A few years ago I discovered a valuable resource to occupy me during my insomniac nights: the Mumsnet ‘Am I being unreasonable?’ discussion board. It kept me company during the wee small hours, with such subject matter as ‘AIBU to leave passive aggressive comments aimed at MIL on Facebook?’ and ‘AIBU to think it’s perfectly acceptable to have a zombie apocalypse survival plan?’. At around 3 o’clock one morning when I’d surrendered to the idea of remaining awake for the rest of the night, I came across a discussion about the perfect school. According to the thread, schools nowadays left a lot to be desired. Among the things that could be improved were: the employment of enough staff to help the children put their trousers on the right way round after PE; no rules about what goes into lunchboxes; the appointment of a school gate clique mediator; parents evenings to go on past 3.30pm; everyone gets to be Mary and/or Joseph in the school nativity, even if it means there are 65 of each.
I must admit that at that point my sleep avoidance was mainly caused by panic induced by my youngest being about to start school. I’d been dreading it since my oldest started two years before. It had not gone smoothly, he spent most of his first few months either fidgeting and distracted during something called Carpet Time or hanging onto my leg and refusing to go through the door into his classroom. The Carpet Time debacle resulted in my having to endure the ‘walk of shame’ as his teacher beckoned me across the playground, past all the other parents for a ‘little’ chat’ on a daily basis. It usually went like this: ‘your son doesn’t seem to be able to sit still at Carpet Time, any chance you could have a word with him?’ ‘Hmm. I’ll do my best, but we don’t really do Carpet Time at home, so I’m not sure what to say to him’, ‘Does he get distracted at home?’ ‘Yes, he is 4, he gets distracted all the time, I tell him to go upstairs to get a jumper and he’ll come down with a tray of plasticine animals. He’s like a hair-brained pensioner’.
The dawning of school represents many things, your child growing up, becoming independent and spending more time away from you. I worried that all the freedom that was the basis for our days together would end. Before school, we could bunk off nursery for the day without getting into trouble or spend all morning in our pyjamas if we felt like it. Granted I had to work sometimes so this didn’t happen often, but the very fact that it could gave us a sense of freedom and choice. I couldn’t help but feel the children were being cruelly snatched away and forced into an institution all about training them to be obedient and wanting everyone to be the same. The fact that they had to be there every day, lined up at 8.40am and wear uniforms so they all looked like little clones didn’t help. It was most definitely the end of an era.
A lot of parents seem to take this stage in their stride. Heck, some parents are positively desperate for their kids to start school. And that’s ok, no judgement here (so long as you don’t judge me too, yeah?). But for anyone who has child-going-to-school fear, here are some tips to help you get through those first few days:
Start worrying about school nice and early on, say 6 months to a year before your child actually starts. If you could also be the only parent to cry at her child’s last day of nursery, making the nursery teachers feel awkward as you try to hug them in gratitude whilst sobbing all over them, then that will help too. It’s good to express your emotions. Spending so long dreading the beginning of september meant that when it actually came I really wasn’t too bothered. Unfortunately this made me look like a coldhearted, merciless harridan whilst all the other parents were waving off their little ones with tears in their eyes.
Have coffee with some other parents as soon as you’ve dropped them off, then you can commiserate together. Or better still, have vodka.
Remember, the school day is relatively short and the holidays are long. Nowadays when I get a rare day ‘off’ and I’m not working or cleaning the pit the house has become whilst I’ve been working, I spend the day at home and the school day is over in a flash. Suddenly it’s 2.30 and I’m dashing out the door to pick the children up.
Your child doesn’t legally have to be at school until the term after they are 5. Therefore if they have the odd day off, it doesn’t ‘count’ as part of their absences until that term. My son wasn’t 5 until the end of April of his first year and he was part time until january. We took him out of school whenever he was too tired to cope and the teachers were very supportive of this.
Good luck with the next 13 years!