Thursday, September 06, 2007

Say cheese

I dropped the boys at school. I remembered to take the camera to capture my four-year-old's first day. In most of the shots, he is looking unhappy but reconciled to his miserable fate; in one, he hides behind his six-year-old brother but that might have been because he wanted me to stop taking photographs. He was brave which made it more bearable; he wobbled only once when the teacher drew him away from me but righted himself. I was holding it together up to the moment it was time to walk out the door of the classroom and I was handed a packet of tissues and a teabag wrapped in a white silk ribbon. "Go home. Have a cry and make yourself a cup of tea," I was told by a cheery member of staff. Really, I was fine up to that point. They might as well have erected a billboard outside the school gates with the words: "He's not your little boy anymore, Mummy." And in very small letters underneath: "He'll forget your birthday, make excuses at Christmas. Eventually, he just won't call. And when you're really old, he'll put you in a home and never even visit." I looked for the billboard when I came out. I thought: "I don't want a cup of tea. I want my son back."

I could not bring myself to drive back home so the baby girl and I drove in the opposite direction to a market town. Not the nearest market town, another one. One further away so that I could kill more time. Within the 40 or so minutes it took me to get there, I changed from a reasonably sane member of society into the woman you sit next to on the bus who starts talking to you about the book you pull out of your handbag, only for you to realise, 30 seconds too late, that she is actually a complete lunatic. I told anyone who cared to listen that I did not live in the town, I was not supposed to be there, my son had started school and I did not want to go home when he was not there to fill it with his noise. Even my baby girl was looking embarrassed by the end of it. The nice lady who sold me blueberries and red exotic flowers knew how I was feeling. She had a six-year-old boy who did not like school, did not want to go back, felt he had no-one to play with. She said: "I would watch him in the playground without him knowing. I had to stop. It was making me ill." I almost gave her my tissue-teabag favour. I thought: "Been there. Done that." Instead, I said: "I know. You worry, don't you? I hope it goes well for him today." She smiled at me and said: "Yours too."

21 comments:

Norman said...

There's some real nice folk out there. Bet you went to Wooler. They're a friendly lot.

A Mother's Place is in the Wrong said...

Oh Wifey, it brought it all back. I'm so glad you met someone who sympathized. Son will be 28 next week, and it's still hard to say goodbye. I think it's that view of the back of the neck, which looks so vulnerable.
Margot xx

kinglear said...

All we ever really want is for our children to be happy - and fathers, in particular, hate to admit their daughters can be happy with another man. So maybe a mother objects to her son being happy with another woman....

Crystal Jigsaw said...

He'll be absolutely fine, esp with big brother there to turn to should he need.

Oh, and he'll always be your little boy, even when he's grown up.

Crystal xx

midlandsgirl said...

So many fine lines to tread - he will be fine if you show him you're fine, just so long as it doesn't get to the point where he's pretending it's fine because that's what he thinks you want to hear. Although it's sad to wave goodbye to the baby remind yourself it's only through doing that you can say hello to the engaging youngster and then to the hilarious but exasperating teenager that's to come.
I watch 'supernanny' with my kids, just so they can see how much more awful life could be elsewhere! (we watch 'how clean is your house' together with the same intent). Last week's s/n had two sets of twins (eldest 5 youngest about 2) - eldest kids (I repeat - 5 yr olds) still in nappies at night-time and drinking from bottles!! When dad was persuaded finally to dump bottles and nappies he commented that he was sad to let the babies go but it was so they could develop into toddlers - he said this about the 5 year olds!!
One tip about school mornings - don't know what your schoool layout is like but ours has classroom windows that front onto the playground that kids and parents line up on to go in. Youngest is now in year 2. When she was in pre-school (adjacent to playground) I used to walk past mums waving to reception kids that had just gone into class (kids were coming to the window and pressing noses etc). When I used to walk back past (some 5-10 mins later) certain parents would still be standing and waving to kids that by now, not surprisingly, weren't looking too happy. Vowed not to be that kind of clingy mum. Hanging on in this way disrupts the start of the school day and makes life difficult for the teachers and kids. Better to say to kids if that's what you want - 'just one wave then I must let you settle into class'. Also it's good to get yourself into the mindset that the reception year is just about the children settling into the school way of life and routines. So easy to get caught up in parental (unspoken) rivalries. Eldest (daughter, now 14) was slow(ish) to read. Remember being asked by competitive mum just before end of first summer term whether daughter had got her gold 'key words' award yet. Panic-striken as had no idea what she meant - transpired that key words was correctly (out of context) recognised words - daughter didn't even have bronze! (20 words). Then ensued ridiculous 2 weeks where daughter was grilled nightly and poor old teacher was asked to test for bronze on almost daily basis so award could be given before summer break. Appallled now at (my) stupid and un-necessary behaviour but at the time seemed very difficult to get out of competitive loop. When my youngest daughter went into reception she happened to have the same teacher as the eldest had had. I discussed my previous neurotic behaviour with her and we laughed about it together (in the ensuing years have done stints as chair of PTA and governor, so good relationship developed). Youngest had blissful first two years and is loving year 2, and is the most advanced at this point of all my three.
Is there a PTA at your children's school? It really is a great way of getting involved and meeting other parents.
Good luck.

Jackie Luben said...

I must have been an awful mum, feeling only a sense of relief when my son went to school. This was confirmed when a teacher told me five years later that she could tell which children were happy at home because they cried when their mummies left them at school. My daughter had started school without a tear at my departure. Still I improved a bit, feeling sad every time my son left home to return to university and simiarly a lump in my throat when my daughter was dropped off for her first term at uni. Maybe I just don't like children.

Mummy Banana said...

To Midlandsgirl - Supernanny really does show the worst case situations & just how hard it must be for those parents to seek help in such a public & humiliating way. How low must they be? But to be judged by viewers is worse.

My only just 5 year old still has to wear pyjama pants at night time. This is not because I want to keep him a toddler he's just not dry yet. Perhaps they had a story behind what we saw? Maybe?

To Jackie - Simply unbelievable that a teacher told you she could tell if a child was happy at home if they cried when left!!! How could she!!!
I know my son is very happy at home & he didn't cry when I left him at school.

Mya said...

Is this tissue and teabag a new British initiative? When my four year old started at his French school a year ago the other mums (not me, I was crying and attracting sneers) could hardly contain their glee at farming out their kids - almost clicking their heels with joy as they sprinted from the playground (very difficult to do - don't try it unless you're an expert!)
I wish I'd been given a teabag and some tissues. Well, maybe just the tissues. French tea doesn't translate.

Mya x

Swearing Mother said...

I felt just the same at every stage of my son's education,infant, junior and "big" school - right up to the time when he went to university (very, very big school). Even now, if he tells me someone was mean to him I feel it in the pit of my stomach.

And then I want to bring him right back home with me to sit on the sofa and watch TV together. Don't get to do that too often now though.......

Hope you son settles quickly, and you do to!

Best wishes.

Ali said...

I hate unexpected kindness. It makes me weep pathetically. And just when I'm trying hardest to be strong too.

mutleythedog said...

Never mind you could always pop up out a couple more - like shelling peas after a while I'm told...

Self employed mum said...

The tissue and tea favour, that would have had me in tears, right then. I thought that was a lovely gesture.

Jackie Luben said...

Mummy banana, I knew she was talking rubbish. By that time (my son was five years older than my daughter) I had enough confidence in myself as a mother to believe that preparing your child to be away from you was an important part of the mothering job. She wasn't someone I liked very much either.

Jackie

Moi said...

I'm with swearing mother on this one. I'm not sure it's a feeling that ever goes away. I can still recall the intense joy I felt at collecting teen 2 (now 16 and 6') from Junior school every day, always late from the office and seeing him sitting and waiting patiently on the steps for me and then grinning from ear to ear when he saw my car come through the gate. Or the plummeting feeling when he was clearly miserable because some spawn of the devil had been vile to him that day and all he wanted was a massive cuddle and a hot chocolate, preferably in reverse order.
My grandparents lived with us when I was a child and my grandfather still sat up in the evenings waiting to make sure that my father had come home safely at night. They were refugees and had travelled across Europe together and the need to ensure they were both safe never left them. For some people being a parent really lasts for ever.

Kaycie said...

I do know how you feel. My youngest is in third grade and I can still get a bit silly that first day.

What a lovely woman. And you're not nuts. That's what people do for one another. If moms ever stop consoling other moms, we'll be lost.

Frog in the Field said...

Ha Ha! Sorry, but you will look back in time and giggle at your wild muttering! You have so reminded me of myself.
I still have my little girl at home but only for one more year, then I will become and total lunatic because what on earth will we do? we will have had a baby/toddler in the house for almost 14 years...it's scary.
A lovely blog, glad I found you.

Minx said...

First day at school - tomorrow he's shaving. Try not to miss the bit in the middle!

Motheratlarge said...

Ah, the kindness of strangers! Funny how sometimes just a smile or kind word from someone we hardly know can cheer us up. He'll always be your boy, Wifey. Just as you'll always be his mum.

@themill said...

But you have to let them go to be able to hold onto them.

lurkerfan@lj said...

See, just a few minutes ago, I told you that you'll ache with loneliness when they're gone. I had no idea it would happen so soon!

But major milestones involving separation are always hard. Listening to the radio recently when school was starting, I heard a letter being read that touched me. The young father had left his son at his first day of kindergarten, after giving him many brave reassurances that it would all be fine. Then he got into his car to continue to his job and absolutely sobbed his eyes out. And this in the U.S., where real men don't even eat quiche, much less cry.

Parental love is awesome, and your four-year-old is lucky to have you.

Retiredandcrazy said...

One of my grandsons started school this term. When his mummy asked how he liked it he said "its not at all like I thought it would be" "in what way?" "wellllll, I thought my classroom would be a different colour". You can tell that his daddy is an interior designer.