Dear school admin lady, why are you so miserable?

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but there’s a particular breed of woman who works on the front desk at a school.

She’s kinda miserable, frustratingly taciturn and surprisingly unhelpful with a lean towards being obstructive.

She’s definitely not conscious of being ‘the face’ of the school. In fact, she’s almost purposefully trying to repel people with her low level get-out-of-my-face-or-I-will-cut-you vibe.

This universal truth hit me as an epiphany recently when I went to the uniform shop at my kids’ high school.

To be honest, I avoid the uniform shop like the plague

I’ve been known to buy ‘illegal’ unbranded shirts at Lowes rather than brave the school uniform shop.

But my kids are currently sporting midriffs that only just tuck and so I decided to follow protocol and go directly to the (overpriced) source, as required.

The school has recently been renovated and within the endless months of renovation the locations of particular things have been a moveable feast. Sometimes the office is here, sometimes the hall is there, sometimes the uniform shop is upstairs and to the left.

"If evolution really works, how come mothers only have two hands?" - Milton Berle

Which is why I approached the front desk to enquire as to where the uniform shop could be found today.

The uniform shop, aka the portal to hell. Photo: iStock

The uniform shop, aka the portal to hell. Photo: iStock

Turns out, I'm actually invisible

As I stood at the desk, I realised that I had accidentally worn my cloak of invisibility. Because she couldn’t see me even though I was clearly right in her eye line.

To be fair, she was very busy on the phone saying, “Yes. Yes,” in a terse way. But she didn’t even acknowledge me with a raised ‘I’ll be right with you’ eyebrow, so I figured, invisible.

Then she hung up the phone, ever so slowly, (I mean no hurry, there’s just someone waiting to ask you something - a working mother who only has an hour to get to the stupid uniform shop) and shuffled some papers in front of her, because … busy. That done, my cloak of invisibility receded and she finally looked up as if to say, What now, arsehole?

“How do I get to the uniform shop please?”

“It’s right THERE!” she gestured in an unmistakably ‘duh’ way, to an unmarked glass door to the left. (Unmarked, I tell you!) I could now see there were a few uniforms hanging up inside the room, thus indicating this was where the uniform shop probably was. But to be fair to me, there was no sign. For all I knew, if I barged in there waving my credit card and demanding size 38 shirts, I might have been waltzing into the principal’s office.

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This heartwarming interaction with a school admin lady was just one of many I’ve had over 18 years of being a school mum. And I’ve never encountered one of them (primary or high school) who has been anything less than vaguely unpleasant to deal with.

Penny Flanagan. Photo: Supplied

It’s always seemed a bit off to me

Because whether they like it or not they are, by virtue of their front-desk position, the ‘face’ of the school. They are the ones you have to front up to when things go awry: when you’re late for drop off, when your child is sick, when you’ve been called in to speak to the teacher or when the school has been renovated to oblivion using the building fund you ‘voluntarily’ contributed to and so now you don’t know where anything is.

They are interacting with parents when parents are at their most stressed and vulnerable. Why are they so short on empathy and basic people skills?

Are they being oppressed?

Are they poorly paid and overworked? (Probably, but who isn’t?) Are our kids so revolting that they can’t even countenance anyone who is related to them?

Possibly all of the above. Which reminds me of a hoary old internet meme attributed to that oft-cited but insightful psychobabble philosopher, ‘Unknown’ (seriously, I love that guy):

Children with obesity are more likely to have obesity as adults. This can lead to lifelong physical and mental health problems. Adult obesity is associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and many types of cancers.

“Never judge people. You never know what kind of battle they are fighting.”

Grumpy school admin ladies are like surly newsagents and racist Anglo cab drivers who listen to Alan Jones: a universal truth. My point is, there must be something going on behind the scenes that we don’t know about.

Which is why I’m proposing a ‘kill her with kindness’ solution

Take a flower to your school admin lady today, see if you can cheer her up. In turn, she might smile a little next time you’re late for drop off.

Penny Flanagan’s latest novel, Surviving Hal, is available to order here .

Obama Surprises DC Students With Visit. Credit - Barack Obama via Storyful

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Obama Surprises DC Students With Visit. Credit - Barack Obama via Storyful