R eunions never quite live up to expectations, do they? There are too many people you aren't sure if you recognise, but who claim to recognise you. And there's always someone who has no clue who you are, even though you think you look exactly the same as you used to. What better way to make your self-confidence plummet (and, yes, I am still hurt that Caroline Burden-Cooper thought that I was Nikki Blustin at our 10-year school reunion)?
But what if these reunions were more common and not quite so pressured? That happens regularly once you have children.
It becomes even more likely if you are Jewish and choose to send your child to a Jewish school. What better way to delve back into your past, and rediscover friends - or at least acquaintances - from decades ago? But, on the other hand, what more terrible way to reintroduce you to people you thought you had said goodbye to years back?
The school gate isn't picky about the people it decides to mix together. It doesn't care if Jonny broke your heart when you were 16 and on Israel tour, and that you spent 20 years trying to avoid him. No, it will decide to put Jonny's son and your son in the same class, and to ensure they become friends. Playdate pick-ups were never more awkward.
But there's something quite delicious about these new school reunions and how randomly they take place. For one thing, they no longer depend on your age, but the age of your kids. This means you might be mixing with the older or younger siblings of your old friends (or enemies), making new connections as well as renewing old ones. It also makes you friendly with people who are still, at least in your mind, about eight years old (although, of course, that makes you 12).
The school gate doesn’t care if Jonny broke your heart at 16
All this happens at the school gate, which has something of a bad reputation. If you're a parent, you'll be well acquainted with articles about the school gate "mafia", tribes of mothers and fathers just waiting to ensnare/snub/belittle you at the school drop-off or pick-up.
With the new school year on the horizon, I think it is time parents fought back. As the mother of two primary-school-aged children, and editor of an education blog called, funnily enough, School Gate, I think I have some expertise in this area. I don't think this so-called mafia exists. All the concept does is try to pit mothers (it's usually us) against mothers. A hint of sexism perhaps?
If you choose a Jewish school, then you'll know the positive side of the school gate. It's not all about competitive parenting (though, as you'd expect, there's some of that. Just make sure you don't get sucked into rifling through rucksacks to see if another five-year-old is on a higher level of reading book than your darling little genius). No, the good side is that whether you're from Kenton, Finchley, Manchester, Liverpool or South Africa, you'll probably see faces you know, and be joining a ready-made community.
That community can be incredibly supportive, and there's a real sense of kinship and understanding. This definitely helps when everything seems new and scary (to you as well as your child).
The school gate can lead to shared interests (friends who recommend books or accompany you on theatre trips) and also to forgiveness. One friend says she almost walked right out of the playground when she saw her teenage nemesis. Now she claims it's been a cathartic experience, even if she doesn't encourage too close a friendship between their offspring.
When you don't always want everyone to know what you're up to, the school gate can sometimes be too much. At other times, you may wish that parents at school would think of you as Sarah, national newspaper journalist and mother of Jessica/Robert, rather than Sarah, sister of Jo and Mark, and sister-in-law of Janine. But I can't deny that the school gate, Jewish or otherwise, is special, comforting and friendly. And definitely not something to be frightened of.
Sarah Ebner is the author of the 'Starting School Survival Guide: everything you need to know when your child starts school' (White Ladder)