I know this is supposed to be an emotional time. My smallest; my baby; my last baby is off to school. I am meant to be in floods of tears. I should have pockets stuffed with tissues. I’m supposed to just about hold it in when I drop him to his classroom, then let it out when I’m around the corner, safely out of sight. That’s how it was with my eldest when she started school, and even a little when she went back the following September for Senior Infants. And with my second, though I thought I’d be fine, as time drew close, I realised there would be tears then too. But with this guy, I don’t know how sentimental I’m feeling.
Perhaps his own blasé attitude has rubbed off on me – he’s the boy who talks to everyone, striking up conversations with people he’s just met – starting in the middle of a subject, as though he’s picking up a chat from the previous day. He ran into preschool every day last year, eager to get at toys and see friends and play. He loves meeting other kids and has random conversations with children in shops and playgrounds every day of the week. So I have no anxiety about first-day wobbles on his part or on mine.
Whether or not he will sit and listen to a teacher for four and a half hours a day is a different question. At present, he doesn’t listen to anyone. When I ask what he wants for breakfast, he ignores me. When it’s time to get in the car for the school-run, he cries that he hasn’t had time to eat. When everyone sits down to dinner, he continues to play. When I carry him to the table, he gets up and walks away. When I tell him it’s bedtime, he explains that he wants to eat his dinner now.
If he was my first child, there’d be hand-wringing and head-hanging and I would absolutely blame myself. But he’s my third, and he has two big sisters who mostly do listen, so instead I blame my husband. Genetically I mean. It’s definitely not from my side.
He’s a boy who believes in dragons but thinks owls aren’t real. He believes in dinosaurs but insists there are no such thing as frogs. He invites strangers on the street to his party, six months before his birthday. He doesn’t dress himself, or put on his own coat, or tie his own shoes. He torments his sisters, then just when things have reached tipping point, he puts on what they call his cute face, and has them eating out of his hand.
His favourite thing is to snuggle up in my arms and pretend to be a newborn baby. He loves numbers and stories, but says letters are boring. And learning is boring. And listening is boring. So, no, I’m not worrying about how he’ll deal with school so much as I’m worrying about how school will deal with him.
Then last week, a funny thing happened. I found a giant snail on the kitchen draining board. The girls started screaming – loud, shrill “the house is on fire” type screams, and ran up the stairs. From up there, they shouted down to me to get rid of the snail. “Eh, I’m not touching it,” was my reply (I know, but we all have our things, and one of mine is touching snails.)
“But what will DO mum?” they shrieked. I sent a photo of the snail to my husband, who was due home from work in about four hours. Not a fantastic solution.
Then a voice from the corner said, “I will do it.” The small boy got up from his Lego and grabbed a wad of tissue. “Mum, lift me up so I can reach the snail,” he said, in what I can only call an authoritative voice.
“Maybe you could climb up on a chair instead?” I suggested, not wanting the one degree of separation his plan would bring.
“OK,” he said, sighing with the air of a man who is used to dealing with shrieking relatives and their (perfectly rational) fears.
He climbed up on a chair, gently picked up the snail in his wad of tissues, climbed back down, and brought it out to a flower bed in the garden. Then he put the wad of tissues in the bin. Actually, that last bit amazed me more than any of it.
Maybe this was a glimpse of the more grown-up boy he will eventually become. Maybe he will deal with school and school will deal with him, whatever that may mean. And regardless of how it all goes, at least I now have an in-house assistant for all my future snail-removal needs.