Friday, 29 August 2008

The Status Quo

What to write about Boy #1 starting school?

Perhaps I should start with how grown-up and gorgeous he looks in his uniform; despite the fact that it is admirably practical and suitable for a 5 year old (none of that blazer and tie malarky), he manages to make it look like something out of the Boden catalogue (as my sis e-mailed me to say, after I sent her a photo on Wednesday).

Or, I could tell you about the queue of chattering mothers outside the school at pick-up time every afternoon, all talking ten to the dozen in about 50 different languages to each other, their younger children, or into their mobile phones. I might drop in how scarily stylish some of them are - as of this afternoon, it seems that my tattered black Birkenstocks are decidely last year. Perhaps I should unearth the pair of ballet pumps I bought at the beginning of the summer and threw in the back of the cupboard as too conservative. For some reason, they don't look so conservative on the other mummies - though of course that may have something to do with the fact they are accessorising skinny jeans and rock-chic biker jackets, and have Chanel logos stitched subtly on the front them... Oh yes, and that these mummies have size 8 butts... (that's 4 to our American cousins, and unacheivable to me)

I might tell you about Boy #2's quest to lose himself in the maze of classes whilst I try to deal with dropping off his brother in the morning, or about his refusal this afternoon to leave the house today to collect Boy #1 until I turned off all the lights and shut the door behind me. Of course, he called my bluff and still didn't budge from the train set. It was only when I kidnapped James the Red Engine that he climbed willingly into the car, gravely informing me as he did so that once he grows up he is no longer going to be a crane 'pilot', but that instead he will now be driving the Polar Express. All in single words, obviously.

"Not. Crane. Pilot. No way."


"No. Drive. Polar. 'Spress."

(You can see how George Orwell's reduced vocabularly in '1984' might work actually, when communicating with a 2 year old. I mean, I understood him perfectly...)

But I'm just beating around the bush, really. What really matters about the school Experiment is that Boy #1 is not impressed. Day 1: not good - as detailed a couple of posts ago. Day 2: rubbish. If you passed a woman sat in her car and weeping into her mobile at around 8.45am yesterday, that would have been me. Not a good look, obviously - especially in Chanel logo'd Chelsea. And today? Husband took him today, and he started the campaign early - probably realising that his most sympathetic audience was staying behind, so he better pull out all the stops whilst he could - crying and wailing before he even left the house. Obviously, as soon as he got in the car - and out of my earshot - he was fine...

Now, I know that once he's in class he's alright. I know this, because we have had similar experiences before when he was at nursery, both when he originally started, and then in diminishing levels at the start of every term. It being nursery, however, I was allowed to remain outside the room whilst he settled, so I saw it for myself.

But he's at Big School now. And they don't have time for mothers to sneakily peek around the corner to check that their children are starting to regain their equilibrium. And to be honest, with Boy #2 to deal with, this mother doesn't really have the option of doing that, in any case.

So I will have to take it in good faith when at handover during school pick-up his teacher tells me Boy #1 has had fun today. In the car, on the way home, I'm reduced to asking leading questions like a second-rate detective to try and ascertain if this is, in fact true. So, what did you do? I heard you enjoyed gym - where did you have that? Do you know anybody's name yet? He sounds nice.... And so on. It's scary, doing this. It reminds me of conversations with my own mother when I started new schools, and how at the time, I never realised how much my one-word answers mattered to her...

I know he'll be fine. It's an adjustment period, that's all. And so when Boy #1 is uncharacteristically quiet, moody, or argumentative, I remind myself that he's trying to come to terms with the fact that life has changed irrevocably - without his permission - and that there is nothing he can do about it.

I would be pretty mad in those circumstances, too.


  1. Reading this I was suddenly plummetted back (I'm not going to say how many years - but wayyyy back) to me - at 4 years old - walking to school - on my own.

    How things have changed.

  2. Do you get any answers from him beyond the catch-all "can't berember", which is the lot of many mothers?

    How agonising for you - it will pass.

  3. Oh you poor lamb! I'd give you my mobile to chat, but I'd probably cry right back at you! It's all so brutal! On the upside at least it's not a boarding school. Hubby was sent away before he was 8. I look at my little boy and wonder...... how? t.x

  4. I feel for you. Keep strong and don't let the Birkenstocks get you down as it were.
    Next week will be easier. Fingers crossed.

  5. wow, good perspective, he has been wrenched from the comfort and relative independence of home. I'd be discombobulated to!

  6. It will be fine. You'll soon settle into the 'how was school today?' 's'ok' 'what did you do?' 'nothing' conversations. What I found hardest to deal with was the fact that OTHER PEOPLE were influencing the flow of information to MY child and I didn't always approve of the content. A control freak? Who, me?

  7. Yes, I was plummeted back too and I also walked to kindergarten on my own, 4 years old and not afraid of the non existing traffic or kidnappers. Those were the good old days.

  8. My little daughter who starts school this September full time has been going to school in the mornings (nursery afternoons). The process, so far, has not been straight forward (I had to hand her over screaming one morning) so I know exactly what you mean! I'm still in two minds about it all and I keep toying with the idea of home schooling. The downside of that being that I might lose my sanity AND we need to get some work done before the bailiffs move in...

  9. Ah bless. (That was for you, BTW). One thing I will say about the American schools, (at least the ones that my kids have been to) is that they do "separation" really well. With the 3rd child it's a bit boring for the mother, but they went for an hour long visit on the first day and the parent stayed. Second day it was only 2 hours, then the third day it was the full time.
    At the nursery school they made you stay until the child was comfortable, allowing you to go and sit in the staff room for longer and longer stretches. Again, a bit of a pain but the kids were not traumatized and never felt abandoned. Somehow I can't see many English schools doing it though!

  10. Poor you, hope he settles. One word answers seem to be the norm. M starts pre-school, cue screaming! You have a brilliant perspective and I will try to remember that they didn't give permission for the change when I am struggling with tears later this week.

    PS thanks for the Plum baby tip - L loves them and the little piggie is now lapping up 3 meals!

  11. Aims, so true. Though I'm not sure that even 36 years ago a 4 year old would have been sent walking for 25 minutes on their own through London. (No doubt anyone from the next generation up reading this will be muttering 'of course we were! And we had to lick 'gravel off 'road for breafast, too!')

    Iota - what do you think? No, no, and no...

    KP, that some children still go off to boarding (at all) is amazing to me...

    M/M - well, roll on tomorrow, and I guess I'll find out!

    SB - beloved Husband thinks I'm being too sympathetic. Mars and Venus, huh?

    Sharon - oh god, I hadn't thought of that angle! (Although at least I won't have the nightmare some parents did last year in our neighbourhood, when they found out the smart feepaying school they had chosen for their kids was teaching Creationism on the quiet...)

    Irene, I always went to school half an hour drive from home so didn't benefit from that era - which is probably why I take the car trip so much for granted now.

    HT - be strong (said through sniffles). OK, I will, if you will...

    EPM, that does sound more sensible than the in at the deep end approach used here. They are only 4, after all!

    Hi Mel, glad your baby has taken to Plum (I wish I had thought of that idea, the owner must be making a mint!), and I probably think too much of my boy's perspective. What the hell though - it works for me!

  12. well, home ed is fun... ;)

  13. Sounds like it will take some time for him to adjust but I'm sure he's going to be fine. Change always sucks. I hated change...still do.

    Great description of the mothers! :-)


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