Talking to a friend last week, she has her first child starting school this year, we were discussing all the emotional realities and logistical challenges that starting school presents.
For example, she was genuinely concerned how she would get her sock hating 5-year-old to conform to sock wearing. My advice of course, being something to do with bribery etc etc.
Our family managed to get through Prep 2019 mostly unscathed. No cases of head lice, one knock to the head (a rogue ice brick), 14 birthday parties requiring 126 trips to K Mart, the occasional morning meltdown (also sock related), one lost hat, and the holy grail of parenting…. no gastro. #GASTROWILLDESTROYYOU #EMETOPHOBIA
But with only 12 months experience as a “school mum”, my advice to her was mostly useless.
We were talking about first day nerves, and by that I mean her nerves, not her child’s. I openly confessed that I shed tears, I found the first day, the first morning, to be this weighted milestone that my head knew was a good thing, but no one told my heart. It was an “ah ha” moment, the obligatory new mother advice to “enjoy it, the time goes so fast” was making sense. On one hand I was overjoyed that my child was starting school but on the other hand I wanted to bundle him up, take him home with me and stay in a place of pleasant denial. Parents around me seemed to be acting normal, there was laughter, photos, and hugging, a sense of happy anticipation filled the classroom. For me, it was only a minute ago that I was holding him to my heart and smelling his little newborn head and now I was expected to leave him to fend for himself in the vastness of the school grounds. I felt a lack of control in keeping him safe. What if he gets lost? What if someone forgets about him? What if he needs me?
What if I need him?
Really, I was fine.
Anyway, back to my friend. Turns out her anxiety related to the other mums, and how she may be welcomed or unwelcomed, what she should wear and all of the other irrelevant things that in that moment she thought were crucial but it will only be in hindsight that she will realise that these things are indeed meaningless. It was as if she was a 12-year-old girl and it was her first day of high school. The nervous anticipation and insecurity. Worrying and wondering what people may or may not think.
Does it every really end?
There are those memes and articles that get thrown about, usually around this time of year, about all of the different types of mums you come across. Yoga mum, busy mum, glamour mum, hot mess mum. It’s never been about the dads has it? In the 90’s we watched Sex in the City and asked each other Are you a Carrie or a Miranda? And now we might watch Big Little Lies and ask who is Reece? Or maybe Nicole? There is this perceived notion that we can only be defined by our work status or what we wear to 3pm pick up. A society fixated by slotting people, especially mothers, into stereotypes further perpetuated by Instagram. In my experience, these stereotypes are patently untrue and are an inaccurate depiction of a person, suggesting we are only one dimensional. The ridiculous assumption that the President of the Parents Committee has nothing better to do with his or her time than to recruit volunteers and the belief that a working parent will spend her mornings doing everything to avoid said President. God forbid if you wear lycra to pick up because according to these memes you spend your days at yoga followed by the nail spa. In reality, we could all quite easily fall into any “category” dependent on any given day, dependent on the weather, our mood or whether a small person spilt cereal on us that morning.
I know these stereotypes are mostly a joke, but these kinds of typecasts only further add to the anxieties of others, and they don’t support the sisterhood and trust me, when Charlie started school last year, I found a sisterhood. They say you need to find your tribe, well I’m here to tell you that your tribe may well be those other mothers at school. Friendships that will see you through the Saturday morning birthday circuit and send you a text to remind you that it is “dress like a scientist” day and don’t forget a gold coin. Only this morning I got a message telling me what I needed to pack in my son’s pencil case on his first day. Who the hell has time to remember that? The sisterhood, that’s who.
So, here’s what I told my friend…
- The parents I met last year were such a diverse group of people. Of course, some worked, others worked part time, others weren’t in paid work. There were single parents, co-parents, and coupled parents and no one gave a shit who was who.
- Everyone clearly loved their child and just wanted the best for them.
- Everyone was just doing the best they could.
- As long as there was no peanut butter, what you packed in your child’s lunchbox was only your business.
- For every child you have at school you will make approximately 180 lunches per child per year.
- The school gate was not a fashion parade, people seemed to be wearing whatever they damned well liked and no one gave a shit.
- You will never see so many chicken nuggets until you do a 3-hour tuckshop shift.
- Participate if you can, don’t if you can’t.
- Everyone probably has the same anxiety as you do. I could be seen standing at school assembly, getting teary as I watched my son sing the words to the school song whilst concentrating so hard to get the actions right.
- I did worry what others thought but realised that this was nonsense and pointless and fortunately it didn’t last.
- If you cry in a Kleenex commercial, your child’s first year of school will probably undo you. Save your tears for the nativity play at the end of year Christmas concert.
You only know what you know, and my experience when Charlie started school was just that, my experience, so maybe I got lucky and maybe the politics of the school run/school gate is a real thing but in my case it was just a bunch of parents taking their kids to school. Enjoy the madness, embrace the friendships and be yourself.