This week, my first-born man cub started school and I still can’t quite believe it. We’ve had the dates marked out in the calendar months in advance. We’ve known for ages that this was happening, but when it did, it was still a massive shock. On the morning of H’s first day of school, I wandered down to the kitchen, as I always do, with a freshly fed, gurgling baby – and was met with a sight that took my breath away. It really wasn’t anything spectacular or even very different. It was pretty much as it always is – Dadallama the mighty breakfast machine was in full swing, M was whinging about not wanting breakfast while slicing off all the bruises off her mangled banana, and H was sprawled on the floor by his box of Lego, fiddling away, creating mutant characters out of his minifigures (‘Mummy that’s BatPi – he’s half bat, half pirate’). Except this time, he looked different. He was dressed in his new school uniform: white polo t-shirt, crested navy jumper, grey trousers and black shoes. On any given day, you can never get H to put his shoes on until the very last second before you step out of the house. But on this particular day, his shoes were already on his feet. When he saw me I made him stand up and do a twirl for me – and he happily obliged, then asked if I could show him what he looked like in the mirror. When I did, he beamed and said, almost incredulously, ‘I really do look like a big boy!’ And boy, he really did. I couldn’t stop looking at him – how did this kid get so big?
He had his last day at nursery the previous week and any tearful emotions I had been feeling dissipated at the sight of how gleeful H and his friends were to be leaving. As the oldest kids in nursery, they were all feeling more than ready for school. After we (I) said our tearful goodbyes to the nursery staff, H bolted out without a second glance. We were given a great big folder labelled ‘Howie’ – in it are pictures and notes taken by his key workers over the last 4 years recording his every development – things he said and did, complete with pictures. Crazy to think that he was a chubby little 1 year old when he started, only just able to walk. He cried so much on his first day that he spent most of it asleep in the arms of his key worker, exhausted from the trauma of separation. And now, fast forward to the present – he couldn’t be more confident and comfortable at his nursery – which has truly become a second home to him.
As full time working parents, our hearts broke as we flipped through his folder. We couldn’t kid ourselves. Here it was- tangible proof that our kid had spent more time with his key workers and friends in nursery than with us, his parents. But before I allow myself to be racked with guilt, I look at the kid before me and am reminded that his time at nursery has given him so much that I could never give on my own. Independence, social skills, a respect for routine and rules, and most of all, a great gang of friends. H has 2 best friends – E, who shares his love of Lego, toilet humour and bum smacking, which they use as a form of primitive greeting; and A, who has proven to him that girls are just as cool as boys, if not cooler. And as luck would have it, these 3 are all going to the same school. Because of this, on his very first day of school, H was nervous, but not scared. He wanted me to stay, but he was fine exploring his new environment on his own. Incredibly, on H’s second day of school, instead of playing with his Lego, he stood watching the clock for almost 20 minutes, waiting for it to be time to go to school. When we finally left and got to his class, he gave me a kiss and a hug, said goodbye and ran off without looking back. It’s hard to feel too emotional when your kid is loving school so much – long may this feeling last for him.
A good friend of mine who recently had her first baby asked me why I felt sad that H was starting school- surely this was an exciting new phase for all of us. This is very true- it is an exciting time – and yet us mums and dads around the country this week are silently crying into our coffees after dropping our kids off for the very first time. For me, it is the overwhelming feeling that he’s growing up, that time is going to race forward from this point on, and that there’s nothing I can do about it. Our little boy is now in the real world, in the system– and we won’t be there to help, or protect him. He’ll have to overcome his own shyness and make new friends. He’ll have to get over his fear of losing, and learn that nothing is going to happen if he does get caught when he plays ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf’. He might have to deal with bullies and mean kids. He will have to talk to the lunch lady by himself and eat the mixed up, mushy food they occasionally serve at lunch, even though he hates it. He’ll even have to clean his own bum. Above all, his world is going to expand, and soon we won’t be the centre of his universe anymore, even though he will always remain ours.
I spent a lot of precious 121 time (let’s just pretend the baby didn’t tag along) with H in the time between him finishing nursery and starting school, and it was brilliant. We had a few lazy mornings indulging in skinny lattes (me) and banana bread (him) at our local café, chatting about all sorts – our favourite bits in Captain Underpants (I have none, he has loads), making up characters for ourselves (The Mumtastic Catster and her pet/ sidekick Cat Jaw), how much we’re looking forward to the Ninjago movie and even making plans to check out the new restaurant opened by one of the nursery dads (his suggestion, not mine). And then it occurred to me that these chats are only now possible because he’s growing up –and that he’s becoming an actual, real person – one who is just starting to figure out his likes and dislikes, whilst forming his own opinions and sense of humour. And so my heart breaks a little bit less when I notice that his school trousers are rolled up because they are too long, and his polo t-shirt just a little bit too baggy. My big boy, really is still so little, a he’s got a heck of a lot more growing to do, with so many more new experiences still yet to come. It may be the end of an era – but it’s also the start of a whole new phase of his life, and ours. And that’s exciting.
In any case, H assures me that he’ll be a nice teenager, and that he’ll still love me when he’s a grown up – so I’m just going to take his word for it, and enjoy some peace and quiet before it’s time to pick him up from another day at school.