This time 4 years ago, my firstborn was starting his school career…looking back I was a bit preoccupied with a 7 month old baby, and having mixed feelings because we weren’t happy with the school he had been assigned (I subsequently moved him to a different school). I was also freelance, and knew that I’d be able to entirely work my work around whatever school demands might be thrown up (and throw them up they did, sometimes literally…), so my emotional climate was turbulent but Maurice took it all in his stride. He seemed happy and eager to begin school, and this made everything less frazzled for me too.
And now – we’re about to do it all again with little Freddie Number 2…I can’t really believe that my smallest one is about to start school, that can’t be right, surely he’s still in nappies…?! He’s a bit nervous about it, which is making me realise how big a transition this is for us all. After 4 years of being a school mum I’ve realised there are things I’ll never be good at: I haven’t ever successfully baked anything for the PTA, PE kits usually contain at least one item of clothing that doesn’t fit, and I always forget to fill in the bloomin’ reading record. But, in general, we muddle along just fine. This is what I’ve learned….
1. Smooth, zen mornings are a myth
As much as you try to be organised, chances are, there’ll be something that needs to be found in the morning. Usually socks, or book bags, or keys, or all three. There’ll be several repeated requests to PUT YOUR SHOES ON! with your children somehow magically losing their hearing and then you realising you also haven’t got your own shoes on. However prepared I am the night before, however serene I am in my imagination, the act of leaving the house for the school run usually ends up being me in the form of a Fire Chief commanding some kind of panicky emergency drill.
2. Let them eat snacks
School appears to turn children into a flock of ravenous seagulls at pick up. There must be snacks. More importantly, there must be the RIGHT snacks. Often the “right” snacks and the snacks that you feel might earn you a Supermum badge are not, sadly, one in the same: you could slave all day baking organic flapjacks only to be met with petulant requests for crisps, and therefore somehow still feel like a failure.
3. You can’t be at every school event
Now, I am – was – in the privileged position of working almost exclusively from home for the past 4 years so I actually could attend nearly everything, and I still missed some stuff. There is so much going on at school – which is amazing, but it is a huge source of guilt when you can’t be there because of, well, life. This will be a huge guilt flash point for me in the coming year as I embark on a new life as a permanently employed person once more, working in an office, and chances are I won’t be at every one of Freddie’s concerts, assemblies and parent drop ins, like I was for his brother. The guilt is eating me alive…so I have to use the tools I have at my disposal for it not to. Looking at my WHY – why I needed to shift my work pattern, what I am bringing in positively by being away from home, and, just how much I AM there for them even if I am going to miss the odd sports day from now on (sob!). This one is gonna take some ongoing work….
4. The days are long, the years are so, so short
It’s a cliche for a reason….time just goes so fast once you’re on the academic year track. Maurice is going into Year 4, and Freddie beginning Reception. The years have seemingly flittered and fluttered like butterflies into the distance. The endless (at the time) school runs. Wishing for phases to pass. Mourning the phases when they’ve passed. The wrong snacks… What I try to do now is make sure I write a journal which writes a snapshot every month of things I want to remember. It’s sort of like anchoring the memories, the ones I’m SURE that I won’t ever forget, to make sure I can nourish myself in the future when I’m wondering where the time went.
5. School makes you grow up
I’ve never felt more adult than when I had to approach the school headteacher and ask him whether he could do something about the state of the loos in Reception, as my (and other) child was struggling and refusing to go as they were very old fashioned and in terrible repair – which was wreaking havoc with his digestion. It made me tremble but I knew I had to have that conversation, and I realised that, deep down, I AM still that little kid in the playground. But being a school parent makes you have to own up to your insecurities so that you can advocate for your child. You have to seek and stand up for things you feel really strongly about, and you have a reason bigger than yourself, huger than your inner critic, for being confident about speaking up. And yet simply being within a school environment can transport you right back to where you were at that time in your life, for good and for bad. That has been humbling and empowering all in one.
And remember… no matter what time it is, it’ll be time for the school run again in a sec….
Are you about to embark on schoolgates life? There’s a whole chapter about this in The Supermum Myth. I’d love to hear how you’re feeling.