Although my brain still says Groundhog Day and Black History Month, here in the southern hemisphere February means back to school time. And this year, we hit the big time: big school. Full. Day. Kindergarten. And can I just say ‘WOOOOOOO-HOOOOOO!’? I no longer have three at home. I made it. I survived.
Let me tell you, it has been no small feat having full-time responsibility for a diva, as any of Naomi Cambell’s handlers will gladly confirm. Eva was and continues to be the most work of my three children. This had been something I thought would subside as she aged and matured (read = ‘mellowed’); but this is not to be. This past year in the run up to school has been a lot about my acceptance of who she is – I was reluctant to realise that some of the traits she has I cannot punish, beat or time-out out of her. She is her own woman already. So the give and take continues.
The first day of school was a day that seemed to forever loom large and far away and I was as keenly aware of it as a man on death row is of his doomsday. However, unlike that man on death row, my counting down was in no way melancholy, or full of sorrow, regret, or any of those other therapy-inducing emotions. Oh no. Mine was pure excited anticipation, as was hers. I was ready and more importantly, so was she.
I remember my own first day of kindergarten. I had no nerves and was excited. When I got there and I saw kids screaming, clutching mom’s legs, my antennae went up: what did they know that I didn’t? Why the tears? And for Eva and I, it wasn’t nearly as emotional as it is for some. In the lead up and even on the actual day, I kept waiting to feel wistful or have that ‘It’s the end of an era’ feeling wash over me. But it didn’t. In fact it was so easy that I almost started to feel a little guilty that I wasn’t sad or it wasn’t more difficult for one of us to let go. But all I felt was relief – and no one had prepared me for that.
Now, three weeks in, I realise that I also wasn’t prepared for how shut out I am from her secret school life – and maybe that’s why I didn’t know to be sad. Without going all cheeseball Hallmark card, it really is the first letting go milestone. And as I’ve quickly discovered, I also cannot be there to solve every problem, fight every battle, supply every answer.
With preschool, although I wasn’t there, I would come at the end of the day and have a look in the giant book the teachers had pieced together during the day: ‘Today we discussed fairies. We drew pictures of fairy homes. Sally asked, “What do fairies like to eat?”’ etc. Plenty of material there. I had inroads. I had discussion starters.
Now? Well, now I got nothin’. All that’s in my arsenal of questions is ‘How was school today?’ You can guess the answer to that one. My other question is, ‘What did you do in school today?’ Here are some actual discussions (or not) about the goings-on from our first few weeks.
Me: How was it?! Was it fun?
Eva: It was the best day EVER!
(We have nowhere to go but down…)
Me: How was it?! Was it fun? How’s your teacher?
Eva: She’s nice. Her name is MRS. Lawlor. Mum, mum, you CAN’T just call her ‘LAWLOR’, okay?!? It’s MRS. LAWLOR.
Me: Yes, because I often make a habit of calling people solely by their last names. A hangover from my years as an Army staff sergeant. Thanks for bringing that to my attention before I embarrassed myself. How did I ever get on in life without your sage instruction?
Me: How was your day?
Ted: We had a doughnut!
Eva: A DOUGHNUT?!?! AAAARRRRRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!
Me: Oh for God's sake! It’s not a pony we’re talking about. (Note to self – do not mention any ‘fun’ activities from our secret life.)
Me: So…How was it? What did you do today?
Eva: I played with the Play-dough.
Me: For six hours?
Eva: No…and the tea set!
Me: And what about the other 5 hours and 22 minutes of the day?
Me: So…what did you do today? Did you do any of your letters?
Eva: No. I don’t know. We just did some numbers, OKAY? (In that perfected, 15-year-old, ‘I’m just telling you this to shut you up’ tone of voice)
Me: So, how was your day?!
Eva: [Exasperated] I don’t want to talk about it. (With the snippy disappointment in her voice to indicate that she was actually talking about blowing her call-back audition for the starring role in the latest Andrew Lloyd Webber musical)
I’m stonewalled. And fascinated. How do they actually teach them to read or add or anything else for that matter? And, for the sake of pure curiosity, how does one even manage to keep 27 five-year olds entertained for six whole hours? It’s all shrouded in mystery.
When my kids were all babies together and I was bleary-eyed with cracked nipples, there were always those completely insensitive but well-intentioned older ladies (who had clearly romanced their early years) who would say things like, ‘Don’t wish it away – these are the best years of your life!’ Three kids shitting in nappies who fight and bite, va-jayjay farts during my weekly yoga and preparing three dinners a night and this is the best I have to look forward to in my life? This would usually make me want to reach for my sharpened dagger and commit hara-kiri on the spot: this is as good as it’s ever going to get? People said that about high school too. And while I enjoyed high school, I wouldn’t say it’s ‘the best’ and I don’t want to go back. (Except maybe to be the-cool-chic-in-a-John-Hughes-film sorta way.)
And now, for all my anticipation – poof – it’s gone. For 30 hours a week she is someone else’s responsibility entirely. When you consider that there are 164 hours in a week, roughly half of which are spent asleep when you’re five, our time together has nearly been cut in half. And five has been a magic age. I feel like I just got her nice and it’s time to send her off into the world – a preview for the teen years, no doubt. So maybe when my next one goes off, I will be sad. I’ll let you know in two years, but in the meantime, I have go and set my countdown clock…