As Sydney’s gloomy, damp January drew to a close, my youngest daughter’s first day at school approached. Her excitement had been building over the last few months, with endless questions about ‘big school’. But as the day loomed ever closer, her excitement morphed into nervousness.
She had eased in her ‘super fast trainers’ and her black Mary-Janes and proudly worn her uniform at every opportunity, including to my uncle’s 75th Birthday tea. Lunches had been packed into her lunchbox and declared even yummier for being eaten from the hot-pink, insulated lunch pack.
I watched my youngest child excitedly preparing for school with a mixture of pride and sadness. I was proud that she was embracing such a huge change with confidence and eager anticipation, but I couldn’t deny the sadness I felt. This would be my last first day of school. An end of an era. And more than that, I knew that once she started school I would lose not just the time spent with her, but the innocence of a pre-schooler.
On her first morning she marched confidently through the school gates and rounded the corner into the playground and froze. The playground was buzzing with first day excitement and energy. Friends calling to each other after the long summer break, boys snaking between groups of adults and chattering girls as they chased runaway tennis balls from their handball games. Like a champagne bottle shaken before opening, it was an explosion of noise and energy spraying out in all directions. And dotted amongst this overflowing spray were little bubbles, like my daughter, suspended in overawed stillness.
It wasn’t just the cameras that gave away the kindergarten parents, they also shared the startled looks, the badly disguised anxiousness, the searching for a familiar face of the children. But unlike their children, they hadn’t participated in a school readiness programme at pre-school. On their first day, they haven’t yet realised just how profound the change is, the adjustments that they will have to make and the letting go they will have to do. Most still think they are able to protect their child from the rough and tumble of the outside world and don’t know that very soon they will no longer be the most important, all-knowing figure in their child’s life. That role will be assumed by their teacher and, as the years progress, their peers.
The transition into school life is tricky, rarely smooth and hassle-free.Friendships will form and fracture, schoolwork, homework and the balance of extra-curricular activities all have to be juggled. It is an important preparation for the years to come when as a parent, you will experience and need to negotiate periods of loss, change and the developing independence of your children.
On my daughter’s first morning, the school bell quickly rang and the morning assembly was held in a playground shaded by gum trees and frangipani. Without any ceremony, our little ones were whisked away by their teacher. Little faces looking back over shoulders for the reassurance of their parents. And I headed home with a sense of emptiness, on my last first day.