P365 – Day 40 the countdown begins

This time next week, Juniordwarf will have finished his first day of Kindergarten.
A couple of weeks ago Juniordwarf and I went shopping to buy him a new lunch box for school. I wrote all about how I thought I was going to be one of the tearful mummies on his first day, and how this will be his first steps into the big world and independence.
He loves his new school uniform hat.
No, the tshirt isn’t part of the uniform –
but how cool would that be?!
Well today we took another step to the start of school: we went to the school to buy his uniform and pay his school fees. Now all there is to do is label everything, plan and make his lunches and, next Wednesday, take him to school.
Sounds simple, huh!
Not that hard. I managed to locate, in amongst the clutter, the iron-on labels that I ordered when Juniordwarf started daycare, but never used. I have one of those ‘laundry markers’. I have the sticky labels for his lunch box. Easy.
School lunches. 
OK, here we run into a bit of trouble. When I asked him what he wanted for his school lunches, he said ‘vegemite sandwiches’. Hardly imaginative, but not too difficult.
A recent blog post from Super Organiser Mum suggests making a term’s worth of lunches and snacks, freezing the lot and just getting them out when you need them. Something to aspire to, if we had room in the freezer. But perhaps it’s something I could do a month at a time. I’m not good in the mornings in terms of getting lunch together, and although making lunches the night before sounds well and good in theory, I never quite manage to get my act together.
I suspect I’m about to find out I need to get a whole lot more organised pretty quickly.
Take him to school.
In theory, not too hard. Juniordwarf already knows the lay of the land, the teacher and some of the kids, so it won’t be totally new.
In theory it should be just like daycare, right? I drop him off, he has a fun day, and I pick him up and try and coerce him into telling me what he did during the day. Compared to ten hours in daycare, six hours at school should be pretty breezy, shouldn’t it?
Well, apparently not. When I proffered this theory to a colleague, she laughed, and said that’s not how it works. She thought the same thing too, but said her daughter is a lot more tired after six hours at school than she ever is after a full day at daycare. Other people have said the same thing.
So that’s a trap for young players.
And it’s not really like daycare is it? It’s his introduction to the education ‘system’.
True, daycare is in the field of early childhood education and they have a curriculum and so forth, so it’s not like this will be his first experience of formal education.
But school is, well, school. Once you’ve started school you’re taking steps into the big wide world.
At a recent kiddy outing, one of the organisers said to me, as the kids raced to get on the bus, without rhyme or reason or consideration of anyone else waiting to get on the bus, something along the lines of ‘just wait until they start to kinder. They’ll be lining up at the bus, waiting until they’re told to get on and doing what they’re told. Give them six weeks . . .’
On one level, that was a relief to hear. That Juniordwarf will learn about taking turns and waiting and being patient and all that sort of stuff he won’t get from being at home. But at the same time, a part of me feels sad that he’ll have to ‘fit in’ to a certain degree and that some of his behaviour that bugs the hell out of me, but that I still find endearing, will probably be discouraged.
I recently came across this column by Sarah Macdonald on Mamamia. I could almost have written this post word for word, so instead of doing that, I’ve re-posted it here (with the permission of www.mamamia.com.au). I remember Sarah from Triple J during my uni student days when I actually had time to listen to the radio.

I’m very teary at the moment.  I choke up reading Enid Blyton books to my daughter, while watching television ads with my bloke and every time I even look at my son.

It’s a highly delicate emotional state similar to how I felt just after giving birth.

That’s probably because tomorrow I’m giving birth to my youngest child for the second time.  My little boy – my baby – starts school and I am gripped by the contractions that are pushing him out into society; those surging waves of fear, pain, relief and joy.  I’m trying not to call for drugs.

Don’t take the tears stuff the wrong way.  I’m not sad that he’s starting school.  I’m thrilled someone else will be responsible for him.  I’m ecstatic that I’ll get more time to work.  I’m excited he’s going to make new friends, discover the joy of reading, play great games and be a part of a wonderful community.  The tears are of happiness.

But they’re also for gut-wrenching loss.  From now on I won’t be the all-pervading influence and passion of his life.  The love for a kindergarten teacher is powerful and I know she will be far more qualified, experienced and infinitely nicer than I am.  But I’m jealous he’ll spend most of the day with a woman who couldn’t possibly love him like I do; who may not find him stunningly beautiful and hysterically funny; who doesn’t have heart supernovas when he puts his little hand in hers.

I have a touch of sorrow that my son is entering the first institution of many he’ll encounter in life.  From now on he must fit into the system and join the mass of the mainstream. Soon he’ll be assessed, ranked, judged and assigned marks. For his own good, he’ll be part of a system that increasingly likes to test and rate and label – ‘gifted, talented, dyslexic, hyperactive, challenged’ etc.  My son will have to negotiate a microcosm of society; a zoo where he’ll have to fit in, be cool, make friends and not loose them within the frenzied hive of the playground. He’ll have to wear a uniform, (including stupid shoes in summer heat), he’ll have to eat when he’s told, sit when he’s told, put his fingers on his lips and repress his rambunctiously annoying ways.

I stress for the stress he’ll feel.  We all remember the first day of school and studies have proved the stress hormones cortisol is already raised months before and continues to remain high months after school begins. I don’t want to take on his pain, his worry and his fears.   But I would if I could.  The studies also show the kids are picking up on our stress so I’m hiding all this surging emotion as best I can.

I know the weeping I’ll also suppress as we say goodbye is not even all about him.  Leaving him will bring back fragmented memories of not being as pretty as my best friend, about the boy with the dimples not wanting to sit with me, about never winning the running races.  Of course I remember my love for the school, the innocent intimacy of my gang, the affection for my teacher and that will make me want to cry more.

Sending him also makes me confront my feelings about society.  About how girls get Barbies and boys Ben 10, about fashions and fads, about valuing maths over art, about choosing religion over ethics; about the basic skills tests, the narrowing of the curriculum to achieve good marks, about coaching, after school activity competition and the Australian obsession with sport.

My vulnerable state comes also from my awareness that as my son works through the system his strengths and weaknesses will become apparent.  Thereby exposing mine (my partner and I gave them to him in the DNA after all). Adults can hide behind the jobs we do.  Writers don’t need maths, accountants don’t need creative writing skills, scientists don’t need to do art, computer programmers don’t do much public speaking.  At school my child may reflect the deficiencies I’ve fled.   He’ll also expose my strengths and weaknesses as a parent.   When my daughter was in kindergarten one Mother made me feel abusive for not teaching my child to read and do addition before she started schools.  Others may feel I don’t create enough routine at home, or discipline, or fruit.

I’m ecstatic that, for me, the first day of school is a coming out, a reclaiming of self, a beginning of a new future.  Yet it’s confronting to not be so desperately needed.  A friend of mine is so freaked out by what’s coming she’s considering having another child.  She’s mourning the end of a sense of purpose and that feeling of being constantly wanted.  Perhaps the start of school is also confronting because it reminds me I’m ageing.  As he starts more independent living I equip him more for when I’m gone.  Are the tears for my own mortality?

So after I wave goodbye, I don’t know whether I’ll cry or laugh, weep in a puddle or jump for joy.  I expect it will be all those and more. But I’ll then try and drown that lump in my throat with a glass of good champagne at the pub.  I imagine I’ll feel the surge of overwhelming love, loss, joy, worry, passion, fear, pride and soppiness that I felt on the night I first met him.  And I’m thankful that, at least after this birth, I can shout for the drugs and buy a round of drinks for my fellow mothers.

*Sarah Macdonald is a writer and radio broadcaster.  She has presented shows on Triple J, 702 and Radio National as well as Recovery, Race Around the World and Two Shot on ABC TV.  Her best selling memoir Holy Cow has been published in several countries and translated into four languages and she edited the travel collections ‘Take Me With You’ and ‘Come Away with Me’.

I know, it’s a bit of a cop out to quote someone else, but this piece expresses so beautifully everything I feel about Juniordwarf starting school next week. I don’t think I could say it any better.
Now I just have to put on a brave face.
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