As I switched on his lamp I turned my head and looked over at my son to say goodnight. His eyes were glassy, a single tear rolling down his cheek.
“What’s wrong honey?” I asked, “It’s a big day tomorrow, you need to sleep.”
“I’m scared Mum,” he whispered. “I’m scared of big school. I don’t want to go.”
To any parent of a child starting school these words are heart breaking. I sat with him and explained he was ready for school. It would mean learning new things and making new friends. I told him it was okay to be scared, and let him know that even Mummy gets scared sometimes.
What I didn’t let on was that at that moment I was scared too. In fact, I was petrified. My eldest child was starting school – ‘big’ school. We’d spent the previous weeks getting uniforms, shoes, pencils, bags, drink bottles and lunch boxes. We were prepared in every way possible, except mentally.
Eventually he settled and headed off to sleep. I, on the other hand, had the most restless night I’d had in months.
I was going to be a school mum, I wasn’t ready for that!
The morning came and we both put on a brave face. We all got ready, took photos and spoke about the excitement of the day. We dropped our youngest son at preschool and headed to ‘big’ school.
We walked in and he turned and looked to me with a smile, “I’m okay mum. I’m excited now.”
My partner and I walked him to class. His teacher got him to pick his name badge, he waved goodbye and said, “See you this afternoon.”
And that was it. No squealing, no fights, no tears. Nothing.
As my partner and I walked out the school gates I tried to hide my tears behind my dark glasses.
“He didn’t cry,” I sobbed, partly because I was so proud and partly because I knew he was no longer the baby I pictured in my head.
I preoccupied myself all day trying my best not to look at the clock. The first time I looked was 9:01 (school started at 8.50), then 9:40, 10:20, 10:45, 11:15 … you get the picture, I wasn’t successful.
After what felt like an eternity later, it was finally time to pick him up. I knew no one, so I stood on my own waiting for the bell to ring. The bell rang and the school, with over 600 kids, turned into chaos. He walk out of his class and I could see his eyes scanning the lines of anxious first-time Kindy parents for me. He spotted me, he had a grin from ear to ear and ran over giving me a big hug.
“MUM I LOVE SCHOOL - CAN I MOVE HERE?”
We headed home and he excitedly told us all about his adventures of the day. He asked again, more than once, if moving into school was a serious possibility.
Every inch of my being breathed a sigh of relief. He liked it, no, he loved it.
That all happened 12 months ago, almost to the day.
In January last year I was a nervous first-time school parent who knew nothing of what the year ahead held.
Fast forward a year and we are preparing to head into year one. I say ‘we’ because it really is a group adventure. My partner, our youngest son and I were all there for the rollercoaster ride that was our eldest son’s first year of school and together we prepare to hit the second year head on and full of enthusiasm.
Unlike this time last year, the past few weeks have been filled with fun, laughter, excitement and anticipation.
“Mum I need some new pencils and a bag. Oh, this drink bottle looks awesome.”
“I wonder what class I’ll be in. Year one classes are at the back of the school, I’m a big kid now.”
“Yay! Only 15 days till school goes back. Holidays are boring.”
As for the year that was, I can safely say we both passed with flying colours.
I spent time at the school learning how things worked behind the scenes and I made a point of getting involved. I even plucked up some courage and spoke to other school parents, I found we had a tonne in common and made myself some fantastic friends. Most importantly, though, I saw my son thrive in the school environment, and nothing made me happier.
To this year's first–time school parents here are my top five pieces of advice on how to cope with the year ahead:
1. Don’t forget the important stuff – Notes! Oh my god, the notes. Keep track of notes, excursions and sports activities on a calendar. Join and keep up to date on school websites and Facebook pages if they have them.
2. Make friends – I could not have made it through last year without my ‘school friends’. Arrange play dates with your child’s friends and talk to others parents at pick up and drop off. Even if it is their first child at school or their last, you all have something in common. You’ll probably find they are just as nervous and worried as you. You will soon wonder how you ever coped without them.
3. Ask questions – The teachers, the Principal, P&C or P&F committees are all there if you have a question about the work or how your child is doing. Make sure you attend parent-teacher interviews and if possible P&C or P&F nights, it’s a great chance to see how school’s work and have your say on bigger issues.
4. Help out – Reading, canteen, fetes and fundraisers. The kids love seeing you and the school loves the help. It’s a win-win situation.
5. Relax and have fun – School is fun! Remember that.