My now five year old daughter is about to start school and she is very excited.
It's me who is feeling a bit traumatised!
I always imagined I would gleefully drop my daughter off on her first day of school with a skip in my step. However as the big day approaches I’m starting to doubt that I’ll be quite so chirpy. I had an inkling of my possible emotional reaction at the school information session we attended last year. I was reduced to tears when the 2011 kindergarten children got up on the stage and sang a few songs and my daughter wasn’t even one of them. I suddenly thought with horror, what will I be like on her first day?
Thankfully last year there were three transition sessions for my daughter (and quite frankly for me) to become familiar with the upcoming event. Although the first day was traumatic for both of us particularly when my daughter wanted to take her usually three bags of treasures plus a shoe box of most important knick knacks. I put my foot down. This is big school. You don’t take toys and you most definitely cannot wear a mask, crown or fairy wings. So we were already off to a bad start. Then we arrived at her designated classroom where she wouldn’t say hello to the two lovely teachers and absolutely refused to wear a name tag
“Why not?” I whispered crankily under my breath. All the other children were happily busying themselves with an activity, proudly displaying their name tags and waving cheerily to their parents. Quickly I found the drawing table and sat my daughter down to do one of her most favourite things.
I love your shoes,” said one of the teachers. My daughter looked up thrilled. They were new and she had worn them especially. Gosh those teachers are good.
Now I bet you can’t you write your name on that picture?” she continued. My daughter’s face lit up for the second time that day. Another thing she loves to do. That teacher had obviously done all this before. Unlike myself.
I sighed with relief. All was well. My daughter and I happily parted ways for the next 90 minutes and I made my way to the hall for the information session. But when I saw all the other parents I began to get a little anxious. Looking around I wondered if I would like anyone here. Would anyone like me? Suddenly all my fears from my own school days of not finding friends and not fitting in came flooding back. Forget about my daughter. Would I get a new best friend?
As it happened we knew a couple of parents from daycare, one from dance class and one from swimming lessons. Suddenly we’d formed a little gang. Maybe school wasn’t going to be too bad after all.
After the school band had played and I’d wept my way through the kindies’ performance “just because my daughter would be one of them next year”, we went to retrieve our children. I had nothing to worry about. My daughter had a great time. Except she informed me that there was absolutely no way she was going to wear a school uniform.
Like many just-turned-five-year-olds, my daughter has her own individual way of dressing. Since her second birthday she has flatly refused any outfit I’ve offered, preferring to mix and match her hand-me-downs and dress-ups with great style. I’ve always encouraged anything she put together but now she must conform, which makes me a little sad. And I realised why we had clashed that day. I wanted my daughter to fit in while she still wanted to be her own self.
When most children never want to take their new uniform off, we have now only twice coerced my daughter into hers. And I can’t take any credit for it. My mother convinced her to try it on once when we were out while another time, her best friend came over with hers on and my daughter followed suit. So begins the desire to blend and be like everyone else. I knew she would want to wear it eventually especially when she saw others doing the same and as relieved as I am she wants to be a part of it, I hope she doesn’t completely lose her sense of individuality that can sometimes take years to re-find.
Me, on the other hand, am desperate to fit in! I’ve been to school before and I definitely want to be in the cool group. I’ll do whatever it takes. I’ll do canteen, I’ll work in the uniform shop, take part in working bees, even direct the school play and make the costumes. Maybe I’ll just walk up to a nice looking group of mums and say, “Does anyone want to go and have coffee?”
Bu it’s the knowledge of what school is like that makes me anxious for my daughter. It’s nerve wracking for parents because suddenly after five years, it all seems out of our control. Our children will disappear behind the school gate for the next 13 years. They will start to develop their own ideas, learn new things and mix we people that we don’t really know.
But I have to remember that the year to come is not just about me. In fact it’s not about me at all. I’m sure that I will be a great deal more sad than expected on the first day but the tears will be for myself, for what I have been through, what I’m losing and what I’m about to gain. I’m sure my daughter will be happy to go off to school. So I will save my tears until I’ve walked away. I want my daughter to be excited about this next adventure. Not embarrassed by an over-emotional and anxious mother who is desperate to make new friends and fit in.