Our oldest child starts school this month. Will I survive all the school admin? And how do I magically turn my five weeks of annual leave into, er, a lot more than five?
It’s 4.45pm on a Tuesday and I’m doing the nursery pick-up. My four-year-old daughter is in the garden, wearing autumn clothes now that the weather has turned, and looking noticeably taller than the other children. In a couple of weeks’ time, she’s starting school.
We have two children, aged four and two, so when it comes to schools this is our first rodeo. Over the summer, starting school has dominated the playground chat amongst parents like us – those who are dealing with £20 school sweatshirts and headaches over wraparound clubs for the first time.
We chat about these practicalities, as we try to stop our kid running up the slide while someone else’s kid is trying to slide down (side-note: why do all kids try to run up slides). Conversation topics include: How will you balance the settling-in sessions with work? Have you done all the new starter admin yet? Do you also have mixed feelings about the teacher doing a home-visit and seeing what a tip the kitchen is?
Do you also have mixed feelings about the teacher doing a home-visit and seeing what a tip the kitchen is?
Perhaps surprisingly, how our children will adjust to school hasn’t been a big talking point. Maybe it’s because we’re naive first-timers who think everything will be fine (unlikely – first-timers love to worry!). I think we feel reassured partly because our local schools have thoughtful, staggered settling-in weeks.
I think it’s also partly because our children and their pals have already been attending a nursery for months, if not years (Covid lockdowns notwithstanding). If you’re in this situation too, it’s worth remembering that over a third of children aged 0-4 in England don’t use formal childcare, according to a government survey.
For some families this is a choice, but for others the UK’s high childcare fees and shortages of places are just too big a barrier.
Okay I’m going to be honest here – I know that starting school is meant to be a big emotional moment, but I can’t seem to work up any big emotions about it yet. I’m mainly wondering if I’ll survive all the late-night school admin. I’m also wondering how I can magically turn my five weeks of annual leave into, er, a lot more than five?
Throughout the summer, grandparents, neighbours and friends kept saying “Wow, the time has flown!” to me and “Wow, are you excited?” to my daughter. Neither of us knew how to respond. I smiled politely because I’m an adult and I have to. My daughter just walked off or asked for another breadstick (side-note: why do all kids love dry breadsticks.)
I might be feeling calm because our son is a useful emotional cushion in these situations – a second child is handy that way! Every time my daughter leaves a stage behind, we as a family remain in it for a while because of him. The toys, clothes, routines, sounds, and habits don’t leave our house, they simply drift into his room.
When my son hits any rites of passage I go to pieces, because then it really is over. I sobbed “No more babies!” when we served the cake on his first birthday. I’ve dragged my heels for months over putting his baby slings on Vinted – my current excuse to my husband is that “slings sell better in the winter”, a claim that is 100% baseless.
When my son starts school, I’ll probably need a whole emotional support plan in place. Or another baby? No thanks! Babies are so time-consuming and I really need to free up my diary so I can have a midlife crisis over the next few years.
I’d better go put those slings on Vinted.
** This blog is part of a series called The Chaos Train, a record of daily life as a working parent with young children **