It’s hard to imagine what I’ll feel when I send The Small off to school. Honestly, until recently, it’s been the light at the end of the tunnel. I look towards those days of ‘free childcare’ with a wistful sigh. One day my time will come, I think to myself. Until recently, I hadn’t considered there might be a downside. Until recently.
Of course it’s that time of year when your Facebook page is flooded with images of Smalls standing in front of their front door on their ‘first day’, comically balancing in their oversized uniform, gripping a school bag that’s almost twice their size. Without fail, all these images are partnered with the same caption: ‘Can’t believe my little one is all grown up. School already?’ Captions are punctuated with sad face emoticons and the sentiment from mothers is always the same: where did the time go?
It’s a rude awakening to someone like me. I genuinely think (and I’m sure I’ll be oh so wrong about this) that I’ll be overjoyed to see my Small embark on her next exciting adventure. I’ll greedily welcome my six hours a day and stuff them full of yoga, newspaper reading, writing (for fun AND money!) cooking, baking. Hell, the iron might even get a dust off. Oh, the possibilities. My ‘first day’ captions will be less ‘sad face’ and more ‘fist pump’…right?
Maybe. But maybe not. This ‘sending them off to school’ things seems to have floored even the most hard-assed amongst my mama friends. These are the same mamas that adore their own time, that count down the seconds until Granny arrives, that could run their businesses so efficiently without Smalls hanging off their computer cables and who doodle fireworks and balloons over the days in the calendar when they are baby free.
I guess it’s easy to focus on the free time that you suddenly inherit when that ‘first day’ at school arrives. It’s more than being able to get some of your adult-independence back. It’s about taking the first real step back from your kids. It’s about, if not breaking that bond, then stretching it further than it’s ever been stretched before. It’s about throwing your kids into an unknown, uncontrollable situation and seeing if they sink or swim. Of course, in general, the Smalls will swim and flourish and thrive, but as mamas we take their worry, their fear, their concerns personally. We feel it acutely, perhaps more acutely, than they do themselves. We want to do it for them. We want to make all the anxiety and worry and fear disappear. We want to explain to them that we still love them; even though we send them away every day, we still love them; even though things will never, ever be the same again, we still love them.
And therein lies the real issue. Things will never, ever be the same again. Life from now until they are sixteen or eighteen, or older if they go to university, will be forever divided into term time and holidays. For the first time, your child will have a significant other in their life that spends more time in their environment. Their teacher will be able to tell you things about your Small that you never knew. Your Small will know things, experience things, think things, say things, that you will never understand, see or hear and, now that I think about it, I’m starting to get what all these ‘first day’ images and sad face captions are all about.
To the mamas sending their Smalls off to school – they are yours and you are theirs. Be strong. We’re holding your hands.