My husband was stuck in London (harumph) so I went alone and paid a babysitter. I was greeted with a cup of tea from the PTA and a sticky name badge with my son’s name on it. I took this as an indication of the importance and significance our tots would soon hold in this new environment, a damping down of parental personality so that our kids might take pride of place in the pecking order. All good.
There was a mother crying – well, trying hard not to cry at least. Wow, this is going to be another emotional rollercoaster, I thought. Here we go again.
We met the teachers, toured the classrooms and felt a warm fuzzy glow. I am sure that this would feel just the same whether he were my 2nd child or my 12th. Baby is born. Baby starts walking. Baby grows up. It is unstoppable.
It strikes me that the first day of school is a far more significant event in the life of a mother than it is for the father or even the child themselves. How many of us still remember our own first day at school? I certainly don’t. But I’ll never forget my children’s. Motherhood is a powerful force. A chemical, physical thread which is omnipresent and sends volts of electricity coursing through you when you least expect it.
I remembered back to the day my eldest, now 11, started school (that’s him in the photo above). He was such a tiny little man with legs all straight-up-and-down and knees like ‘knots in cotton’ sticking out from his grey shorts. I remember watching these little people, who had only yesterday been gnawing at our maternal bosoms, taking their first steps into the vacuous classroom and sitting down on the tiny carpet wide-eyed and insecure. I did not cry until I walked away. Wow, my baby is gong to be a man one day!
We have taken to the habit of photographing the children on the very first day of every school term each year in September. They grow before your eyes, but when you put each year side by side this way, it’s a fabulous chronological journal of their development. From cute and giggly, to scruffy and cheeky.
His birth seemed like yesterday when I stood in that playground with the other blubbing mums. Now, his first day of school seems like yesterday. My own school days seem so recent that I can hardly believe where the time has gone. I wonder does my father, 76, still feel the same way he did at 20 or 30? He certainly remembers school. He grew up in wartime Britain – here’s what he told me about it…..
I went to the Grammar school but have no idea how I got in. We couldn’t afford a proper uniform so I had a cap and an old jacket with the school badge sewn on it, and cut down men’s trousers. I was bullied once that I can remember. They called us the ‘New bugs’ and I was taunted because I had a scruffy non-standard uniform.”
And yet he describes it as the time of his life. No worries, just freedom to play and wander at will. Funny how our memories of our childhood can be selective isn’t it? This was the early 1940s. His city was being bombed, his father was dead and his eldest brother was flying in Lancaster Bombers over Nazi Germany. But there in the familiar bosom of his mother, all was fine. He could still skim stones and go to school and learn so much exciting new stuff.
And so I look back to my own early school years with fondness. How the then-vast rooms now seem so tiny. The walk around my son’s new school last night included a tour. I was struck by the elf-like toilets and the Hobbit-sized chairs! I have memories of PE in vest and knickers, making tie-dye, playing kiss-chase in the playground and assemblies in the hall. I don’t remember my mum taking me on the first day, or leaving me, or any kind of trauma whatever. So, like my dad before me, time must have evaporated the bad memories and left me only with the sweetest smell of nostalgia.
Perhaps it was more than just time. Perhaps the love and attention of my parents placed a blanket of security around me. Perhaps it is not the place, or the time, or the fabric of the school building which makes these memories so sweet. Perhaps it is more the collective memories of the people in an idyllic childhood and the warmth of a loving family which endures?
I endeavour to repeat this process for my own children, so that they will look back upon their time as children with the same warm, fuzzy feelings of nostalgia which I feel writing this today.
Me, Infant School aged approx 6, 1973/4 – front and centre!