Here We Are, Then (Henry Starts School)
I considered not writing this post at all, suspecting that whatever I typed would fast become a starting school cliché (‘Where has the time gone? I just can’t bear it!’ and so on). But I have been a walking mess of emotions for the past few weeks and shy of hiding in the fridge sobbing into Dairylea triangles (again) I didn’t really know where else to go with it. [Spoiler alert: this post is one hundred per cent a starting school cliché - seasoned school parent pros need read no further].
The truth is, I have looked ahead to this moment many times over the last four years and I quite honestly never expected that I would be one of those mums. The criers. The ones who get struck down with My Baby is Starting School pangs in the middle of Tesco. The ones who make an excuse to escape to the kitchen with a lump in their throat when the uniform is tried on for the first time. The ones who scroll through toddler photos from two years ago on Timehop and say, ‘I just can’t believe it.’
Yet here we are. Timehop presents me with a photo of my about-to-start-school child from when he was a toddler, waddling around, not quite able to master walking in his wellies, and all at once I am floored by a hurty heart.
Just like that my Henry Bear, my biggest boy, is going to school. Joining the hordes of reception-starters, he’ll be making his way through the school gates in the oversized uniform I’ve dutifully labelled with name tags, carrying a book bag that will come home bursting with reminders about things we need to do to help him succeed at numeracy/phonics/life.
Parents of children already at school tell me this overwhelming emotion will soon become a distant memory and I have no doubt that when term begins next year I too will be skipping up the road and updating Facebook with, ‘Lovely summer and everything but thank God for that!’
I will know the drill by then. I’ll be used to having a school-aged child and I’ll have realised that the school day is actually quite short (and that it’s never very long before the next holiday, which will present me with all manner of work/childcare issues). With a level-head on I already know all of these things but level-headedness rarely makes a guest appearance in Parentland, does it? In fact, Parentland has proved the biggest mind-fuck of a destination I’ve ever been to and that’s without the use of any narcotics. Parentland is maddening and hilarious and weird and makes me cry all the bloody time.
It’s not that I don’t want Henry to go to school. I do. He is more than ready to go and I’m excited for him. It’s just that seeing him trying on his uniform this evening, singing along to his favourite song (Coldplay’s Yellow - he demands it on repeat), I can’t hide from the fact that he is growing up. In any normal week one day rolls into the next and it’s easy not to see it. Sure, he grows out of his clothes and shows an interest in new TV programmes or games so I know he is growing up. But I don’t stop and take stock of that. Life’s too busy.
School very obviously marks the start of a brand new chapter, which is no bad thing it just means I have to accept that a line is being drawn under the old chapter - the one where he was baby who was sick all the time who then became a toddler who called all animals, ‘cat!’ and later a pre-schooler who made me howl with laughter at his naked living-room dancing.
I have moaned about him a lot over the last four years (because he’s annoying – really, he is) but this last year has seen a change in our relationship. He makes me laugh. He’s bloody good company.
I will miss him.
There have been times when I have muttered, ‘Roll on school!’ and I could give you some bullcrap about how I didn't really mean it but in all honesty at the time I definitely meant it. I think maybe that is why I am so sad. Because I never enjoyed the earliest days as much as I could have.
On top of the fact that I am distraught at him going to school (not an exaggeration) I am also worried about how I will fare as a school mum. I’ve bumbled through the last four years of motherhood on a wing and a prayer and I’m fairly sure my maternal incompetence will be outed sometime in the first term. The other mums might have read my book. What if they stand in the corner of the playground whispering, ‘There’s that mum who called her baby a dick. Look how creased his trousers are - I did read she doesn’t iron anything. Oh and there’s her husband. Do you know he once had to milk her?’ I hadn’t thought this through.
But it’s not about me. And my main worry is not how bad I’ll look when I put Henry in his skeleton pyjamas for World Book Day (Funnybones, yes he has worn them for the last two Halloweens), my main worry is how he will get on. Will he enjoy it? Will he make friends? Will he manage to remember that not everybody wants to abide by his rules when playing Star Wars? Will he fit in?
He’s too young for me to give him the school advice I want to give him. I want so badly to tell him the things I learned from school. That it’s better to be nice than it is to be popular. That if you are nice you will be popular for the right reasons, because people like you. That if you strive only to be popular you will be popular because people think they have to like you, because you're popular (and that is not the same thing). I want to tell him to work hard, to play harder and to always be kind. I want to tell him that I am so very proud of him. I want to thank him for giving me something so wonderful that I will miss it. For allowing me to make a million and one parenting mistakes in the first four years of his life which will no doubt benefit his little brother (trial and error, it’s the only thing I know).
But I won’t tell him any of these things. He’s a sensitive creature and it would be selfish of me to burden him with the extra worry of his mother having the emotional restraint of Gwynnie at the Oscars. So, I will bite my tongue and in my best cheery mum voice I will say, ‘School tomorrow then buddy! How fab, you’ll love it.’ I will keep things upbeat. I won’t make it too big a deal. I will do all the stuff I hope will make school easier for him and none of the stuff that will make school easier for me.
I know it is probable that at some stage he will cling to me and tell me that he doesn’t want me to leave (we had four months of that at preschool, it broke my soul). Every ounce of my being will want to stay there in the middle of reception class holding onto him, but it would start to look a bit weird. So I will be firm, because that’s what parents do. And he will be fine.
I will not be fine. I will come home and cry and eat Dairylea triangles and say, ‘Where did the time go?’ That’s Parentland. The best place on earth. The worst place on earth.
I bloody love you Henry Bear.
Go get ‘em.