This is happening. On Thursday, my youngest (and possibly loudest) child goes to big school. I will be one of those mummies decimating tissues and sobbing into my sleeve, trying not to be seen by my (hopefully) excited daughter, as she careers into her primary school education without a backwards glance.
This moment is the culmination of what has been almost eight years of being at home, with the kids. Doing bits and bobs of work but mainly playing with playdough and pretend tea sets and trains and trying to sneak into the bathroom on my own for five minutes to drink a hot cup of tea and read Grazia. It’s been fun. I’m glad I stuck it out. It’s definitely not been easy – if you can stay at home and look after the kids whilst maintaining your own identity and not going entirely mad -it’s pretty much a requirement that you go ever-so-slighlty insane, at times – then you are doing well, in my book. There have been moments where I have wanted to scream and cry and shout and say I just can’t do this. It’s too hard, too boring, too exhausting. And now it’s done; it’s over. Just like that.
But this moment, delivering your child to school for the first time, remains the same for every parent, whether you’ve gone back to work or not. The end of an era. The youngest one going to school is a massive milestone for them and for you. It’s one of those moments where the great contradictions of parenting collide; and you similtainiously want to push them forward, into the world, and at the same time cling desperately to them – trying to freeze the pre-school years for a while.
Having merrily packed off the two older ones to school without any tears, this one feels different. Frankly, I have run out of children. There’s just me to traipse off home after drop-off. Whereas before I still had one or two left to pretend to be in charge of during the day, now I do not.
To be perfectly honest, by the time Polly was 4 years and 7 months, I would have paid anyone to teach her. She was the child who had been playing schools ever since she was old enough to reprimand her cuddly rabbits for chatting. She could not wait to bust down that door and learn to read and write and wear a uniform. She was so ready it was hard to feel anything other than I had just given her the best gift ever by delivering her to Bumblebees classroom. Will was a bit different because at 4 years 3 months (ish) he seemed far too young to go to school, and appeared to be rather nonplussed by the whole idea of it. He was reluctant to talk to any of the adults at school. He was in no hurry to read or write. But he soon learnt that playtime with all his friends, an immense packed lunch, with the option of fish and chips on a Friday and choosing time in the afternoons was worth the hassle. Tilly is definitely ready, though right now if you ask her, she says she isn’t sure. She says she’s worried that no one will play with her and that she can’t read. But that’s OK, I say, you’ll learn to read. And of course you’ll find people to play with and find old friends and make new friends. And I am so sure she’ll just love it. Or at least like it.
Everyone, from the minute you have a baby, will tell you ‘it’ll be over in a heartbeat. All of a sudden they’ll be off to school, and you will be wondering where the time’s gone.’ Too right. But when people tell you that, and you are still having to support the neck of your tiny baby, barely able to think further than the next feed, this sounds suspiciously like rubbish. And because life with small children is by definition hectic, you tend not to dwell too much on stuff like the passing of time, instead focussing on stuff like ‘the next meal’, or ‘where everybody’s socks are’ and ‘why nobody will go to sleep at convienient times, but will happily nap through meal times.’ And then suddenly, like they said, there you are sewing name labels into uniform and buying horrid plimsolls and trying not to cry into their lunch box. (Cheese and tears sandwich OK, darling?) From birth, it’s all about milestones. Rolling over, sitting up, walking, talking…you wait impaitiently for that next step. Tick it off, on to the next thing. And this, I think, is the point where you want to pull them back and say ‘hey! Wait, I was just enjoying that…’
But of course, you don’t. Childhood; growing up; life doesn’t work like that.
I think that this moment is so scary because it seems so final. It’s easy to look back from here and think of all the things you planned to do before school but never quite managed to do. There’s a lot of room for thinking mournfully of books not read, pictures not drawn, ducks not fed. A really important chapter is coming to an end. But I’m sure that is not what I’ll look back on in a few years time. You tend to remember the things you have done, not the things you never got round to. And at 4, no one is looking back. That child you’ve dropped off in the classroom is just at the start of something new and wonderful. And so am I, I hope. New challenges, more work, more time to do the things I’ve been trying to squeeze into an hour in the morning and a sleepy few hours in the evening.
And there are always weekends.
Sometimes, to summarize, you can’t beat an Abba song.