The back to school blues
We're not really talking back to school here, more first time at school, reception class to be specific. But we're definitely experiencing the blues, My delicious little four year old girl has been in full time nursery for nearly four years, enduring early mornings, long days and barely there evenings, She's grown very attached to the lovely girls and ladies who plaited her hair, gave her cuddles, taught her the alphabet, and generally helped encourage her to be the kind and considerate little girl she's become. It might sound trivial when described in that way, but the care, love and attention they gave her was truly instrumental in who she has become.
The teaching part, where she learnt about animals, music, the world, how to eat nicely at the table, manners, and how to treat other people, was the other part of the top notch childcare we were lucky enough to find for her.
The problem is she's too attached - to nursery and her friends there. The idea of school, a new place with new adults and children, is completely alien and very scary. Understandably so. Over the summer my partner and I relentlessly talked to her about what was to come, what it would be like and how she might feel.
I even changed my working hours so that I can be around more often for her. After twenty years of long hours I now do shorter days, which in itself has been a huge change for me - now the guilt of not being there enough as a mum simply transfers to my work head, and I feel guilty for not being there enough instead. Having rearranged life as I know it I geed her up with the idea that we'd have lovely long afternoons together rather than long days at nursery where you have an hour left of the day before bed time and everyone's a 'bit' tetchy. She rallied and loved the idea. We talked about all the lovely things we could do, such as play nurseries, play shops and play babies - her idea of heaven, my equivalent of going to a pub that doesn't serve alcohol.
But nothing can truly prepare these little people for the enormity of this change in their life when they've been used to going to the same place, day in day out, for over four years,
Her first day went like a dream. We were up at the crack of dawn to get ready (her idea not mine) - the feeling of anticipation and excitement was palpable. At the school door I was still all geared up for tears and clingyness but she kissed me goodbye and walked into her room, head held high. I had to hold back the tears because it was the bravest thing I've ever seen anyone that small do. I felt so proud I could have burst. We had a celebratory McDonald's when I picked her up. I was floating with the relief of it all after the months of pent up worry and nerves about her big day disappeared - we'd nailed it. Or so I thought...
On the second day there was noticeably less excitement in the air and a slight reluctance to get her school uniform on. She (and I) held it together while we were waiting for the classroom door to open. Bravely, she walked in and put her things on her peg, gave me a kiss and went forth into the classroom. I retreated swiftly then my heart sank as I heard my name called and turned to find a tearful little lady wanting a cuddle, She was good as gold, gave me a cuddle then bravely went back in.
Upon collection I could see something was up. One minute I was with Jekyll, the next Hyde. Food was demanded - I could not magic the pizza I intended to cook when I got home from within the car, so all hell broke loose. Then there were tears and apologies all round. Then there was blame - I was always telling her what to do (I'd asked if she wanted the loo), I was 'being bossy' (I'd asked her to wash her hands after going to said loo), all the while we had tears and stomping, and arm crossing and uncrossing. Once the pizza was consumed all was again right with the world - it was, I thought, a bad case of hangriness and one very tired child.
Everything continued to be OK until bedtime - we did our usual routine, kisses and cuddles, and I felt reassured we were in a good place. Until the crying started - inconsolable, heart-wrenching sobbing about the choice of school lunches and the fact she didn't want to choose the ones where there was no picture of the meal, the fact she hates school and doesn't want to go tomorrow and would prefer to be a cat so she can stay at home. Not since she was a toddler have I been in and out of her bedroom so frequently. She made me promise things I realistically can't keep, such as allowing her to skip the class she won't move into until two years' time because there appear to be too many boys in there.
You see, my mistake was assuming that, because school was in fact over three hours shorter than each day that she'd been used to spending at nursery, she'd breeze through it, ending the day feeling refreshed and lively and we'd have lots of lovely and amiable quality time together.
Basically I have gone from being slightly cocky and very pleased about how easily my baby settled in on her first day, to absolutely dreading tomorrow (and the next day, and the next). The one thing I haven't mentioned is, as a child myself, I cried pretty much every single day I went to primary school, clinging to my mum like my life depended on it, deciding that if I cried and screamed continuously there would be nothing for it but for her to come and pick me up and get me away from that terrible school. She never did of course, that would have been the hugest mistake because I would have latched onto any show of weakness. But it didn't stop me trying. The funny thing is the school was lovely and I don't have any bad memories of it at all, lots of good ones in fact - I just wanted to be with my mum. And that's part of the reason I wanted my little girl to go to nursery, because I thought it would help prepare her for not being with me all the time, and would guarantee that she wouldn't turn out like me in that area once she went to school.
I know tomorrow is another day, and I should absolutely look on the bright side - she might completely surprise me and be happy and smiley. But I go to bed with a heavy heart hoping more than anything that she'll settle in and be as happy as I know she has been for the last four years at nursery. I tell myself not to worry that she'll cry every day, or that she won't find anyone to be friends with, or that she'll spend the next five years being generally unhappy. If I do, I'll drive myself mad and that won't help anyone. Time for a glass of wine...