What really happens when the school bear comes to stay?
When my youngest child came running out of school one Friday afternoon with an extra PE bag, I knew exactly what was inside.
The School Bear – Buddy
Buddy is part of the learning experience for Key Stage One children. His role is to incentivise youngsters to work towards a goal, whether that’s mastering neat handwriting, learning their word cards or doing fantastic number work - with the reward being the chance to take Buddy home for the weekend.
The host child then cares for the bear for the weekend, keeps a journal and takes pictures of all the things they do together.
The children love it. Buddy is their class mascot and it is an honour to be given the chance to look after him.
I’m not sure parents enjoy ‘entertaining’ their child’s furry friend quite so much.
It means you have to portray your homelife as interesting and wholesome. You can hardly let on exactly what your weekend really looks like, can you?
Yes, teacher, here’s a picture of Buddy and my son watching Netflix for two hours while I power through a pile of ironing.
Oh, and here’s another one of us at Greggs, eating a sausage roll (full-fat meat not even vegan) because I ran out of inspiration to make a healthy lunch.
And finally, here’s me and Buddy, watching Line of Duty when the kids are in bed, as I sip my third gin and tonic while scrolling through ‘Who is ‘H’’ theories on Twitter.
No, it doesn’t matter how mundane a weekend I have planned, once my child has the School Bear in his happy little mitts I have to up my game. It’s an unwritten given.
So, despite having nothing planned, the recent unexpected arrival of Buddy Bear (you never know when it’s going to be your turn - that’s all part of the ‘fun’) meant I had to hastily think of things to do.
Rather than Buddy’s journal ending up full of photos of my son watching TV and eating Wotsits while I did housework, instead, we enjoyed a breezy walk around Whisby Nature reserve during Storm Hannah, visited a local coffee shop for a posh hot chocolate and took in the landmarks of the city.
At least things have changed since my eldest child first brought home the previous school bear (RIP Rusty, I reckon you disintegrated circa 2014, having commendably served your time as the class mascot).
Back in the old days, before data protection was such a hot potato, parents could leaf through all of the prior entries in his accompanying journal.
Now, thanks to new GDPR laws, Buddy is sent home with a blank piece of card and a polite request to fill it with photos, drawings and stories.
Only the teacher gets to see what Buddy has been up to with his host family.
Which is probably a good thing because there was a tendency for some parents to view the school bear visiting as the opportunity to play the one-upmanship game.
According to an article posted on the Daily Mail’s website in 2014 - a collection of teddy diaries showed some parents giving the bear a taste of the high life - think Greek holidays and helicopter rides. Internet forums were filled with mothers driven to the brink by the class bear.
Leafing through the school bear diary was probably enough to make some folks feel as if they weren’t trying hard enough at this parenting malarky. I imagine them proudly sticking in their photo of Buddy Bear at Prezzos, only to turn the page back a few weeks to see an image of Buddy, sunning himself in Sorrento, eating AUTHENTIC pizza while on a weekend jaunt to Europe with a different family.
Thankfully, at my son’s school parents can no longer compare antics, so most should feel relinquished of any duty to show Buddy in anything other than an authentic setting.
There is no shame in taking the school bear absolutely nowhere. That said, I secretly hope the next time Buddy Bear is sent home we have something exciting planned in the diary - like a festival or camping trip because as a family, we do those things, too.
However, there is one thing that always happens to the school bear while he’s with us - a ‘pamper’ session.
This involves a dip - well, more of a full-on drenching and spin at 1400 rpm in the hydropool (washing machine) and a blow-dry. During his last visit, I put him in the tumble dryer for 20 nail-biting minutes. But for the grace of God, he didn’t lose a limb or an eye, so this time I dried him with the hairdryer.
I snapped a picture of my son brushing Buddy’s fur for the journal but after he went to bed, I spent another thirty minutes restoring the bear’s coat to its former fluffy glory
I also used a Sharpie to cover a scratch on his glass eye (he looked like he had a cataract) and coloured in the frayed fabric of his worn, leather nose, so the rips were less noticeable.
By the time I finished he looked (and smelled) like a new bear.
Buddy may have visited during a pretty average weekend for the Curtis clan but every washable thing he came home with is going back to the classroom on Monday smelling of Lenor.
I’ve just had a terrible realisation. Every time the school bear needs a detox, my son is going to be ‘rewarded’ with the ‘honour’ of bringing him home, isn’t he?
Lie back Buddy, I’ll get you a robe and slippers.