E is starting school in September. ‘Big school’, as we refer to it. Granted, big is a relative concept, as I have told past boyfriends more than once, but for E, it is a Big Thing. Or is it? To be honest, it is difficult to tell with him. This might be a boy thing, or a four year old thing, or just a him thing, but the Big Thing might not be such a Big Thing, and could be quite a Yeah Whatever Thing, but I’ll be damned if I can tell. It’s an I Don’t Have a Clue Thing from where I’m standing.
Talk of Big School has not been uncommon in our house for the past few months, and every conversation has me surreptitiously peering (which may seem like a contradiction in terms, but when you live with The Inscrutable One, your surreptitious peering skills are quickly honed to perfection) into E’s face, looking for a reaction that might reveal his true feelings about the transition from nursery to school. I tell you, that boy has a great future in MI6. He is as inscrutable as a house brick with a secret, that one. Nothing. Not a flicker. Not even after thumb screws and flushing his favourite toy down the toilet did he relinquish his true feelings about going to school.
“Are you looking forward to starting school?” I ask casually.
“Yes,” he replies, which really means: ‘I might be. I might not be. I could be totally relaxed about this, or a maelstrom of fear and anxiety. You are my mother, and if you can’t work it out then tough shit, you’re on your own’. I am perhaps paraphrasing the subtext a little.
Whereas I, on the other hand, am already a little bit in love with his new school and don’t mind telling anyone who will listen. It is still quite a new build, so is purpose built to contain a large rabble of kids perfectly, with doors in every classroom that open out onto the play ground, an outdoor classroom (I know, an outdoor classroom! I’d never heard such a thing. In my day, an outdoor classroom meant sitting on the damp concrete of the playground trying to stop the ants crawling up your socks whilst two people stood fifty foot apart and tried to imagine the size of a dinosaur) and high ceilinged rooms filled with light. Christ, I fancy living there myself, quite frankly, even if it would mean having to practically crouch on my haunches to lower myself down onto the toilets. Of which there would be quite a choice. And on the up side, not even my family could fill up all the coat pegs we would have at our disposal.
And it seems that schools have got smart since I went to one (which was so long ago we paid for school dinners in groats and we had the luxury of a small bottle of luke-warm milk at morning break that already had the faint tang of sourness as it had sat outside the classroom for the previous five hours). Kids just don’t turn up on the first day any more, drowning in their stiff, packet-fresh uniform, barely in control of their bladders, their tear ducts on a hair trigger. Now, the school offers a number of warm up sessions, getting the kids used to being there before the first day of term. I am sure this ostensibly is to provide “seamless integration” and an “emotionally sensitive and educationally supportive approach to transition” or some other “holistic educational strategy” but let’s face it. The real reason is that the teachers got bloody sick of all those wailing, petrified kids, all those urine-soaked garments and all those blubbing parents and decided to do something about it.
I position the first of these sessions to E as a ‘play date with some new friends’. This, I believe, is a text book example of Parental Spin. I find spin the best way to reinterpret things into a four-year-old-friendly way. Mind you, if I put much more spin on this situation, we may all get picked up by a cyclone and dumped in the Land of Oz. He seems to take this idea in his stride, right up until the very moment I tell him it is time to go. At which point he dissolves into tears and chants “I don’t want to go I don’t want to go I don’t want to go” like some fervent religious maniac. But now, at least, I know that this is a Big Thing. Either that or there is an episode of Scooby Doo on the television that he hasn’t seen before. Now this could get tricky. I contemplate picking him up and forcing him there, but I can barely carry him to the front door these days. Then inspiration strikes and I bribe him out the door with a drinks bottle that I had bought him that clips to his scooter. Genius. So off we went, with only the mild inconvenience of stopping every two minutes so that he could take a sip from his new bottle before ostentatiously slotting it back into place.
We stand in the hall on arrival, as I point out kids that he knows in a desperate attempt to shrink this Big Thing into something smaller. He holds my hand and says nothing and I find myself inadvertently turning up my cheery-laissez-fairness to 11, no doubt a sure sign to E that I, too, consider this a Big Thing. Finally, names start being called. E is first and I propel him forward. He stands in front of the teacher, rigid, hands flat by his side, head straight forward, like a soldier awaiting orders. Possibly orders to face a firing squad. Once the line is complete, they are told to wave to their mummys and daddys and head to the classroom. E turns, searching me out, and I give him a smile and a wave and look at his face for clues as to whether this is still a Big Thing. I am still none the wiser.
I pick him up two hours later and ask him if he had fun. He smiles. I ask him what he did. He says nothing. I start to guess. Building? No. Puzzles? No. He hands over a piece of yellow paper, on which are stuck a few random pom-poms and a splodge of paint. Well his artistic side has not flourished under the school’s tutelage yet, that’s for sure. He was tight lipped about who he met, who he played with, what the teacher said to him and only begrudgingly admitted what he ate at snack time. I might have to attach one of those Cat-Cams to his neck, it’s the only bloody way I am ever going to find anything out. I might as well install a cat flap in the front door and leave his dinner in a bowl on the floor while I am at it. As a child care routine, I think it has a lot going for it.
We have now had two sessions at the school and I am fairly confident that starting school is now, not a Big Thing. However, there is one more hurdle to scale in this whole starting school thing. I made him try on his new uniform the other day. The moment the shirt was on, he was wriggling around like a worm under attack from a bunch of stick-wielding four year olds. “The collar itches! I don’t like it! Get it off!” he cried repeatedly, making it bloody difficult for me to turn the cuffs up twice and tuck the bottom into his trousers all the way down to his knees to make sure we had really captured that ‘three years growing room’ chic that is part of the school uniform regulations. We may have got over the going to school thing, but a shirt collar? Now that really is a Big Thing.