When I was expecting my first child I was completely naïve. I was going to breastfeed until he weaned himself, cosleep, do baby-led weaning, and possibly look into homeschooling.
After 24 hours and a little help from the NHS, George came tumbling into our lives.
As the fog of the first year lifted we discovered that my jumper baubles are entirely decorative, a theory corroborated after having another baby and finding once again that formula is magic. We did cosleep a little, but our baby turned out to be some kind of nocturnal octopus. Baby led weaning was a hilarious affair in which we redecorated the house with avocado in a manner befitting of a Jackson Pollack splashfest, and homeschooling? Ha. Mumma needs a hot cup of tea and a good sit down.
And somehow, starting school felt like an inevitable shock. A year ago I found myself in the awkward position of having to choose a school for George. I know exactly nothing about state primary schools. I didn’t go to one, and even if I did, it’s 20 years since I finished primary school. I was completely underwhelmed by the local offering, mainly because they all involve uniforms and OFSTED, which I’ve taken to understanding is a bit pointless.
Nevertheless, we searched and searched, and looked around a few schools. George got allocated a place at a school within walking distance, which means I have to get exercise whether I like it or not. We spent a couple of mornings there before starting school properly, presumably so he could cry in front of people who don’t know him and get confused about toilet etiquette. George tells me his favourite part of these taster days was when I joined him for lunch, probably because I had to fold myself into a seat suitable for a 7 year old and eat my roasted Quorn fillet off a plastic tray with partitions.
I was nervous about quite a few things. I’d not managed to teach him the alphabet, he couldn’t button up his own school shirt, he thought he was going to a school named after a leading brand of baby bath products, and he wouldn’t drink water unless it had squash in it. I had managed to get him wiping his own bum after going to the toilet, but even that was almost a bridge too far for him.
George was nervous about everything about starting school. We talked a lot about what was going to be different about school and why change is good. I had a lump in my throat for the whole of August despite my fixed grin and outward positivity. We talked about all the things he was going to learn and the friends he’d make, and how we could spend time after school doing fun things like playing football, baking or killing baddies on the playstation (his favourite thing, and the ultimate treat).
And now it’s half term. He’s been at “St. Johnsons” for 7 weeks. He knows almost all of the alphabet, despite early protestations that W was surely a made up letter. Phonics is actually amazing, and he’s actually reading some words (which puts paid to my plans to spell swear words aloud when expressing distaste). He’s only learnt one swear word in the playground so far, which I think bodes well. And best of all – he has a proper friend.
In the first couple of weeks I left the school grounds with a huge lump in my throat, knowing that he’d be crying. I tried not to let the feeling overpower me, partly because I’d have to spend the rest of the day being professional with clients or entertaining my one year old daughter, but mostly because I wanted to be only positive about this big change in a small kid’s life. And then one day I went to drop him off and another boy yelled “George!”, then enveloped him in the biggest bear hug. George left my side, clutching his favourite bunny and his friend’s hand. He didn’t cry. And then, and only then, I wept with pride.