There are a huge amount of new experiences and much to get used to, when you start school. For E, now six weeks into his first term, one of the first things that it appears has caused him a pause for thought is the general incessantness of it. Not that he has told me this outright. Oh no. He is a five year old boy. So I have to glean information from him like an informational archaeologist, painstakingly brushing away layers, looking for clues, gently prodding to see what happens, stroking my beard as I ruminate on what could lie beneath. Okay, maybe not the beard. Not for another few years, at least.
On the second Friday he attended school, I was getting him dressed in his uniform. “Am I going to school again, mummy?” he asked, eyebrows raised with the incredulity of such a ridiculous notion.
“Yes, you are,” I reply with a smile. A smile that means: please don’t make this a Big Thing.
“I don’t want to go,” he states emphatically.
Of course, he did go. Granted, dragging him the whole way there by the wrist was not the most relaxed walk to school we had ever had, but he did go.
Last Sunday, he asked: “Mummy, why are weekends only two days?” A question that echoes throughout every household, from every school child, parent and worker, uttered with an air of resignation as the last day of the weekend draws to a close and Monday morning starts to loom like a lumbering giant with a cattle prod and an alarm clock.
So, it appears he finds the routine of school a little challenging. I am interested in finding out what he does all day at school, given that I am his mother with at least a passing interest in his educational development.
“What did you do today then?” I ask on the walk home.
“We had lunch.”
“Lovely. What else?”
“We had a snack.”
Well, I can be confident that at least his stomach has settled in well at school.
“What else did you do? Painting? Stories?”
“I don’t remember.” This, from the boy who remembers the most inconsequential of details from something that happened two years ago (“You remember mummy, we met that man in the funny hat in that shop with chairs in.” Errr. No. I barely remember my own name some days, so a man with dodgy head wear could well have passed me by.)
It is obvious I need another tack to elicit information from my son. Maybe take a more peer-led approach.
“Who did you play with today?”
“A boy.” Good god, he would make a hell of an MI6 operative. He’s not even breaking sweat under my ferocious interrogation. Who knew I had inadvertently enrolled him in bloody spy school?
“And what was his name?”
“Don’t know.” Okay, I surrender. For now.
And then, at some unspecified moment after the event, anywhere between an hour and three days, E will let slip some details about his school day.
“We made a spider from an egg box and the legs were pipe cleaners, mummy,” he announces in the middle of lunch. I nearly fall off my chair, overwhelmed by the tsunami of information that has just poured from him.
“That sounds cool,” I enthuse. “Why were you making spiders?”
“Don’t know.” Bang. The sound of the sharing door slamming shut in my face.
So whilst E gets used to being at school, I get used to knowing pretty much nothing about school. At nursery, I would get a full debrief from the staff, including the number of toilet trips he made, what he ate for lunch, and what activities he filled his day with. At school, they file out of the classroom at the end of the day having sworn a vow of silence, the teacher giving each parent a brief, knowing smile. A knowing smile that says: we know. We know everything. You, however, know nothing.
Whenever E does let slip what he has been up to at school, I am invariably in the middle of driving, or changing B’s nappy, or doing something that means I can’t really pay attention. A few weeks ago, I nearly drove into the verge as I tried to keep one eye on the road whilst the other watched E act out his jolly phonics songs, which I had no idea even existed until that moment.
I also suspect that school is training him in the art of mis-information. E tells me one afternoon that he had apple and carrot as a snack. Apple and carrot? Is that not a match made in culinary hell, only rivalled by banana and beetroot? I ask him if it really was apple and carrot. “Really,” he says, nodding enthusiastically. I chalk that one up in the ‘possibly a whopping fib’ column.
Yesterday, I ask him what he had for pudding (I soon realised that as it seemed he was only allowed to talk about what he ate at school, I may as well glean as much as I can about his menu choices). Yoghurt and fruit, he tell me. I ask him what the other choice was. “That yellow thing… you know, that makes your face go funny.”
“There were slices of lemon for pudding?”
I chalk this one up in the ‘utter bollocks’ column.
So as the weeks trundle on, and E gets used to being at school for what must seem like the rest of his lifetime, I have to get used to knowing nothing about what he is doing. But there is one glimmer of hope. If school is training my son to be a tight-lipped, secretive spy operative, capable of withholding information under maternal pressure, then all I need to do is launch a clandestine operation and single out one of his friends who will willingly turn informant. There are two packs of Smarties and an unmarked sheet of Spiderman stickers waiting for them.