As the news media went into a frenzy about Prince George’s first day at school – with the focus very much on how his mum Kate had been unable to take him – I found myself wondering if George’s dad was experiencing the same kind of school run I had when my son was that age.
I wondered at what point in their journey did Prince George, clutching his dad’s hand as they ambled along the road, turn around and ask; ‘Dad, what’s bigger, a bus or a dinosaur?’ or ‘Dad, what makes fruit juice taste much nicer than milk?’ or one I especially recall as we once walked by a house being renovated; ‘Dad, is it only people from Poland who can build things?’
Watch out – Dad on the school run!
Perhaps I was the only one watching the footage of Prince George’s first day who was thinking about his dad’s role in the school run. The following day’s headlines were all about Kate’s absence through morning sickness, what the nervous little Prince was wearing and how he had to shake hands with his new teacher. His dad’s part in it all barely merited a mention.
Ok, if Kate hadn’t been ill she’d have been there too. The Royal couple has announced that they’ll do the school run as often as possible to give some ‘normality’ to George’s life. But for me there’s nothing more ‘normal’ than for dad to be taking his child to nursery and school as I did for the best part of eight years, albeit without a detachment of armed bodyguards and a flock of paparazzi.
I noticed, over the time that I did the nursery, reception and primary school run how the numbers of dads doing likewise increased significantly. It’s a reflection on how the world of work and the roles of parents is changing. I saw more and more of us dads taking sons and daughters into school and waiting in the playground at the end of the day to take them home again.
Make it a slow run
For new dads, like Prince William, who get the opportunity to be the one who drops off and collects I say cherish every moment. What may seem like a mundane chore to some was – for me – a hugely beneficial time. I bonded with my boy our relationship grew during those little daily journeys.
I’ve tried to estimate what the to-and-from school time I spent with my son over the course of his primary years added up to. (Off the top of my head I’d say around 30 minutes a day for around 200 days a year… for eight years.)
I reckon – and bear in mind that my Maths is so bad I probably need to spend a few days back in primary school myself – my son and I spent 33 days of our lives on that ‘run’. I use the term ‘run’ loosely, it was always more of an dawdle than a rush.
Learn Out Of School
Those moments spent together were truly magical.
We’d play games, we’d chat about what had happened during the school day or stop to pick up snails on the pavement and move them out of harm’s way. We’d debate the major topics of the day from the observations we made on route or I’d just try and answer whatever weird and wonderful questions popped into my son’s head.
I hope Prince William gets to take George to school on his own more often and that he enjoys it as much as I did. If he wanted any advice I’d suggest the following:
- Try walking or cycling together – not driving. On the few occasions when I needed to go by car the magic wasn’t quite there. Maybe we’d sing along to something on the radio but more often than not we’d sit it commuter traffic and then he’d learn something about me – how the frustration and territorial aggression that can come with driving would manifest itself in ‘daddy saying a naughty word’.
- Switch off the phone. Those seemingly innocuous expeditions back and forth through my son’s school life helped me get a picture of what he likes and what upsets him, what he thinks and how he feels. I learned about what he was learning and which topics excited him. I got to know the names and faces of his friends and I discovered that, just like us grown-ups, little people can have bad days at office.
- Realise the impact. Every school day is a big one in your child’s life. They’re constantly learning academically and socially. When they come out of school they often buzzing and want to share what’s happened. Even on those bad days, after he’d had an upset in school and we’d stroll home – me holding the book bag, empty lunchbox and maybe a spaceship he’d made out of loo roll tubes, him bringing up the rear, sullenly moping along, we were still finding out more about each other.
Doing the school run isn’t for every man I know. I’ve spoken to a few dads over the years – some saw it as a ‘ball ache’, some just found the whole playground parents thing a bit too cliquey – and realised that I seemed to get much more out of it than others.
My wife, who would occasionally get to do the run, certainly wishes she’d been able to enjoy more of it. Now, as my son heads off in the morning with his mates to his secondary school I feel a twinge, a sense of redundancy in one aspect of the dad role. But also count my blessings. I got to have that special time with him and wouldn’t swap it for anything.