My youngest daughter started school 2 weeks ago. She’s small, and 4, and still needs me to wipe her bum. She absolutely loves school (thank goodness) and goes in smiling, and comes out with a skip and a jump. In my opinion, the moment your kid comes out of school is the most euphoric and jubilant moment EVER! They peek their wee face around the doorway to try and spot you amongst the sea of parent’s faces, they spot you and your heart melts. They run up to you like you’re rescuing them from the jaws of a rabid dog, and at the same time like you’ve just told them you’re taking them straight to Disneyland! They are happy and slightly relieved that you’re there, and in that moment you feel utter joy at having your baby back in your arms, and that they are SO happy to see you. There’s nothing like it. And you want to savour every moment, because you know it might not last. My 10 year old is happy to see me after school, but generally her first words are “did you bring me a snack?”. It just doesn’t have the same air of “I love you mum”, does it?
So the night before the youngest started school, I felt quite weepy. Myself and my husband got ready for bed, and I couldn’t stop crying. After having the kids at home for months due to lockdown, the seeds of change were afoot. And I felt very unsettled. I was so glad they were going to school, it was so needed; the routine, the structure, the social interaction. So why was I sobbing into my duvet? This was a good thing, right? When your youngest starts school, and you’re not planning on having any more kids, the enormity of it suddenly hits you. And I never thought I’d be THAT mum. My mum and mother-in-law have always talked sentimentally about this kind of thing, and I always dismissed it with an air of arrogance that comes with youth. But at the ripe old age of 41, and as I choked back the lump of emotion in my throat, I didn’t feel so spritely. It had dawned on me that I wasn’t sad about my youngest starting school, but rather what it symbolised for me. It marked the passing of time. It meant that it was the end of an era. Of course with my hat of positivity on it’s the start of a new and exciting chapter. But allow me my moment to wallow, as mothers have before me.
When you’re a kid, time moves so slowly. You want everything to speed up. “When I’m big..” is the start of your sentence, not “I remember when..”. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve got plenty to be happy about, but maybe this moment of realisation comes to every parent. And although you’ve heard “time goes so quickly” said by your parents many times, you never fully appreciate it until it’s upon you.
So here we are, two weeks in, and I’m adjusting. The youngest is still happy at school, even after the realisation that it’s happening every day and not just when she fancies it. And that makes me so happy. Long may it continue. I’ve stopped looking at photos of her and welling up, and I’ve actually got some ‘stuff’ done. I’ve also done a lot of tea and coffee drinking with friends, because my pandemic-destroyed job hasn’t kicked back in, my head isn’t quite in the zone yet, and quite frankly, the distraction is welcome.
On that first morning, as I walked away from the school gates, I decided to walk into town to distract myself, but I just couldn’t control the wave of emotion rushing over me. Every mum that walked past with a preschooler just set me off again. Then thoughts like “did I make the most of my time with her while she was little?” started to pop into my head. So many different thoughts flying through my mind, each triggering a sadness, rather than jubilation at my new found freedom and time to myself. You know, that time that you have so often craved when you’re up to your eyes in mess, toys, washing, cooking and the hell of multitasking.
And then there’s that feeling that you’re handing your child over to the ‘system’. Of course, it’s generally a great system, school. But it does mean you relinquish an element of control over what your child is exposed to; how their day goes and what they do. For the first 4 years of their life you have total control over what experiences your child has. You get to oversee their safety, you get to witness the joy of discovery as they do things for the first time, and all of a sudden you have to let go. (Insert here arguments for homeschooling). You drop them off at the gates, and say ‘there you go, she’s all yours’. And we’re ok with this? Well, not initially, but we have to be, right? Look, I’m ok, honest. Ok, I did tear up a bit when I saw an Iggle Piggle toy in a shop yesterday, but it’s fine. (She hasn’t even watched In the Night Garden for at least 2 years – get a grip!). And this ‘system’ guys, well it lasts until they’re 18. Sheesh. That’s a long time in’t it. Again, it’s a GOOD thing. I’m not disputing that. Just don’t expect me to be happy about it today. This morning she wanted to play with her dolls, and I wanted to say, ‘carry on, we’ll give school a miss today. Just play, and stay in your pjs all day, then we’ll snuggle up on the sofa this avo and watch Miraculous’ (the cartoon of choice). But you don’t. You get them dressed. You negotiate teeth brushing. You brush hair that is so tangled you contemplate just cutting it off, and you hop on the treadmill.
The thing is, the clock keeps ticking, no matter what we’re doing or going through. There’s nothing surer. Things can’t stay the same. Change is inevitable. And we have little control over most things. Especially the passage of time. Change is as good as a rest? Things move on. The seasons of life. And for the most part, if you’re lucky, life is generally good, and full of love and positivity. I think I’m a positive person. I face most things with a positive outlook. And it’s shocked me how emotional I have felt about tiddler starting school. Is it possible to feel happy and sad at the same time? Proud at the same time as worried? Excited at the same time as scared? Yes, I’ve felt all of those things as she has skipped into school. And two weeks on, it’s ok everyone, it doesn’t last, this feeling of ‘empty nest syndrome’ or whatever it might be called. Yes the overriding emotion two weeks in is hopeful. I’m feeling hopeful, and optimistic, even in the middle of a global pandemic! And being THAT mum, seems to be quite normal. And right now, I LOVE normal. Whatever that is!