Illustration: Kelsey Davenport

DESPATCHES FROM THE SCHOOL GATE

Who knew that a whiteboard would work wonders for family life? 

It started out as a tactic to encourage her son to write more, but Liz Dashwood might just have stumbled across the answer to making family life run more smoothly

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I don’t mean to brag but I’ve found the answer to life.

It began as a way to encourage Thomas to do more writing, because he hates it so much that we were starting to have tears every day before school (“I hate it because I’m the slowest!” “Maybe you’re the slowest because you hate it?” mused his father, who still has much to learn about the pros and cons of philosophising with a mutinous six-year-old who has under seven minutes to get dressed and into school). I bought a roll of sticky white plasticky paper, wrapped it round the fridge and turned the whole thing into a giant whiteboard. Bought some coloured chalk-ink pens (dear God, the things that they have out there these days! Whenever some new obstacle to harmonious family life forces me into a new kind of shop or uncharted aisle of the supermarket, I feel like a time-travelled Victorian, wandering around mesmerised, occasionally reaching out and touching things in incredulous awe) and laid them invitingly nearby.

It worked a treat. Thomas decided instantly that writing in coloured chalk-ink on a fridge was FUN.  We got him to add stuff to the shopping list – “Milc. Bred. Oranj jyoose withowt bits” – ideas for Halloween – “Pumckyin fayce and bats in the windoo” – and to jot down reminders: “Scool foto on Munday”. “Put wosh on”. “Vetts”.

Then a sort of mission creep began. I was loading the dishwasher one morning during a work break and wishing my daily wish that I could remember to scream at everyone when they got home about not leaving their plates out (extended disco version includes “This is not a café” and “You treat this place like a hotel!”) instead of huffing with impotent fury about this and eleventy billion other things every day, when a light dawned. I turned slowly and eyed my new whiteboard-fridge. I took a pen. I wrote “Everyone please remember to put their things straight in the dishwasher when they have finished eating.”

It worked for other things, too. I kept writing things down, about shoe storage, towel/radiator interaction and toilet flushing, and they kept getting done

And it worked. It worked for other things, too. I kept writing things down, about shoe storage, towel/radiator interaction and toilet flushing, and they kept getting done. Thomas wrote “I need noo trayners (and to work on my various digraphs as a matter of some urgency)” and got them well before the normal six months he has to wait before his useless parents succeed in meeting anything but his basic daily needs. My husband wrote “Remember to turn the hall light off before coming to bed” and I have done ever since. And many, many more little frustrations and knots of domestic life have been smoothed away by a few words on the shiny board.

Partly, of course, it’s that they work as a visual reminder for the few days before they are wiped away and replaced by something more pressing (“I need a noo watter bottel for playtim”), but the greatest advantage is that it somehow anonymises the request. We know, obviously, who has written what, but the medium puts a tiny but vital distance between instructor and instructee that breaks the chains of resentment that otherwise bind us all. Somehow it feels as though the whiteboard (which I am gradually coming to capitalise in my mind) itself has spoken. Whatever is on there feels like instruction without emotion or judgment – the two greatest barriers, always, to humans getting things done. The Whiteboard has the neutrality of Switzerland and the omniscience of God, and I cannot recommend the installation of one highly enough. Take yourself out of the fray. Let The Whiteboard speak for and unto all.

@LizDashwood

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Illustration: Kelsey Davenport
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despatches from the school gate
PARENTING HONESTLY

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