“Why don’t you look at everything you got right?”
That was the suggestion made by someone who read a post I wrote on everything I got wrong about starting school. Fair question. It made me think – what did I get right? What did I not screw up over the last few days, when my eldest went into first class and my middle-child started junior infants?
Well a few things went wrong of course. Clara was constructively critical when she gave me a dressing down for buying the textbook instead of the workbook for one of her subjects. “Mum, I know you didn’t mean to make a mistake, but WHY did you send me in with the wrong book?” she said, in a firm-but-fair voice that she’s trying out now that she’s in first class.
And Emmie had a near disastrous wardrobe malfunction walking into school on her first day – her uniform skirt was too loose and slipping down, but when I tried to tighten it, the button-hole in the elastic ripped right through. My blood ran cold as I tried to work out whether it was worse to send her in with a skirt that might fall to the floor at any moment or not send her in at all. Either option seem to have scarred-for-life written all over it. I eventually managed to fasten it closed, powered by super-human mama-bear adrenalin. And on day-two, I bent down to hug Clara when she came out of her classroom, then stood up to realise Sam had disappeared. The school-yard was packed and I couldn’t see him anywhere. It was probably no more than twenty seconds before I found him, but twenty seconds searching for a two-year-old who barely knows his own name but can run like the wind is petrifying.
So yeah, a few blips, but surely lots that I got right? Well I got my predictions right. I knew that Clara would be nervous about going into first class and having a new teacher and that this would manifest itself in her reaction to her uniform (“it’s far too big – I look ridiculous”), her breakfast (“I will puke if I eat this porridge”) and her school-bag (“It’s way to heavy – I’m not going to school, ever”). I knew that Emmie would be a little nervous, but would go in with a big smile and come out with a big smile. I knew that Sam would run away in the yard (so, yes, I should have kept him in the buggy).
And being able to predict what would go right and what would go wrong made it easier to pre-empt trouble – when Clara announced for once and for all that there was no way she could go to school when her new shoes were far too tight, I asked her if she could explain to Emmie how it works with lunchtime – does the teacher tell you to take out your lunchbox? She stopped mid-rant, and turned to her slightly nervous sister and began to explain. “Well, the teacher will tell you when it’s little break. You take out your lunchbox, and just maybe eat one of your sandwiches. Keep the rest for big lunch. And have a sip of your water. Do you know how to open your water bottle? I’ll show you.” Job done – two girls and one parent much happier.
What I didn’t predict at all was how the kids would react and interact with one another. Like Clara telling Emmie how to go about eating lunch – this is a whole new sibling dynamic that didn’t exist before. And it has its downside too. I spent all my time worrying about Clara settling into first-class, and Emmie starting school, but forgot that the little guy left at home would be lost and lonely without his five-year-old buddy. He was heartbroken. He sobbed – literally sobbed – all the way home after we left her at school. He’s only two, so I’ve never heard him sob before (he does a mean whinge, a good fake cry and a great roar, but sobbing – this was new). Of course he’ll be fine, but I’ll never forget our journey home, listening to him call out his sister’s name, trying to figure why she wasn’t coming home with us.
And there are upsides too. Like watching two little school-girls run to hug one another at collection time. Then following them as they walked hand in hand through the yard. Listening as they chatted about school for the first time. A conversation I want to write down before I forget.
“So how was your first day?”
“It was great!”
“Where’s your classroom?”
“Just down a bit from yours. Well I think it is. I don’t really remember where it is actually.”
“That’s OK. I think I know it, I’ll help you find it tomorrow. Did you make any friends?”
“Yes I did! I made a friend!”
“What was her name?”
“Oh. I don’t know her name.”
“That’s OK. You look really cute in your uniform. Do you have a whiteboard and a laptop?”
And so on. All the way to the car. I blinked back a tear and predicted the next squabble would follow soon. But it didn’t. They took a day off for their first day.
The pressure was on to have a perfect first day, and we did. I can’t take credit; it was part planning, part fluke, part bribes. But perhaps it’s no bad thing to look at what we got right. And as I watched the girls walk in to school hand in hand the next day, and hug one another at the door, I thought maybe that’s worth celebrating.