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Opinion: 5 things I got completely wrong about starting school

When my first child started school I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal. I was wrong.

Andrea Mara

WHEN MY FIRST child started school two years ago, everyone said it would be a big change. I didn’t exactly disbelieve them, but really, I thought, how big could it possibly be?

Unsurprisingly, I got it completely wrong.

1. School is just the next step after crèche, right?

What I thought:

She’s been in crèche for a couple of years now, so school will be similar – yes, it’s a teacher instead of a minder, there are more kids in the class, but ultimately, school is just an extension of the childcare we’re used to.

The reality:

School was completely different to crèche. Yes, the teacher was incredible – I cried saying goodbye to her at the end of the year. But she had twenty-something kids to teach, and (understandably) didn’t have time to sit each one on her knee for hugs and chats throughout the day as the crèche minders had done. There also wasn’t a whole lot of time for one-to-one “how did she get on today?” exchanges, and no diary to tell me what she’d done all day. So I relied on my child to let me know. And every day it went something like this:

Me: So, what did you do today?

C: I can’t remember. Can I have a sandwich?

2. Homework will be easy for the first few years

What I thought:

For junior and senior infants, homework will probably include some reading and counting. We won’t have to worry about the Tuiseal Ginideach or long division for a few years, so it’ll be a quick and easy process each afternoon.

The reality:

Yes, it was just reading and counting, but oh my god was it difficult. Not in itself, but convincing my daughter to sit down and concentrate.

This describes a typical homework attempt:

Me: Could you write “cat”

C: Do I have to? I think I feel like writing dog. I think my teacher said we should write dog. And she knows more than you.

Me: The first word on the list is “cat”. Please write “cat” (eventually, she does)

Me (reading from the word list): Can you write “dog”?

C: See mum, I told you dog was what I was supposed to write. You didn’t listen. Now I have to rub out “cat”.

Me: No! Please, please don’t rub it out. Leave cat there and write dog on the next line.

C: OK mum, there’s no need to sound cross. Wow, look at this blue pencil, it’s such a lovely colour isn’t it (puts pencil in hair and walks off to other room to show her little brother)

I blame homework for every strand of grey hair in my head. The ones the kids insist on pointing out. Every. Single. One.

3. Packed Lunches – how hard could they be?

What I thought:

People say coming up with ideas for lunches is kind of a pain, but I’ll do some research online, find some healthy, interesting ideas, and give my child a great variety of nourishing, fun lunches. I might even try bento boxes, just as soon as I figure out what they are.

The reality:

I had great intentions but limited imagination when it came to school lunches. And my child is a fussy eater. So she has cheese sandwiches. Every single day. And I still don’t know what bento boxes are.

4. Teachers are just regular people

What I thought:

The teacher is younger than me. I’m a grown-up now, so I’m not afraid of teachers any more. We are equals.

The reality:

I was in complete awe of the teacher, she was absolutely amazing. I called her Miss, just like my daughter did. I was eager to please and keen to get everything right. I was mortified when the teacher pulled me aside to say I’d forgotten to send in a drink for my daughter, and resolved that I’d never let her down again – the teacher I mean. I am not a grown-up. I am six again.

5. Wearing a uniform is a laundry-life-saver

What I thought:

Having a school-uniform means no morning time dramas over what to wear. It means less laundry. It means I will buy fewer clothes and save loads of money. I will take the family away for a weekend with all the extra money.

The reality:

Morning dramas over what to wear were replaced by morning dramas over socks being too scratchy or a skirt being too loose or the very existence of tracksuit day. The laundry pile was as high as ever, because my insistence that she change out of her uniform meant normal clothes were worn as often as ever. And for the same reason, I saved no money – she needed just as many clothes as before. Except now I had to buy a uniform too. We’re still waiting for the weekend away.

Anyway, two years later, I’ve figured it out and know a lot more about how school works. This year, I’ll have two children there for the first time. I’m sure having two school-runs at different times, and two sets of uniforms to keep clean, and two lunches to make won’t be at all different or difficult. And the homework. Oh yes, I can’t wait for the homework. I think I’m going to need to dye my hair.

Andrea Mara has three small kids, one tall husband and one office job. She writes at OfficeMum.ie about being a parent, being a mother working outside the home, being a woman in the workplace. She’s just trying to keep her balance. Follow her tweets@office_mum or on Facebook.

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Andrea Mara

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