I had a moment of euphoria yesterday when my 15-year-old daughter told me she had decided to start walking to school with her best friend.
“Finally!”, I exclaimed. Unless the weather’s rubbish my son cycles, and I dreaded the morning school run with poor Francesca. The days I didn’t have to be at work early were bad enough, sticking jeans and a jumper over my nightie and bundling four-year-old Nancy into her car seat half asleep, but the days I did start early were a nightmare. It all comes down to my wretched inability to ‘do’ mornings. I could go off on a great big tangent here about subconscious self-sabotage, but I think I’m just a night owl. (Or I used to be, before I started getting old.)
With Francesca and Toby both getting themselves to school, my children would be spared my all too predictable tirades in the car about getting to bed earlier, getting up earlier and preparing everything the night before, followed by a calmer resolve (as I dropped one or both of them off several minutes late – again – oh, the guilt! the failure!) that this would be the last ever chaotic morning; a resolve that would be forgotten that evening as we sat down to binge-watch Modern Family once Nancy was asleep.
It dawned on me three seconds later, much to Francesca’s amusement, that I would have just one school run-free day, before Nancy’s first taster session in reception. It’s practically the same journey too.
Another 10 years of school runs.
This evening I wearily brought all the bits of uniform downstairs to scribble Nancy’s name in all the labels, having been too disorganised to order the sticky name tags in time, then went upstairs to replace them on their hangers. She was peacefully asleep, hugging her Bunkey (strange bunny/donkey hybrid soft toy). Her last day as a preschooler.
Tomorrow she will wear the little red and white gingham dress with the red cardi, the white ankle socks with red hearts and, if time permits, the red and white scrunchie in her plaited hair. There will be no hidden pyjamas for me, no dumping and running: I will be showered, dressed, even wearing make-up if you’re lucky. When we park up at the school I will hold her hand as she skips along beside me. (I hope she will be skipping, not clinging fearfully to my leg.) I will take her to her classroom, reassure her, hug her, wave goodbye, blow kisses … and leave.
I will have two hours to kill; two hours when I’m neither at work nor looking after Nancy. That will be different.
As this new term unfolds my working hours are going to increase, but there will still be times when I’m not working and Nancy is at school. I have a list of things to do: blitz the house; clear all the clutter; learn to play the clarinet that my mum bought me and I have yet to get a sound out of (Nancy can play several notes, no problem); have coffee with a friend, talking in full, uninterrupted sentences – the decadence! – write, write, write … So why am I not looking forward to it more?
I thought having two older children had hardened me to the customary ‘first day of school’ sentimentality. “She’s a September girl! She’s more than ready! I’ve done my time raising preschoolers!”
Done my time? I make it sound like a prison sentence, when I see now it was freedom: freedom to head off to the park on a whim, or to the farm, or to snuggle in the big bed and read stories, or to make play doh dresses for her magiclip dolls (hand on heart, I think I enjoyed that more than she did). I feel incredibly fortunate that I have been able to work part time. She and I will never have that time again, just the two of us. And she is ready – oh boy, is she! – and so am I, but this evening as I watched her sleep, it dawned on me how big a change lies ahead. Not bad change, just change.
And I realised it’s OK to have a bit of a wobble. But I’m having mine now; following my own advice and at least trying to get everything sorted the night before.
Love and strength to all you parents with little ones starting their school adventures this week.