It is almost eleven at night, and I’m writing this in my pyjamas on my favourite spot on the sofa. I’ve been in tears on and off today. But not the tears I’ve been used to these past few months. We’ve had tough times as a family.
But these tears feel different to me.
My little boy is starting school. And lots of little boys, and little girls, just like him, will be doing the same.
This is nothing new. We’ve all been here before. Or we anticipate it, just as I did a year ago. “God. I’m not looking forward to that. He’s too tiny! Thank goodness I have another year yet.” So these are just some more words, from another mother having to accept that it’s all changing.
It’s my turn.
No. Actually. It’s not about me. It’s his turn.
It’s the end of an era.
It’s not school that’s a bad thing. It’s a wonderful place full of growth, friendship, gold stars and lunch boxes. It smells a certain way. And it looks and feels a certain way. To the point where parents like me wander the halls and it’s almost as if we’ve been there before. Except the toilets and the chairs that used to be Goldilocks-perfect, are now miniature.
And I think that’s the point. We can remember this time. I remember these times. I have so many memories from primary school.
How we would all line up in the entrance of school, after lunch had ended, and we’d all be hot, and sticky and covered in grass stains. Ponytails loosening. And foreheads flushed and damp with sweat from running around for an hour. Exploring ‘The Wild Area’ and creating our own adventures. We’d all rush to be first in line for our class. “Zero the hero, First the worst, Second the best, Third the one with the hairy chest.” And so on. That’s how it would go.
I remember playing Cops & Robbers, British Bulldog, and getting married to a boy called Luke, who I think I must have had a bit of a crush on at the time.
I remember poking my thumbs through the arms of my jumpers, much to my own mother’s frustration.
I remember the absolute joy I felt when I finished all the books for my year group and I was allowed to go and choose from the big class’ bookshelf next-door.
I remember learning the word ‘chaos’ and being baffled at why you didn’t say ‘cha-oss’.
I remember learning about Henry VIII and his wives and thinking Catherine Parr was my favourite because she survived the hairy fat man who was supposedly king.
I remember the happiness I felt when my grandma was a school dinner lady. And I got to wave to her even though we always took a lunchbox. She was one of my best friends and I loved catching a glimpse of her across the school kitchen.
I remember science experiments. I remember playing with magnets, or learning why things float.
I remember being praised for my writing. And my drawing. And thinking I wanted to do that sort of thing forever.
I remember being in a class of just twelve. One of two girls. And being on the football team just so we had enough people to actually have a football team. And the only time I scored was in our own goal. But everyone came and hugged me anyway because I had some amazing friends. Needless to say I didn’t play football in high school.
I remember singing Castle on a Cloud to the Year 6 class, because I was in Year 3 and my teacher was so very proud of me and that I could sing. Looking back I wonder if it’s because I was as good as she said. Or maybe because she knew I had a cleft palate, so to sing at all was a very special thing for a little girl like me, who had speech therapy after school. If I remember correctly it was always on Wednesdays.
I remember Harvest Festivals and taking in tins of beans and sweetcorn. And I remember Ash Wednesdays and trying to concentrate on what it all meant but really just being excited for Father Brizzell to paint an ashy cross on my forehead. And trying not to play with the wax of the candles lit in front of us.
I remember school assemblies and singing songs about apples being ripe and plums being red, and “broad beans sleeping in a blankety bed”.
It is funny because, as a 28 year-old mother of two, that seems like a very small part of my life. But the more I take a second to think, the more I remember.
It may have been several chapters ago in the story of my life, but it was actually a huge part of my life at the same time. It’s where Charlotte came to be I think. I discovered what made me happy. What I was good at. What kind of people I liked to be friends with. And what kind of person I wanted to be.
I developed knowledge, ambition, wisdom (albeit limited). I had heroes. I had dreams. I learnt something new every day and I was hungry for it. And happier for it.
Something I miss as an adult when the learning slows down. And it’s harder to surprise me. And harder to make me believe in the magic of things.
But I became a mother. And I have had the absolute joy of watching my tiny baby grow and unfurl from his womb-like state into a pink and chubby thing with a smile and twinkling eyes. And then he started those firsts. Those defining moments that I will remember forever.
When he first sat up it was because our old dog was his most favourite thing and he just wanted a better view. How he said Mama first. How he walked the week he turned one.
And I always knew he would be my baby for a good long while. It’s ages until he grows up, I thought to myself. Ages.
He can’t crawl yet.
Well he can’t walk yet.
Well he can’t run, or talk, or eat proper food, or count to ten, or use the toilet, or dress himself, or help me cook, or…
He has fully shed everything about his babyhood. If he’s hungry he opens the fridge. If he’s thirsty he can pour a drink and not spill it. He rushes to his baby sister when she cries. He rolls her onto her front again if she is stuck on her tummy. Or pops a dummy in her mouth. He can count. He can correct us if we name an animal incorrectly. And a cow is not just a cow – there are variants, don’t you know. His favourite is the Holstein.
He doesn’t need me. And selfishly, I know that my role in his life is going to change, and I don’t want it to. Not that he will love me any less. But he will start to need me less. Of course he’ll always need me in ways. Even when he is taller than I am and when I hug him I smell aftershave instead of that sweet little boy smell he seems to have. A mixture of sugar, laundry and grass.
But to love him is to lead him and then let him go. I can’t keep him by my side forever. There’s no cotton wool big enough for the level of protection I wish I could give him when I’m not there.
This is his chance. I have done my best to raise my boy the best way I know how. I’ve loved him for a lifetime. And I’ve made the most of every opportunity I’ve been given with him. We’ve laughed a lot. We’ve had lots of lunches at his favourite bear café. We’ve been to the library countless times. We’ve done puzzle after puzzle. We’ve cuddled on the sofa. We’ve baked cakes and cookies. From scratch or packet mixes.
But there is a life outside of my arms and he deserves to see it.
You can do this little boy. You will be wonderful. And I’ll be right here, waiting to hear all about it when you get back. Waiting to be what you need. And keep learning what to do as I go.
Because maybe you aren’t the only one who is about to learn something new.
You are my firstborn. You have taught me everything I know about being a mother. And how hard my heart can love.
And just when I think I have this down, you remind me that change is good, and I need to open the next chapter and accept that the story isn’t over, it’s just beginning. For you. And even for me.
Go get ’em Bill.
You’ll learn many things in life. But I believe they say that the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.