A tale of two mothers and the first day of school

Yvette and meTHE first day of school is a major milestone in the motherhood journey. Whether it’s your first or your third child off to begin their institutionalised learning, it’s a big step for them and for mum. Some mums cry, sad to see their child leaving babyhood behind, some are happy, thrilled at the next stage for the family. Here’s a first person account from two very different mothers about their child’s first day – one sobbed (Yvette, pictured left) and one  jumped for joy (me, in the glasses).

Yvette’s story: Claudia’s first day at school

Matilda and ClaudiaI need to bottle my child’s sheer, blissful and carefree joy at starting school. If I could selfishly capture just a small part of her joy, maybe it would make her start easier for me.

I want to be more excited about my second-born, Claudia, starting school but I find myself struggling with her not being here at home with me and I’m struggling to adapt to life without her constant presence. My palm is sweaty from grasping on to her hand too tight.

My own mother had 10 years as a stay-at-home mother, and, before I was a mother to three, I wondered how this was possible and how she didn’t lose her identity (and her mind!) spending so long at home. As I approach my eighth year of “unpaid employment” I see better why she made this decision. I treasure the time with each of my children and as Christmas holidays drew to a close, I wanted to slam the brakes on. Claudia was starting school!

Like all children, there were days when she simply sent me around the twist, but I never fantasised about her starting school. I just kept holding onto her hand.

On her first day at school she woke at 5.30am and came bursting into my bedroom singing and dancing that she was now “a big school girl”.  She was dressed, shoes on, bag on back and standing by the door 30 minutes before we needed to go. Photos were taken,  texts sent to family and we received never-ending phone calls from family wishing her well.

Again, I clasped her little hand in mine. She was almost bursting with excitement as we approached her Prep classroom. Our emotions were at opposite ends of the spectrum. Hers sheer joy and excitement, mine sickening dread as an era had ended.

That first day of school was hard for me. I really missed her being around. She’s such a funny little girl at home and I love her personality and her curious mind, and the questions that come out of her! Later that morning, as I was doing some laundry, I picked out her pyjamas to put in the machine and I began to cry. Seeing her empty room brought it all home to me, hard, that you can’t turn back the clock and she won’t be at home with me anymore.

You see, I love being at home with the kids and watching them grow.  I do, of course, get cranky at them at times, but when they do something good or I see a really nice value they have picked up, I think I must be doing something right.

When I had my first, Sam, now eight, I really didn’t know how long I wanted to do the at-home gig, but I really enjoy it.  Also, I don’t want to go to work and earn money and have someone else look after my kids when I think I could do it better.

So the first day of school was emotional and difficult. How could I be happy that my beautiful little girl was leaving me, but how could I be sad, as her sheer joy was so contagious?

Now that the days are passing, I am accepting Claudia being at school and I am loving watching her grow and enjoy the school life so much.  I have heard some mothers say that they feel isolated and alone with their children starting school. This is not how I feel, so perhaps for now the time has come to dry my sweaty hand and let Claudia take her first steps independently of me. After all, I’m still standing by her side.

Felicity’s story: Matilda’s first day at school

Claudia and Matilda in 2011Matilda is the youngest of three and she’s a very sociable girl. Second and third siblings have an advantage over first-borns in that they learn so much more by watching their older siblings. Matilda could write her own name long before the boys at that age. Socially, she’s very aware, enjoying playdates and friendships formed at kindy.

For the year Matilda was four, her kindy year, on the days she wasn’t at kindy she would often ask me to arrange playdates with her friends. She loved being out of the house and enjoying life. But I had work to do! As a freelance journalist I work from home and that requires doing phone interviews and long stints at the computer to write articles for commissioning editors. It was very difficult on those days Matilda was at home to get that work done. I was longing to get her off to school!

Of course, there’s a guilt attached to that that you can never really get rid of. She’s my daughter, and she’s a beautiful, loving, happy, engaging little girl – how awful of me to wish her life away! But with age comes acceptance and I’m realising as I get older that I’m good at some parts of motherhood and not so good at others. An area of weakness for me was sitting down and playing with my daughter. I know my friend Yvette regularly played dolls with her daughter, Claudia, and I was envious that she had the personality to do that. I don’t. I rarely took the time to have tea parties with Matilda, or play with the dolls and dollhouse set. I wished she could read, so she could quietly amuse herself! That burden of guilt will be my cross to bear.

Our first day of school was very exciting for all of us. Matilda was dressed and in her ironed uniform before breakfast. She had been going to school to drop the boys off for years and she was very excited that now it was her turn. Younger siblings see all the best bits of school – the playground, the meeting friends the *fun* and they get excited about it.

We arrived bright and early and already Matilda had a little friend in her class, someone she had known since she was two. They have been firm friends almost all their lives and happily gravitated towards each other on that first day, with hugs and squeals of delight. It was such a joyful moment, to see my daughter find her place so confidently and easily. She was more than ready for her first day of school.

In the days following that first day her love of school has grown. She’s now reading confidently and writing all the time. (Facebook readers will know this when I caught her writing her name on her bedroom wall in lead pencil yesterday!)

We walk to school most mornings and it’s those times, the quiet half hour there and home again in the afternoons, when she and I really connect. She talks non-stop about her day and all the things that happened. She asks questions about *everything* and she can be a funny little thing too. We chat easily, as mothers and daughters do. There’s nothing else for us to do but put one foot in front of the other and talk.

Matilda’s first day at school was the culmination of about 12 months of anticipation. Kindy didn’t challenge her enough. She had a lovely group of friends there, but academically she was ready for more, even then. School has captivated her imagination, and really challenged her mind. She has a lovely teacher who is skilled at inspiring this age group, who can get kids excited about learning and get them craving more. Matilda is thriving and it’s easy to see how much she loves it. As a mother, I knew it was where she needed to be and I think she knew that too.