universally agreed to be the basis for a strong and lasting friendship.
Anyway, out of 30 pupils in the class, only nine of them are girls, so they are desperate for female company. (And how did that happen, I wonder? Is there something in the water on the south side of the Trent? A testosterone spill? A West Bridgford butcher padding out his sausages with slugs and snails and puppy dogs' tails?) Meanwhile, Alfie has football. On day one, he can't wait to tell us about scoring his first playground goal. On day two, he comes home with a handful of premiership stickers that some boys in his class have given him. He'll be OK. Give a boy a borderline-obsessive sports compulsion and there is no male gathering he cannot infiltrate successfully.
So that just leaves me. A couple of days after starting school, Poppy's class needs parents to help walk the children to swimming. As we crocodile down the back streets, I have another nightmare realisation about changing schools: I don't know anyone here, either. Shepherding the class away from the edge of the pavement isn't easy when you don't know someone's name. And later, at the pool, I realise it's not just the children I don't know. A small group of parents are gathered chatting. And suddenly I'm all shy and silly. What if no one wants to be my friend? If only I had some football cards or a novelty lunchbox.
But then another dad approaches. He doesn't know if I'd be interested, but every few weeks he organises a get together for the fathers from Class 11.
Called "Dads 4 Beers". I guess there are grown-up ways to oil the wheels of friendship.
Michael Cook is a freelance writer and parent-helper at Jesse Gray primary school, West Bridgford, Nottingham, which his children Alfie and Poppy attend