No doubt, you will have seen a gazillion photos on Facebook over the last week featuring small children sporting school uniforms. Parents across the land have been parading their children online alongside messages of sadness, joy, excitement, relief, anxiety, pride, fear and love. So, what is it about the first day of school that evokes so many different emotions? And why do the majority of parents feel it is significant enough to mark it out as a special occasion?
For me, I think it has something to do with a shallow sense of loss. A tiny feeling that we are letting our kids go into the wilderness of life beyond a pure dependence on us. The fact that they are now old enough to explore the world without us holding their hand every step of the way. And a sad thought that when they do hold our hand, their grip is gradually loosening. There's a slight sense of sorrow for the loss of the very little child we remember, who we never thought would grow so quickly and now he's stood in his little grey shorts, red jumper and seemingly over-sized black school shoes. Plus, matching Spiderman bag.
You'll probably notice that most of the photos are accompanied by the "where did the time go?" and "they coped better than me" clichéd comments from parents. You might think that these are all overworked phrases and you would be right, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that they are genuine feelings. Typically, you go through parenthood nursing a floppy newborn, watching it develop in front of you to something less alien-like until eventually it makes noise (other than crying) and starts to crawl, stand, walk and talk. Every waking moment of the child is largely dependent on its parents in the first four years, even if they do eventually learn to wee or poo on their own or put various articles of clothing on by themselves.
Of course, as parents, you relish the day that you don’t have to help wipe your kids' backsides or the day they stop spooning beans and peas all over the dinner table and the floor. But, with that wish, you don't contemplate the side effect of them being able to do stuff on their own – independence. So, when the day comes and it is the start of a journey where they will need to fend for themselves and make new friends (and enemies) and learn the things that only a school playground can teach them, it hits us unexpectedly in spite of the hugely obvious expectation.
It might have something to do with the fact that we see our children's life unravel in milestones. Remember the day he smiled for the first time? Remember that day he rolled for the first time? Remember the day he first laughed, crawled, spoke, walked, jumped, ran, dressed himself, rode a bike, did a roly-poly (not necessarily in that order)? The list goes on. So, when the day finally arrives and they step out of the door donning a school uniform, it can feel like they've hit another significant milestone.
I might be wrong with all of this, of course, and I welcome your thoughts on how you felt on the first day of school for your children.
We took our son to his first day at nursery (at a school) last week so I got a glimpse of the mania surrounding kids’ first days at school. It's an incredible sight doing the “school run” for the first time. Swarms of doting parents shepherding little people in uniforms descend on the school building and it is a sight to behold. It's a little like one of the scenes out of those zombie films where they all hear a noise in a building and flock towards the juicy human treat inside. A bit like that, but the school run is scarier and seemingly more frantic.
It's like every one with a car in the whole village has decided to drive around on every street within a 100 metre radius of the school and park on every edge of pavement available. It is chaos. And, if you're not trying to avoid death by MPV, you're dodging the relentless stream of pushchairs, parents and children. It's like a really awkward game of human dodgeball.
On arrival, there was a little packet of goods that parents receive on their first day from the school. A little bag filled with a poem (a real sob-jerker, effectively confirming that teachers will not deliberately allow your kids to die when in their care), a tissue (for emotional support), a teabag (apparently to have at home when “relaxing”) and a Kit Kat (to go with the tea). It's a nice touch and you don't expect it unless you're already au fait with the whole first day at school thing. I can see how it can totally smack you in the feels department, but due to the overwhelming sensory experience of the school run, it had no effect on me.
To be fair, I didn’t feel any strong emotion about our son going to school but I'm not the one who has spent 99% of my time looking after him (aka Mummy aka The General). I love him beyond description and I must admit it was strange leaving him in his little uniform amongst the pandemonium. Thinking I was a little stone-hearted in my reaction, I asked Mummy how she felt and her reply was "I'm too tired to think about how I felt". That's what another two kids (e.g. a newborn and a two year old) will apaprently do to you. Drama queen...
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