Monday, 24 August 2015

starting school: diary of difficult days

Miss 5 started school last week.

This isn't the first time I've done this. Mr 9 and Miss 7 have blazed a trail for her. But their starting school was pretty easy. Mr 9 couldn't wait. Miss 7 had a little more trouble when she changed schools mid-P1, but while she was sad, and would cry, which was hard, there was no wailing and gnashing of teeth.

We suspected things might be harder with Miss 5. She spent the summer telling us that she didn't like any of her friends (and she missed them, and could they come and play?), and she wasn't going to go into P1.

Seven weeks was a long time to have the idea of P1 looming in front of her. We tried not to dwell on it, and we accentuated the positive, and I tried to convince myself that she'd be fine.

But I kept thinking about when she started nursery. Quick, plaster that smile back on.

I kept a diary every day for the first week, and it's a little bit visceral, but I'm sharing it because it really helped me to know that other people had been through the same thing, and because, even though it feels awful, it really does get incrementally better.

If your little one is having a tough time starting school, then you're going through hell as well. I hope my sharing my experience can help (and I promise to give you further updates to let you know how we're getting on).


School starts back today. Everything is washed, named, and ready to go.

I wake up at 6.30am, with the alarm not due to go off for 15 minutes. A feeling of dread has settled upon me. All the kids needed to be woken up, apart from Miss 5 who is a little nervous, but excited too. Things are going to be OK.

We have breakfast and get ready. I dress Miss 5 in a pinafore, blouse and tie. She watches the transformation in the mirror. So do I. I would rather dress her up like Dolly Parton than put her into this horrible uniform, which seems designed to limit her creativity, subsuming her into the bland corporate look which schools here seem to go for.

Anyhow, she seems happy, so we get on with the morning, doing the obligatory first day of school photos by the front door.

We head off to school, and the big kids run merrily in. All good. Miss 5 is confused, "shouldn't I go in now?" Well, no. The school has decided that P1 will start at 9.30am, which is in 40 minutes. Not long enough to go home and come back, but I can see she's a bit worried, so I take her for a wee walk instead.

We come back to the school at 9.15am to see lots of her friends are here already. There is much excitement and photo taking. Does she want to have her photo taken? No.

We chat a little with friends, but she's started holding on to my leg and is getting tearful, so I take her for another little walk to get her out of the situation.

Then it's 9.30am. The teachers open the door for the little kids and get us all to queue up in the playground. They're only letting a few in at time, to find their hooks and hang stuff up. Waiting is stressing Miss 5 out, and the Deputy Head tells me to take her in.

I do. We find her peg. We're not sure what she needs out of her bag, but no-one else is either, so we leave it (apparently we should have taken her water bottle out - that would have been good to know before she went a day without water).

We shuffle into the classroom where loads of parents are milling about taking photos, and it's all a bit of a circus. Lots of people rub Miss 5's head and tell her where her friends are, but it's difficult for me to see very far, how much more difficult must it be if you're Miss 5's size?

She clamps herself on to me, screaming and crying. I try to pull her off. I kiss her and hug her and tell her that it's all going to calm down soon and everything will be alright.

Her teacher spots the situation and comes to talk to Miss 5 about her nice hair and her jumper. Miss 5 loses the plot entirely. The teacher says she'll take her and I should go, but then someone else speaks to her, so I hug and kiss Miss 5 again, while gently trying to remove her.

It ends up with two teachers prising her fingers off my leg, at which point I attempt to dash from the congested room. In the hallway there are still kids coming in and I don't want any of them to see me cry, so I turn to face the nursery door (there are no kids in the nursery this morning), pretending to study something there. One of the nursery teachers stands beside me assuring me that it will be alright. She's very kind, and it's nice to have a distraction while I try to get my head together. I have no idea what she said.

When I get outside I get straight out of there. I hate the idea that Miss 5 might look out of the window and see me just out of reach, so I go. I have messages in town. I get busy. I promise myself that I will 'phone the school after one whole hour to check how she's doing.

I am rubbish at my messages. I forget the script for the prescription I have to pick up. I forget to write the address on the parcel I have to send.

That's good. It makes it take longer.

I call the school and am told that they were just looking up my number to call me. I have a moment of terror - they are surely going to tell me that they've never seen a meltdown like my little girl's, and I'm going to have to home school her (nowt wrong with home schooling, I'd just suck at it). No, Miss 5's teacher has asked them to call and reassure me that she's alright. I cry on the phone to the school secretary. She tells me some personal stuff about herself. I am glad that she's trying to connect to me as a human, it allows me to cry and not feel like a complete muppet. Although I do anyway, that, and a rubbish Mum. Breathe.

I try to keep busy through the day. I try not to look at the clock and wonder what she'll be doing now. I make it through the day. 

I go to find out if she has. When she comes out of the school doors I wave frantically and she runs over. She's got a homework bag and she can't wait to show me the homework she's got.

I'm told she cried at lunchtime, but that she settled down again. She tells me she doesn't like her P7 buddy (I think she was hoping for someone else), and the school day was SO LONG. When I ask her later what she wants for school lunch tomorrow, she can't quite believe she has to go again. I feel so bad for making her do this. A little part of me wonders if I should maybe teach her myself, but I can't do that. I don't want to, and I believe this school is a good school, but change is really hard for Miss 5. I wish it could be easier.

I wish she could have done a few days in P1 before the summer holidays, rather than a couple of hours, so she would know what she was going back to. I'm shattered. After the kids go to bed I sit beside my husband watching TV, and I crochet, while drinking a G&T. I had promised myself I wouldn't drink alcohol on a school night, but I feel the day has warranted it.

On the plus side, all the kids started new swimming lessons today which went brilliantly. Miss 5 and Miss 7 were laughing and doing things they'd never done before. Miss 5 told me her swimming teacher was the best teacher in the whole wide world EVER. He is pretty awesome. I hope she feels that good about her P1 teacher soon.


Miss 5 is quietly crying through breakfast. She tells me her tummy feels funny, so I don't push her to eat her breakfast up, or to drink her juice. She's keen to get into her school uniform so I help her get it on straight after breakfast. Today she goes for a skirt, and she wants to wear her tie again. Her skirt is a little short I notice, which seems typical for my girls!

Her brother gets her busy playing a game while I get myself and her sister ready.

I leave it as late as I can before heading to school. I don't want to have too long at the school gate. But I don't want to faff either, so when we're all in the car it's time to go. We have a neighbour who tends to park across from my driveway, which is really annoying. I tend to wait for her to move, but this morning Miss 5 is getting more and more stressed sitting there, so I decide to manoeuvre around. I am rewarded with being beeped at. I do know you're there! I give myself a pat on the back for not swearing, as I wait for her to go, and then enjoy my boy commenting on her driving as we follow her to school (he's good at commenting on driving, he practices on me). That was good, it provided a distraction. At the school Miss 5 is getting more stressed, and a playground supervisor notices the situation and comes to intercept. I wave goodbye to the big kids and then remove Miss 5 from my leg and pass her forcibly to the woman (who did tell us her name but I didn't catch it), who takes her away. We're making progress. Only one person needed to take her away today.

I walk swiftly off but feel I must be doing the wrong thing. I see a friend and ask her opinion. "Go now," she says, "before she sees you. She'll be alright."

I sit in my car and breathe, and cry.

At home I tidy up and listen to a podcast about parenting (it was the TED radio hour, and you'll find the really good bit here). I cry.

A neighbour pops around to see how Miss 5 got on and to reassure me. Lots of people have reassured me. Even the great swimming teacher told me he'd been dragged off his mother on his first day. It does really help. I am profoundly grateful to my neighbour for taking time out to do this. She says that when I call the school they'll tell me Miss 5 is fine.

I take it as permission to call the school, and speak to the secretary again. She tells me that they're all fine, and assures me that she'd call me if there was a problem. So that's the last time I'll call. No, really. She tells me that I must know how it goes. But I don't. Just because I have other children doesn't mean I know how having this child goes. I'm winging it here.

Still, it was better today. Hideous, but better.

Hopefully tomorrow will be better still.


Miss 5 had a meltdown yesterday at lunchtime about her buddy. This is a P7 kid who is assigned to help her out. He then sits next to her. It's supposed to make her feel safe and looked after, and I vaguely know the kid who is her buddy. He's a good lad. Yesterday at lunchtime Miss 5 went into such a strop with him because she didn't want him to be her buddy that he was reduced to tears. I feel really bad for him. I also feel bad for my little girl who has escalated this whole buddy thing to such an extent that she was up and down all night worrying about it. She says she'd rather not have a buddy.

I feel like this is just a thing she's fixating on and if it wasn't this it would be another thing, but she begs me to talk to the teachers about it, and I agree. She still doesn't want to go to school though.

"Why do I have to go to school Mummy?"

"The law says that all five year olds have to go darling."
"Where is the law? Let's go and change it."

The crying this morning starts earlier than yesterday, and she doesn't want to put her school clothes on. She does though, and despite wailing she gets into the car. The big kids say goodbye and head in, which I'm grateful for, although I feel bad for them. They're not getting enough attention this week. Miss 5 begs me again to talk to the office, and I promise I will. She balks at the school gate, and I lift her bodily, so she has less traction, and hand her to the playground supervisor. A teacher whom I know Miss 5 had dealings with yesterday (when she was having her lunchtime meltdown), and isn't happy about.

I turn on my heel and walk straight away. I wish I could talk to the other Mums, but I have to get straight out of there. I don't want her to see me, it would feel like I was taunting her. Before I cross the road I catch a glimpse of her. The teacher is holding her by the arm, and she is fighting to get free. As I walk away I can hear her screaming. I feel like I'm doing a terrible thing. And I feel bad for all the other kids, I know it can't be easy for them when they're feeling wobbly themselves.

Everyone tells me that this will get better. I hope it gets better soon.

At home I do as promised and 'phone the school. I would rather have gone into the office, but didn't want to risk seeing her. I'm put through to the Principal Teacher, who is calm and lovely as she always is, and who tells me in lots of words (because she's used to dealing with parents who are too stressed out to listen properly) that Miss 5's buddy has been assigned another child, and Miss 5 will not be given another buddy. The Principal Teacher assures me that my little girl will not be neglected, and that they're doing this because they think it's the best for my little girl, but she doesn't need to do that, because I know it's all true, that they will look after her well, and that she will feel a lot better without a buddy. I check if I'm doing the right thing by walking away in the morning and I'm assured that I am, and that things will get better.

I sit down and cry for a while, and reply to all the messages I've had from concerned friends. One is from the buddy's Auntie, and I tell her how sorry I am about him getting upset. She assures me he's fine.

Later in the day it transpires that one of Mr 9's friends sat with Miss 5 at lunch, and has offered to do the same tomorrow. Miss 5 is delighted and absolutely buzzing about this girl, whom I already thought was a nice lass, but whom I now rate as fantastic. Thanks to you Miss N.


Miss 5 wakes me at 6.30am, wanting me to help her get her school clothes on so she has time to go on screens after breakfast. That was a bribe that went wrong last year, but it does work for getting people dressed with relatively little fuss, and, to be honest, I'm willing to do what it takes at the moment, so I get up, cancel my alarm, and help her into her school clothes.

She looks in the mirror, cries, and asks again why she has to go to school.

To be honest with you, I thought that the buddy issue was just something to hang her worried hat on. This morning I fear I'm right. I remind her that she can have fish and chips for lunch, and that she should hopefully be sitting with Miss N, but even that doesn't cheer her up. I break out the bubbles. Blowing bubbles helps her concentrate on her breathing and that always calms her down. After that, her brother helps hook her up with a screen. Sigh.

The crying starts in earnest when it's time to go to school, although I'm pretty sure it isn't as bad as it was yesterday. I am full of positivity, and carry on carrying on. When she starts to lose it, I chuck her outside with her brother and a pot of bubbles, while her sister and I get all the bags together. 

"How long is it going to be like this?" I ask Miss 7.

She shrugs. "It's going to take a while."

In the car we talk about good stuff that happens on Fridays, and how Daddy will be picking the kids up today. Miss 5 is asking how long she's going to feel like this, and I ask her to stop focusing on it, to think about other things. I know that's hard though.

At school the big kids dash in, and I produce the bubbles for Miss 5, she manages to blow a few while getting her backpack on. She does better at walking to the gates, and I'm glad to hear the bell go as we get there, glad it's raining, so she doesn't have to wait at all before she goes inside. The playground supervisor takes her off me. I'm sure it's a little easier today.

I walk away, and talk to some other Mums standing by their cars. It's so nice to have a friendly chat. 

I feel like this might pass. 

My husband doesn't work on Friday afternoons, so he comes home at lunchtime. I suggest we go out for lunch, and, after much faffing, we do. We talk about the redundancies at his work and how it feels to be amongst that, and we talk about Miss 5's hard week.

"You should home school her."

He's joking. We both know that I shouldn't. I make an impatient, pernickity teacher. Besides which, we both believe in school education. This school might not be perfect, but it's pretty good. Despite this I burst into tears. I feel like I should, and all the reasons why I shouldn't are things that make me a bad mother. I feel like I'm really letting my girl down.

That evening, we watch a programme about Confucius. Bettany Hughes explains Cunfucius' view of the importance of empathy: "what you do not wish for yourself, don't do to others."

It made me think.
I hate to see Miss 5 sad, but I believe in the importance of education. I am doing this to her for a good reason, and not just because I have to.


We have had a good weekend. Miss 5 wanted to go swimming, and had lots of fun in the pool. She also cracked cycling her bike, with pedals, which she's hoping to remember to tell her teacher about that in school today. Her big sister reckons it's a candidate for the golden book (notable achievements outwith school).

When my alarm goes off I find Miss 5 has snuggled in beside me. She carries on sleeping, and I look at her baby soft skin. I feel like I am betraying her. But all I can do is be positive, she'll get through this.

As we get ready I notice that she's doing better at coping with the waves of anxiety. They still bother her, but she's practicing her calming breathing, without bubbles, and acknowledging that the feeling will pass.

At the school I ask my boy to walk his sister through the gate. He is happy to help, if a little clueless. He takes her through a gate, then tells her to go off to the P1 bit of the playground. She turns around and comes back out, she's crying, but she's not screaming. I call Mr 9 over. Could he please take her to a teacher? I speak to her, remind her to do her breathing, and tell her that if she won't walk in with Mr 9, I'll hand her over to a teacher.

For the first time, she chooses to walk away from me. She's not happy, but she's come so far. I make sure she gets to the teacher, and see that she is talking to her, not being held. It's going to take a while longer, but we have come so far. I am so proud of her.

I'm going to publish this post now, although the journey isn't over. We've come a long way in a week, and I'll let you know how things get better in the weeks to come. Thanks to all those who have given us support during these difficult days.

Starting school is certainly a milestone in your life, and I've added this to The Prompt's Milestone linky.