Kirin has made it to Year 4. Mummy told him to show me his new planner. She said it in her stern voice. The planner was in his bedroom. He had to go and get it whether he wanted to or not.
Her stern voice; her only voice, really. Perhaps they baby-talk when I’m not around, and tickle each other. I could ask him, but I don’t think I need to.
Schools always have a planner. The name will vary: homework diary, school planner, and so on. Kirin’s school has gone a step further. This year, the cover says: Home and School Diary. Mummy likes it, obviously. It implies commitment twenty-four hours a day.
She told him to read out the Expectations, then left the room, reminding, about the lesson: “Do as well as you can;” meaning: Do even better. The Expectations: rehearsing them would highlight their importance, and help to fix them in his little brain. There was a list inside the cover. Mummy knows the value of lists. She makes them herself, then sticks them on the wall. She loves bullet points; adores imperatives. Here was a proper list, with all the right things, if rather positive (numbingly, in fact – it’s a London primary school), more ‘thou shalt’ than ‘shalt not,’ unlike Mummy, but then, just like Mummy, short of clues on how to deal with failure.
On the facing page, the list was repeated, graphically this time, with the title in bubble letters, and exclamation marks, set against a warm, yellow sun. It was a Year 6 poster. It wasn’t bad, if a jot predictable. The whole class had done one, I expect, at the end of last year, and the teacher picked the best, or his pet pupil’s. A girl had signed it. By the look of it – the time it must have taken – she had signed up to the ethos, too, or else was just fond of her teacher.
“Did you know her?” I asked. No answer. She was older than Kirin, and he doesn’t speak to girls. I wondered about her, the girl who pleased her teacher, and said what he wanted to hear. I used did, the past form, when I asked. She was leaving, wasn’t she, when she drew the poster, going to secondary school? As we spoke, she was long gone. She could smile now at her old school, at the platitudes. She’d never had to listen to Mummy.
“Read it,” I said, like Mummy. Not so coldly, I hope. More silence, deeper this time.
When she told him to read, then left the room, it was classic Mummy. She was busy, of course; she couldn’t stay, and she didn’t need to. She knew what the planner said, every word. She had picked through it like a scholar. Apart from that, when she left, it showed her confidence – in herself rather than in Kirin. Mummy had spoken. She expected him to read it, so he would, no matter where she was, whether he wanted to or not. If he seemed reluctant, I’d remind him. In short, Mummy had met the first Expectation, the most important one: Believe in yourself (or look as if you do). She had more than met it. She embodied it, like a living poster.
“Read it. Mummy told you to.”
He looked away. I thought: We’ve rubbed his nose in it enough, and read it for him, with a hint of irony. He may have noticed. The word expectation wasn’t right. It was exhortation in a printed form; the sort of thing Mummy would like, despite the warmth and brightness: a piece of paper, a list of empty words.