A big story hit the smartphone screens of Sky News app users today: man takes son to school. The man is Prince William and the son is Prince George, and it was the young prince’s first day at school, none of which seems enough to make this an event worthy of a push alert. Just wait for some nice pictures on the teatime news, people.

There was someone missing, though, as the alert clarified: the Duchess of Cambridge, pregnant with baby number three and laid up (for the third time) with severe morning sickness, wasn’t able to make George’s first school run. From the way it was reported, you’d almost think the most notably part wasn’t the aura of regality hanging over the everyday milestone, but the fact that daddy went solo. A sample of the headlines include: 'Pregnant Kate misses Prince George's first day of school', 'Prince George starts school but without mum Kate present' and 'Prince George arrives for first day at school - but Duchess of Cambridge too unwell to take him'.

Maybe it was. A walk past any school gate at pick-up or drop-off will confirm that, in the vast majority of cases, it’s mothers’ work – the Office for National Statistics found that women do 26 hours of chores each week to men’s 16, and the school run (once you’re over the landmark thrill of day one) is definitely a chore.

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No one really finds soul-nourishing satisfaction in the daily recitation of “what did you do with your shoes,” “why is there Weetabix on your shirt,” “where is the reading record,” and “please walk faster or you’ll miss registration. Again.” So men opt out, women unthinkingly pick up the slack, and men who do buck the trend get treated like rare and splendid animals in the zoological garden of the schoolyard.

Think of all the times you’ve heard a man praised for doing some trivial necessity of parenting. The times when one mum will solemnly interrupt a bitching session about manly deficiencies to announce that her husband is great because he makes the packed lunches and even sometimes babysits. As if a man putting food in his own children’s backpacks, or deigning to be present for them for one evening, was performing some exceptional act of love, rather than doing the kind of thing women are presumed to perform as naturally as breathing.

The giddy celebration of male adequacy is bad enough, but its flipside is the finger-pointing whisper that he shouldn’t be doing it at all. Remember when we found out that Nick Clegg did the school run and columnists went to town on how it was a terrible infringement on a deputy PM’s time to be moderately involved in his own children’s lives? It’s the old two-step of social control: if someone’s acting out of type, making sure they’re pegged as an outlier is the best way to get everyone else in line, and if that’s not enough, go on the attack.

Prince George arrives for his first day at school

And what are royals for, if not to point our fingers at? You can talk around the houses explaining why we have a monarchy, but no one really cares about resolving the head of state/head of government dilemma, and no one really cares about tradition unless it’s a tradition they’ve decided they like. The Windsors are type specimens maintained in a giant, gold enclosure. They exist so we can see them practice being human.

The public wants Kate and William to be “normal”, but not normal-normal: we want a pristine reflection of nuclear mores, and we haven’t decided yet whether or not that involves “hands-on” fathering (i.e., a father who does any parenting at all). Hence, your phone going off to tell you that a man did the school run while his wife was ill. Because William and Kate can’t just be people. They have to be the ideal man and woman, having the ideal family, and we’re still fumbling towards what that looks like in a world with some feminism and a lot of backlash.

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