Today marks the first day of school for children across South Africa. Of course, for parents this event is also marked by a sudden boom of traffic on the roads, but we can’t help feeling a bit nostalgic about the start of the school year. Because there’s much more to this time of year than a mere x on the calendar.

Although countries abroad have different school terms than we have in South Africa, we thought we’d remind you what this time of year feels like back home.

It smells like grass

Can you still remember the scent of freshly cut grass? We’re talking rugby, hockey, athletics and soccer fields, all prepared for thousands of tiny little feet to play on and learn the skills which could one day become the next springbok. Everything smells like it. In fact, we cannot really imagine summers and Januaries without it.

We master our ‘DC-fixing’ skills

These transparent self-adhesive book covers have been a nightmare for many a mom and dad across South Africa. And, of course, everyone’s got a different trick for making the product stick – sans bubbles of course. Some use rulers, others put books down on the sticky surface upside down and gently coax the sticky cover over their books. Then there are those who use their fingernails to smooth out bubbles after the fact. Whatever your trick, we’re sure you remember it with a mix of fondness and frustration.

The back-to-school pose

Our news feeds and inboxes are full of these images. Little Johan and his sister Chantelle are posing with looks of hopeful excitement and anxiety for their first, second, third, seventh or last picture. Mom snaps away with tears  of pride and joy brimming in her eyes. All the while knowing that this will probably be the last time Johan’s white shirt will be truly white.

Athletics are a go

During the first few weeks of school, our children are all divided into different groups – usually categorised by surname – to compete amongst each other for their places on the school’s athletics team. But it’s much more than just athletics. It’s a grand event which requires colour-coded dressups and learning battle cries which would see our team win the ‘geesbeker’. You can still hear it, can’t you? Indeed… we’re already humming along to our favourite ones… As ‘n bloue sterf, begrawe hom nie, maar lê hom neer, in ‘n goue kis, en op sy bors, ‘n angelier, dat die mense kan sien, hy’t gesterf van plesier. How about the school rendition of Queen’s We will rock you? Can you hear it? Are you clapping yet? We are.

Making new friends

Your children are waiting with bated breath to hear which class they will be in. There’s always some disappointment at first when they learn they’re not in the same class as little Kobus or Melissa, but we know not to worry. Because unlike us adults, our children can make friends at the drop of a hat. They’re programmed to seek out corresponding likes and dislikes in each other, to find those pals who will eventually pass on love letters to the person they like, whom they’ll probably never talk to.

Your nights are occupied

When school starts, you’ll have to cancel all those after hour yoga classes and skype meetings… at least for the first few days. Because you’ll be busy marking stationery, covering books and adjusting seams. Marking has become a bit easier nowadays, but do you still remember carving off the coating on the back of pencils so you can write your child’s name on the wooden edge? How about painstakingly sewing on labels on your children’s clothes? That’s all but disappeared, but we still think on those days fondly.

Lunchbox packing is an event

We all have a set of lunchbox ideas we’d retained from our youth. So which sarmies did mum pack you? We still remember Oxo spread. And how about sandwich spread, which resembles tartar sauce more than anything we’d usually put on bread. There’s the classic peanut butter and syrup sarmie, and the more nutritionally conscious among us will probably go for provitas with cheese and an apple on the side.
This time of year is a magical one. As a South African living abroad, you will undoubtedly not experience the back-to-school hype in the same way we do, but we’re hoping there’s a bit of South African flavour in this event, which sees kids return to the ‘hok’, and mum have a few hours per day to herself.

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