Monday morning, 7.30am. The class rep – alpha mother, blond hair woven tightly into a bun, skirt a little too short, her gin overwhelming the tonic – sends another email round. Subject line: second hand uniform sale, this Wednesday. Oh God, it’s in my half of the week. We need new school shirts because some had got so small we used them for dressing up the larger members of the teddy collection. But I feel a dread that will now hang over my childless Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday until I arrive early for Wednesday pickup. My fear has different parts. I am simply scared of another task. The dual custody single parent life is ruled by to-do lists and there is a constant worry that my head will actually explode if anything else is added. I am scared of anything involving money. Maybe next month there will be more left on the overdraft – but right now how can I pay for more bloody uniform? Mostly though, I am scared of the second hand uniform sale as a social experience.
Non-working mothers hunt in packs. They live by linguistic rules of natural selection. They smell fear in men. The alpha mothers, the mums of older girls and the mums of girls going or gone to senior school preside over the food chain – or rather stand behind the trestle table. It will be like the first time. “You drew the short straw did you” “What?” “Day off is it?” “What?” I genuinely did not understand. Early in divorce you tend to assume the whole world knows the shared custody arrangements are half and half. Later you realise it is not actually written across your forehead. “Oh, well actually….” But they are gone because you are only a man after all. You cannot have any useful information about senior schools. You are not the real competition. The single Dad is quickly invisible in the world of mums. So when the second email of Monday morning goes around, at 7.36am, it reads: “All mums welcome to coffee on Friday”.
Later in the corridor after school a hand touches my arm. It is alpha mum. “I am sorry about that email. I didn’t think, do please come and always assume you are one of us”. Overwhelmed by gratitude I mumble thanks. Most men make a choice to absent themselves from parenting. I wonder if any would step if there was an opening in the ranks of the alpha mums. Perhaps none. Or perhaps fear of uniform sales and not being invited to coffee mornings is making me paranoid.