Uniform thinking

My Firstborn is starting school in, as she advises strangers in bus queues, “only four weeks“. She’s been to “induction day”, she’s already got a new best friend, and she refers to “when I was at nursery” with an admirably well-developed nostalgia. I am suffering from emotional vertigo, and more aware that I have been for a couple of years of the memory of the day she was born.

Partly, I just resent the idea that I will cease to be Reference Point Number One. It’s already clear that her new class teacher will have that role. She seems like a nice woman, but I made that child from a bundle of cells and fed her with my own body, and, as is supposed to happen, she’s going to stop caring about that nearly so much in a while.

One thing I fiercely regret is that she’s looking forward so much to her school uniform. She’s looking forward so much to the erasure of her identity, to the end of choice five days a week. She’s craving the chance to disappear. Children like that, I’m told. Uniform makes them all equal. So much easier not to have to choose in the morning. Is it worth the tradeoff? Clearly it’s not for most of us – who, after all, wears a uniform on their days off? And as for “equality”, in my experience the sameness of the uniform just invests the little details with the same level of importance that a whole outfit usually holds – shoes, bag, hairslides, length of skirt, precise slump of socks. If children want to be the same, do we encourage that?

Firstborn wants to wear a skirt as part of her uniform (ostensibly they have the choice between skirt and trousers; I’m unsure how free that choice is for boys in particular). The school uniform skirt is a powerful indoctrination tool, I think. Who talks about the colour of boys’ underpants? Who tries to pull their trousers down in the playground to look? Who laughs at them when they swing upside-down from the climbing frame because “I can see your kni-ckers!”?

(Some of the answers to those questions, I’m sure, are not as rhetorical as I think, and may be something I find out as Secondborn reaches school age. I am ignorant about how boys are indoctrinated into boyhood, really.)

And so it starts. Or, so a new phase starts. For Firstborn, of course, it will be also wonderful. Also full of new people and experiences and ideas and, vertiginously, learning to read, which for my word-oriented girl can only be a great thing. Also a chance to live in worlds other than ours and her dads’, damnit.

We stand poised on the brink of a new era. I hope it’s not a terrifying future; however, uniform-wearing is a feature of futuristic dystopias in all media. Maybe, with really colourful knickers, she can hold onto her identity. Maybe I should worry about my own knickers and let Firstborn worry about hers.


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