It’s that season; the season where social media will be smothered in a blanket of new school-year doorstep photos. No doubt you’ve already experienced the bombardment of hashtags: #picklesfirstday #mybabyallgrownup #proudmamma #newbeginnings. I may be guilty of some cliched tagging but would like to stress that my feelings were very much: #freedom #twohands #hotcoffee #notrainplay #soloshoppingjoy.
It’s a massive milestone. It’s a monumental moment when your offspring take that first step towards independence. No matter how much you long for those precious few hours where there are no vociferous demands of you, there will always be that pang of loss. Loss of reliance. Loss of your shadow. Loss of your little bubba as they shake the shackles of needing mummy.
I’m not a heartless wench. I knew I’d get that lurch as I left him and the fluttering of butterflies as I drove to pick him up but I wasn’t really worried about him. He’d survived a day a week at nursery for over a year. There’d been wobbles of course but he’d been fine. There was also the fact he’d been isolated for a few months but in meeting up with a few of his little buddies he’d shown that he had not lost that social edge. Oh, and he was more than ready to spend some time apart from me!
That’s not to say I didn’t have some anxieties. Although they didn’t keep me up at night, they were perhaps not your average, everyday wobbles. Let me elaborate!
I am the mother of a boy. Of course I’m not one for stereotypes… well, ok, I am. But only because he fits every darned one. Loves transport. Loves rough and tumble. Excels in physical activity. Obsessed with trains. Plays with his bits. Yep. Mum of boy. (I may add he is empathetic, loves cooking in his play kitchen and wears a full colour palette before strips are torn off me for my lack of gender neutrality).
So as he breaks land-speed records on his scooter and uses the furniture as gymnastic equipment, to say he is bruised would be an understatement. His legs are peppered with contusions of varying shades of brown to yellow to purple. You’ll forgive me for being a little nervous about my card being marked as I handed him over to the wonderful staff…
So what’s the thing you least desire two nights before preschool induction? Perhaps him launching himself from the kitchen table, where he’s taken to setting up his train track, on to the tiled floor using his head as a buffer? Yep. That.
Cue wails. Cue egg-shaped lump. Cue Mummy waking him every hour or two throughout the night to check he was not concussed. Cue a nice healthy bruise and the fear that mummy would already be considered for the ‘unfit parent of the year’ accolade.
I was tempted to mask it with a touch of touché eclat but decided to be upfront at our visit. I have every faith they will be making the “Harry’s had a little bump” call at some point in the year so at least now they’ve got the measure of his risk-adverse ways.
I’ve tried. We’ve bought the books. We’ve got the sticker chart attached to the fridge. We’ve had accidents… boy have we had accidents. And I’d assess him to be 67.2% of the way there, roughly.
If the uniform policy allowed for no pants, we’d be winning. At home, with it all hanging out, he will happily take himself off to his potty. However, should mummy dare to suggest she can teach him to pull down his shorts, then she is swiftly put back in her box. The audacity, trying to help him.
As a result, there is a reliance on him telling me he needs a piddle! Put it this way, my sofa cushions are not shy of Zoflora and Febreze. With his reluctance to let me know, I’ve had to develop a sixth sense for when he does the ‘I need a pee’ shuffle, the silent but oh so deadly squat or the puce face as he holds his breath.
My nerves are therefore a little frayed by the prospect of what I will discover in his rucksack at the end of the day. Distracted child + all the toys and fun = nappy bags and outfit change. As long as he doesn’t accrue more changes than Beyonce and Brittany on stage then I’d view it as progress.
There’s one thing that’s got me through lockdown: three hour naps. Yes. Hate me. Three glorious hours a day. Before lockdown he had begun to decrease the duration but something about being incarcerated in the house led him to go down for a nap in his buggy for the majority of the afternoon. And who was I to argue with that?
As he still sleeps with the same regularity at night, I’ve basked in the child-free hours between 1pm-4pm. So a mindset adjustment is required to deal with the harsh reality of no naps at preschool. He’s doing two full days so whilst I know I need to prepare him for the brutality of ‘school proper’ next year, I figure that’s an entire 365 days away. Let’s both ease ourselves in gently.
How about instead of decreasing the duration, we decrease the days? Five days on and two days off. Have Monday and Friday off napping – conveniently your full preschool days. The rest of the week just take a break; have a snooze; recharge those batteries from all that learning and energy expended.
It’s my hope that staff will keep him active and engaged enough to keep him on his feet and stop those head-bobbing, eye-rolls as the waves of post-lunch tiredness wash over him.
Meanwhile, I will run the danger-nap gauntlet. That’s enough to give any parent anxiety as from the moment I pick him up from preschool at 3pm its like dealing with a narcoleptic till we put him in the bath at 7pm and then bed.
One of my biggest worries in this process though is the snack monster I have created. Pre-lockdown he was never shy of a treat. His go-to was black-forest gateaux with Daddy at Patisserie Valerie at the weekends, so at least we are talking high-standards in his sugar intake.
During the extended period of quarantine, it’s not only mummy that has acquired some unhealthy routines. To break up our long days at home, 10:30am has become ‘snack pot’ time. Mummy and Daddy will chow down on a Kitkat and Diet Coke whilst little man has been presented with an assortment of more child-friendly, though not necessarily healthy treats. If at home, there’s an array of oats bars, grufflo biscuits and fruity bear claws (plus a mamed half a Kitkat, if we are not speedy enough in our mastication). If out and about, there’s an inevitable gingerbread man from the bakery.
How will he cope without his number one Snack Bitch on 24/7 call. There’ll be no mummy to provide sweet treats at preschool – oh no little man, there’ll be fruit. Just fruit. I can just envisage the plaintive wails of “I need Caffe Nero rich chocolate cake – I’m so hungry!”
This ain’t no bake-off honey-child – take the banana and be satisfied!
I’m sure every parent has their unique concerns, after all, every child is unique. Whether it be making friends, losing their tiny mind with toddler tantrums (oops, forgot to add that one to the list), keeping up with milestones, adjusting to other adults, separation anxiety… the list is endless (and is making me twitchy).
But we all know this is a necessary stepping stone. One day in twenty-odd years time they will be flying the nest for good and as much as keeping them close, holding on to every snuggle and being the centre of their little world is the best feeling, they need to take these toddler steps towards being their own person.
It’s with the utmost trust and faith we pass over our most precious beings to professionals. And no matter what our worries, I’ll put my bottom dollar on it that they’ve seen it all before and dealt with tantrums ten times worse.
So fly high little one. The world awaits you.
What has been your experience of starting preschool? What were your biggest concerns? A concern shared is a concern halved!