I find it strange to think that almost two full years have passed since my eldest child started school. It doesn’t feel anything like that long since we were proudly dressing him in his crisp, blue uniform on that first early Autumn morning.
Nothing compares to the way I felt that day. My stomach churned with butterflies from the moment I opened my eyes. I can vaguely recall my nervy anticipation of my own very first day in school, all those years ago, yet I felt infinitely more anxious when it was my child taking those brave steps into the next chapter of his life.
His behaviour was excellent that morning. He gathered his things together – the pencil case he was so proud of, his little notepad, a water bottle – and I asked him what he planned to take them all to school in. He paused for thought, and meekly said he would fetch a plastic bag out of the cupboard under the sink. My heart exploded a tiny bit more. We presented him with the Toy Story rucksack that we had saved to be a First Day Surprise. He was delighted.
We walked as a family down the picturesque country lane that led to the school. Dad had taken the day off work to share the experience with us all. We had our one year old with us, too, and I was pregnant with our third.
Father and son walked hand in hand in front of me, our little boy wearing his smart, new rucksack with pride as I took an unnecessary number of photographs, desperate to capture every last moment of this pivotal day in his life and terrified of the thought that I might forget something. It turns out I needn’t have worried. I would never forget this day.
I felt like an imposter as we walked into the school amongst all these parents of older children who looked like they knew what they were doing. New, unfamiliar territory that was destined to become such an integral part of our lives. It was incredibly surreal.
We stood in the playground holding our son’s hand, waiting for something to happen. He was excited, but he looked like a bewildered little bunny in the headlights. The playground was noisy and wild. First day back, lots of children very excited to see each other. I couldn’t help but feel like I was throwing him into the lions’ den. He was still so tiny with his hunched little shoulders, the last remnants of his puppy-fat cheeks a distinct reminder of his all-too-recent toddlerhood. Could he really be ready for school?
And there it was – a noise I hadn’t heard since my final day of school. So many memories flashed through my mind as the shrill school bell reverberated through the playground. The moment had actually arrived.
We settled him in his classroom and exchanged pleasantries with his new teacher. This woman I was entrusting to care for my baby. I felt like I should be interviewing her, interrogating her, making sure she was fit for the job. But I had to trust the system and pray for the best. It felt so unnatural.
It was over all too quickly and before we knew it we were walking the other way back down that country lane, one child lighter, tears rolling down my cheeks.
Nothing could have prepared me for the rollercoaster that having a schoolchild has turned out to be.
The tearful pride and elation I felt when my child arrived home each day with new skills and knowledge that he had absorbed all by himself. When he read his first book to me. I just can’t begin to explain that feeling.
The sick lump in my throat and the aching, heavy heart each time he returned home saying nobody would play with him today, and that he sits alone on the mushroom seats at break. The lost nights of sleep, the endless stream of letters I wrote and never sent, the torturous suffering.
The solace I found in the fact that the woman who was taking care of my baby was not only a great teacher but also a loveable character. A teacher who looked out for the kids and took care of them. Maternal.
The darkest depths of guilt I was plunged into when I somehow missed the memo about Harvest Festival, and found out that my boy had to borrow a tin to take to the front in assembly when the other kids had bags or baskets, and wondered where I was because other mums or dads came to watch. He had forgotten about it by the end of that afternoon. I still grieve for that missed opportunity to this day.
The way you are thrown in at the deep end with stuff. They don’t wean you in gently. Charity sales. Discos. Fancy dress days (parenting points lost for shop-bought costumes). Nativity plays. School trips. After school clubs. Fêtes. Parents evenings. All with approximately 5 minutes notice. Woah, woah, woah. I’m still wrapping my mind around the fact that he’s in school.
The endless frustration, after spending all day wishing I could be a fly on the wall, desperate to know what he is doing, how he is getting on, for him to arrive at the gates and tell me he’s forgotten everything about the day, every day.
The interesting playground politics, and I don’t mean the kids. The diverse range of cliques. The rich ones. The gossip queens. The smokers behind the fence. The childminders. The nans. The hippies. The PTA mums. The late ones. The snooty ones. The stragglers.
The relief when he finally clicked in with a great little gang of kids. Life was looking good. Watching them play together. Kids charging around, learning about the world, having fun together. This is how it should be. I began to think that having a child in school wasn’t all that bad, after all.
The endless stream of parties. Weekend after weekend, each one more extravagant than the last.
The bittersweet emotions when we decided to relocate to the other side of the world, the place we had always dreamed of raising our children, after only a year. The upheaval he would go through. The fact that he would lose his friends. The unknown. The tears of sadness on his last day. How much we’d grown to love that school. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
The awe, the excitement, the anticipation of his new school. Everything is so different here. Sure, we loved his last school… but this one has a beach! And a forest! No more stiff school uniforms. The kids can go barefoot. The parents don’t stand around in one huge gang in the playground here… so how do you meet people? An earlier start. An earlier finish.
The devastation when it all went so horribly wrong. When all the kids told him he was stupid and annoying over and over again in his first week. When I got that first awful report that he had lashed out in anger. Then the second. And the third. Nobody would play with him because he’s the kid who hits. And he hits because nobody will play with him and they all call him names. The turmoil. Is my child a bully? Is my child being bullied? How unhappy he became. How withdrawn. No more playdates. No more parties. Nobody wanted to know him. The reject. He was angry. Always so angry. Life was so difficult. He hated me for taking him away from his friends. I have ruined his life, he told me, time and time again. The guilt, the sickening guilt. Why didn’t we just stay where we were? How could we have done this to him?
The gratitude we felt to have fallen into the hands of a second great teacher. A teacher who tried so hard to help him integrate. Another maternal role model he grew to trust.
The relief we felt when things slowly began to change. Bit by bit, over the coming months, he settled in. The kids began to accept him. His horrible behaviour calmed down. He wasn’t angry all the time any more. He talked about his day. I began to feel like I was getting my boy back.
The little changes.
Mum, what’s for dinner?
What did you just call me? Mum? What happened to Mummy?
I can’t call you Mummy any more Mummy, I mean Mum, that’s so uncool!
The crazes. Oh, the crazes. Dreamworks cards! I need more Dreamworks cards! I’m taking them in to swap. I need White Shadow. Mum, Mum, I swapped all my cards until they were all gone. The tears. The life lesson. RAINBOW LOOMS! Forget cards! I need RAINBOW LOOMS! How do I use my rainbow looms? Can I take them to school? Mum, all my rainbow looms got taken! More tears. The following day, Mum, I swapped a lollipop for an arm full of rainbow looms! I’ve learned how to make rainbow looms! All I can talk about is rainbow looms! SHOES WITH WHEELS IN THEM MUM I NEED SOME SHOES WITH WHEELS IN THEM THEY’RE SOOOOOO COOL! WOW MUM THESE ARE THE COOLEST THINGS EVER! I am one of the COOL kids now!
The hole that finds its way into your pockets. How much stuff costs, and how much gets lost. Lost pencil cases. Lost slippers. Lost water bottles. Lost swimming gear. Lost chapstick. Lost clothing. Lost books. Lost everything.
The people you get to know and the friendships that begin to unfold. A new life.
The speed at which the day flies by with a child in school. The eager anticipation with which you await your child’s arrival at the end of the school day. The uncertainty of not knowing what mood he will come out in. Whether he will have happy tales or sad tales to tell about the day.
The way I live and breathe every last moment with him, but can’t be there to hold his hand.
The music lessons. The soccer practice. The swimming club.
The tired ends to the day.
It has not been an easy ride, and we have a very, very long way left to go. At times I have detested it, resented it. I have written letters saying I want to pull him out and home school him, and never sent them. I have worried myself sick. Cried myself to sleep. Spent so many nights awake. Had so many rants. Held him so close.
However, amid all the stress and the difficulties there has been hope. Happiness. A bright future. I look at my schoolchild now and I am so filled with love and pride. He is so much taller. So much slimmer. His legs are hairy. His face is angular. He is so insightful. So inquisitive. So eager to learn. So talkative. So friendly. So mischievous. He loves his lessons. He loves his teachers. His world revolves around toilet humour, his friends, his teacher, his family, and whatever the latest craze is. He reads and writes so well. He has so much potential.
I have changed so much as a parent since my child started school. Life is so different. Such a strange experience. But now, just about, it feels normal.