Well. That was a long week. Somehow back to school has been more challenging than ever – I suppose logically that’s how it goes – more kids in school, and more homework because everyone has moved up a class. But I don’t think I realised that having three in school would be quite this different from two.
Like, I used to be able to get some other stuff done in the afternoons – I don’t mean I had the time to write a book or clean the skirting boards – more like send some emails and sweep the floor – but still. Now from the moment we get in from school it’s non-stop food making, homework directing, drink filling, spill wiping, and argument refereeing.
There are so many things to sign, and there’s so much reading to hear, and so many “But mum I did read it, you just didn’t hear it” claims, followed by enforced repetition (or not).
There are so many plastic folders, and drinks keep spilling on the folders, and there aren’t any pages in the folders anyway because they’re crumpled in bags instead. There are copies drying on the radiator because a bottle was put upside down in the bag. There’s a new bottle needed because actually, it doesn’t close properly right way up anyway. And a new schoolbag because that one doesn’t fit A4 folders. And new shirts because what was I thinking only buying two for the boy.
There are lunch boxes to empty and fill, and three is so much harder than two. Remembering who likes dark cheese, who hates light cheese, who will only eat cheese if it’s on its own – never with ham. Who likes apples but only one variety (Honey Crunch – I have to agree), who likes red grapes, who hates blueberries, who normally likes raspberries but not squished and warm in a lunch box (I have to agree there too.)
Then suddenly, it’s time to make dinner, and nothing else was done. And we’re lucky if we got through it without a fight. (That day was a good day.)
Then dinner and bedtime and the pressure to get downstairs to get started on work, because the later it is, the later it will be going to bed, and then it all kicks off again.
And then the school run. The morning walk on eggshells. The crossing of fingers that this morning he’ll really walk and we’ll get to school on time. Learning tricks as the days goes by, like leaving early so that there’s no time pressure if he’s stalling. Getting the girls to keep going, so they’re not stressed too. And slowly realising my assumption that he was blasé about starting school was all kinds of wrong – he’s not sure, and he doesn’t know how to tell me he’s not sure.
I did all the things you’re supposed to do – getting down to his level, talking calmly, not getting cross, not getting stressed. The one thing I didn’t do was ask him if school is hard. I didn’t want to put the idea in his head, if it’s not there already. Then while interviewing a lovely psychologist for an article yesterday morning, we got talking about it. She told me that while it’s totally understandable that parents don’t want to put ideas in their kids’ heads, children sometimes need help naming their emotions. If he’s not able to say “I’m anxious about school”, he might have meltdowns at other times of day instead – showing me in his behaviour. So yesterday evening, I asked him if school is sometimes tricky. His head went down, his shoulders slumped. “Yes it’s tricky mum. You have to put away your colouring even if you’re not finished. And you have to put away your lunch even if you’re not finished. And I didn’t hear my teacher saying it… I think I’m doing it all wrong.”
And my heart broke for him a little bit. He’s never had to put away a lunch before he’s finished, and I can see how that’s hard for a four-year-old. And I can see why a teacher needs the kids to listen, and do what they’re ask the first time they’re asked. There’s no simple solution; it’s going to take lots of repetition about how important it is to listen, and lots of staying calm when his worry kicks in.
This morning, he ran alongside me all the way into school, then through the doors without giving me a kiss – he turned back with a cheeky grin and blew me a kiss instead. “I know where my classroom is mum,” he said with a wave. It doesn’t mean it will happen again on Monday, but I’ll take what I can get right now. Septembering.
On the work front, things have had a decidedly September theme too – now if only I could take all the advice here:
Think outside the lunchbox: tips from a food blogger, a dietitian, and a teacher, all of whom have kids at school – for the Independent
How to make homework more productive and enjoyable: advice from three teachers, an educational psychologist, a sleep therapist and a dietitian – for the Examiner
Why these parents are relieved that it’s September: the challenges faced by parents of children with special needs – for Her Family
Stay at home mums are working it: that bit where everyone thinks you don’t work because you do all your school collections and that you spend your time drinking coffee… who me, defensive? – for the Examiner
The cost of our free education can catch people out: I added up the costs of going back to school – for the Examiner