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'My four year old is ready to start school, but am I?'

Claire Micks writes about her memories of her first days of school and how she now feels about her daughter starting ‘Big School’.

Claire Micks

THE SMELL OF new leather from as yet unworn shoes. And of stray shavings in pencil case corners. The new hair bobbles bought especially for the Big Day. With two loops, and navy balls at the end of each, the height of Junior Infant sophistication. My school cardigan, hand knit, in startling royal blue with matching buttons (and yet, how I wished for the blander polyester type, just like all my new little colleagues).

That distinctive floor – not tiles, not marmoleum, the kind with the institutional feel, as if someone had sprinkled the contents of a beach across a mass of endless grey, all those little stones embedded flush with the floor, which little eyes could dwell upon when this new, strange environment became a little too much to fathom. How different it looked and felt to the yellow flowers and random swirls of the carpet at home.

Tall, tall ceilings carrying strange wooden crosses and big ominous clocks. Scary ladies clad all in navy, with only white rims framing their faces, stern, and solemn, and yet more crosses around their necks. Lunch boxes with metal clasps, and super hero flasks that smelt of dank and day old lemonade. Long grey socks and something strange called a ‘Pin-a-fore’. Carrying a funny, chemically smell to it, and feeling very heavy on little knees.

And my mother, proud as punch, as she looked me up and down, and declared me fit for entry into the outside world. Finger on my lip, and off I am launched.

90391331 Source: Mark Stedman via RollingNews.ie

And now, all these decades later, my own little daughter stands on the cusp of ‘Big School’, and I can scarcely believe it. ‘Is she ready?’ they all enquire. ‘Her, sure she’s grand. It’s me that’s the basket-case!’, I routinely reply.

No uniform this time. Thankfully. Not because I would not welcome the simplicity, and the lack of daily arguments one would no doubt bring. But because the sight of her in one, all top to toe and ready to be marched off into the outside world, would no doubt turn Mummy into a blithering mess.

So what is it about the first day of school that turns us otherwise functioning, rational adults into sniffling eijits? For universally it seems to be the case, I am warned by those who have already gone through this right of passage, that more than a few tears will be shed at the school gates (discreetly, if at all possible).

Gone are the days that this is a child’s first foray outside the home, and the first cutting of the apron strings. That already happened when she was all of eight months old. So why then this sudden swell of emotion?

Because it means that they are All Grown Up. Or at least enough to enter a system, at the end of which, they will be spat out virtual adults. Because, for the first time, one other designated person becomes formally responsible for their well being, and you start to share the raising of your child. Because you can no longer hide them away, fully protect them, keep them safe and entirely under your wing. You have to start to let them forge their own little path into the Big Bad World. Because they are officially no longer babies, no longer toddlers, no longer Nursery School material. They are Junior Infants, and you can’t help thinking to yourself, ‘Jesus, how did that happen?!’.

I absent mindedly notice all the ‘Back to School’ signage in the shops. And then, a millisecond later, realise that it all now applies to me. And I start to panic, just a wee bit. Lunchbox – check. School bag – check. New Shoes – check. Smiley, together, well prepared Mummy – Not so check.

shutterstock_282686744 Source: Shutterstock/www.BillionPhotos.com

I inevitably find myself thinking back to my own primary school days. Daily trips in the Datsun Cherry. My 1980’s ‘commute’. With the furry, polyester seat covers, in animal print designs. Me, a dorky kid with Eastern Health Board glasses that made me look like Damn Edna Everidge before she was ever even conceived. Coupled with an unfortunate habit of straight A’s in maths tests. Not the stuff of Little Miss Popular, it has to be said.

So much happened during those eight short years. I went from being a baby, to almost a teen. From a blank canvas, to virtually fully formed. And in that hothouse of learning, and socialisation, and gradual opening up and appreciation of the outside world, I look back now and realise how critical those initial years were. Where life gets gradually stretched beyond mum and dad, and bed, and Bosco, and chips for dinner, to something so much more complex and challenging for little brains to filter.

shutterstock_284502623 Source: Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images

So how do I make sure that she fits in? How do I make her impervious to the pretty, outgoing blonde kids with the glossy, obedient hair, who even at the grand old age of four and a quarter seem to already know, and be fully assured, of their natural place in the world. I guess I just ask her each and every evening how her little day went. And then try to actually listen to the response. And remind her every single night that she is the best little girl in the world, regardless of gammy hair cuts, or Health Board glasses, or over (or under) achievement in her sums.

Because if I can somehow, anyhow, get her to believe that, then maybe the tall ceilings, and the big clocks, and the droves of people all grown up around her, won’t phase her. And maybe she won’t feel quite the same need I did, to study that pebble dash floor.

Will I ever be able to fully release her warm little hand, and completely hand her over. Probably not. To use her own favourite expression at the moment, Mummy you gotta just ‘Let It Go!’.

Claire Micks is an occasional writer. Read her columns for TheJournal.ie here.

Read: 12 things I wish someone had told me before having kids>

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