Our daughter started school this week. Big school. It’s the end of my pre-schoolers era. I feel a bit wobbly. I need someone to hold my hand & say “There there.”
I’m glad, actually, it was my 1st week at school too. I am teaching in the high school part of my son’s school. So at least I won’t be home alone, looking at the ticking clock, thinking ‘only 5 more hours till they come home’, and wondering how to fill the intervening silent space. This year I have ‘things to do’, new challenges. Quite a novel sensation since living abroad.
My daughter was very excited. She wasn’t worried about anything, except whether her teacher would speak Albanian or English. This would be a concern. However, she seemed merely worried about the onset of fatigue rather than the fact that she wouldn’t understand anything that was going on.
“That’s good”, she said, when I reassured her it would be English, “Because I would get very tired speaking Albanian all day”. (As if she is a closet polyglot, who speaks the lingo, rather than a 5 yr old who says MiruPushroom instead of Mirupafshim to anyone she is bidding farewell to, & that’s the limit of it).
She knows the school & many of the teachers; this is a small community. She was a bit shy with her teacher, worrying about remembering her Albanian name, difficult for an English speaker to pronounce (lots of consonants) never mind a 5 yr old. However, as soon as she had hung her bag on her peg, she pleaded to be allowed to go to the playground to hang upside down on the bars (which is how she spends most of her time in any playground) and she was off.
I had to call after her to get her to say goodbye & give me a hug. That didn’t help my wobbles either. It would have helped if she had hesitated just a little bit, had a moment’s reluctance or wobbled a bit herself. But that would have been for me. For her I'm glad.
All those annoying truisms suddenly smack you in the face: “They grow up so fast”, “They’re only little for such a short time”, “Before you know it they’ll be starting school”, “Don’t wish it away, enjoy it while it lasts.”
Why do we never believe them or think this will be true of us? We say, “Not me, I’m going to relish these moments, enjoy every minute, realise it’s a passing season”.
But somehow in the midst of it all we don’t always, because of course it is, at times, mind numbing, exasperating, time-consuming, head-space-reducing, & exhausting, as well as wonderful.
I am glad of the freedom too, especially as, living abroad I have no support network, no one to baby-sit, to have the children, have play dates with for months until you get to know people. I didn’t find nurseries quickly here or in Sri Lanka, but it still feels odd.
Not sure I am ready for this next ‘stage’, though clearly my daughter is. I am glad really, in fact I’m very proud of her, as she has been very clingy, shy & unwilling to stay happily in groups or nurseries etc when younger & has been seemingly quite insecure. I worry, of course, that it is our lifestyle that has made her thus, but it could equally be her experience of hospitals, her ill health when younger. She often panics with screams & tears if she loses sight of me or loses me even momentarily in a shop, even though she has never been lost, I have never left her without her knowing I was going. What have I done to her I wonder? But then back in the UK, people observe how well-adjusted and secure our children seem…. Ho hum.
I feel guilty, too, that there hasn’t been more for her to do in her toddler years. Our son started in school immediately in Sri Lanka & here in Albania. But my daughter was with me constantly for 2 of her 1st 2 ½ yrs of life. But I put her in nursery in Sri Lanka, aged 2 ½, five (short) mornings a week, quite simply because I just didn’t know what to do with her.
There were few parks in Sri Lanka, & these had metal equipment. Molten, egg-frying, finger blistering hot to the touch, & to little bare legs. No shade. There were no music classes, gym classes; toddler groups (except ones which met when my older son was out of school & he certainly didn't want to 'hang out' with a bunch of 2 yr olds singing "The Wheels on the Bus”) Nothing. All we could do was go swimming. And you can’t do that all day every day. I know, I tried.
And I didn’t know anyone, & I knew she was ill & we would be returning to England for her heart surgery within 8 weeks, so she would just get into a nursery, only to be removed from it again. I didn’t want to do that to her.
So we painted, did puzzles, some craft; but I found it hard to find ways of entertaining her completely, on her own, for 7 hrs a day, till her brother returned. She was also not into reading or craft the way her brother always was, which made it harder. So, feeling a bit of a failure, & guilty that I needed respite from a single, solitary, if very demanding, 2 yr old, I signed her up for some social interaction, singing, storytelling & acting in what turned out to be a wonderful Sri Lankan/International nursery, complete with Tomy plastic play equipment in a shaded cool garden. She loved it. Eventually. Even that took a while.
In Albania, for a year she went to a pre-school till 12 & loved it. We tried an Albanian nursery where she mostly watched Albanian TV, (so maybe she DOES know more Albanian than she is letting on??) So I have been eased gradually into her starting school, and of course I have had an extra year, as they don’t start school till 5 here, so that’s been great. But this feels different, this redefines me, our family, & what stage we are at.
I am so pleased she is so excited. I love that fresh, eager glee that children seem to have when they start school, delighting in their own peg, hoping they will get homework, relishing the uniforms, the routines, the packed lunches, the big newness of it all.
But I will miss, paradoxically, those lazy, listless summer afternoons when I don’t know what to do, when it’s too hot to ride bikes or go to the park, & my daughter, emphasising my failure to entertain her, badgers me “Can I watch a film?” (Always a film as there’s no T.V alternative).
Or on a winter’s afternoon when I have stoked the smoky wood burner & it’s too wet, cold & muddy to go outside, & my daughter says, “Can I watch a film?”
Or when it’s rained constantly for 2 days & the road outside our gate is such a lake that it’s even over our boots, & my daughter says, “Can I watch a film?”
It did finally dawn on me that her penchant for films has nothing to do with meteorological conditions. She would happily watch one whatever the weather.
I will also miss those days returning from nursery through the park when a little hand slips into mine & my daughter says “Shall we skip mummy?” or “Shall we climb trees?” (Her favourite) When we are not in a hurry at all, and we can pick flowers, collect pine cones & explore new paths.
I will miss having a little one around to help me bake cakes, hang out the washing, someone who needs me & would rather do things with me, her dad or her brother, than anyone else. But of course that says more about me than her.
And everyone always tells you that growing children find it much easier to slip their little hand out of yours, than we do to let go our grip of theirs.
It’s just that nothing prepares you for it.
Still, on the plus side, maybe now I’ll get the puppy dog greeting normally reserved for my husband when they haven’t seen him all day & he returns from work.