Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

First day trauma

First day blues are experienced by mums, not the kids, writes Jane Bell

The first ever day at school - a time of tears, tantrums, anxieties and clinginess. And that's only the mothers.

Meanwhile, thousands of four and five-year-olds province-wide will have skipped merrily through the school gates without so much as a backward glance.

As a mum, you'll have been anticipating this day for years - part dread, part longing - and planning it for months like a military operation down to the last well-sharpened HB in the Shrek 3 pencilcase.

By now the big day will have come and gone and you hardly know what's hit you. Believe me, I empathise, having been through that bittersweet moment of loss and gain four times. And, no, it never did get any easier. Sure, as P1 begins, you gain a bit of your life back - time to work, time to shop, time to see friends or tackle your own little corner of the European Ironing Mountain. But, right now, you may feel you've lost infinitely more - with an abrupt end to those precious, never to come again, years of untimetabled closeness, intimacy and being the unchallenged centre of your child's universe.

Affection

Three times I lost a little boy to another woman, she who could command attention, obedience and awed affection without ever seeming to try. I think, in the teaching profession, they call it skill and experience.



Yes, of course, we all want good, dedicated teachers for our children. But it would take a sainted mother not to occasionally resent the unending chorus of: "But Miss So-and-So says ..." As I recall, it was a little bit different with my only daughter, who spent a fair bit of reception class in the naughty corner. That's my girl. Thanks to nursery and pre-school playgroup experience, for the vast majority of P1s that first day at Big School is a doddle. Smart teachers will even have had them visit the classroom for a taster back in June. For the most part, the only snivellers will be the grown-ups. It's hard on us mums. Today, of all days, you might be feeling as disposable as that hanky you tucked up your sleeve, just in case - suddenly redundant and a mere bystander as the classroom and the playground stake their claim and start to steal your child away. But that, too, will pass. When the bell rings to let them all come tumbling out of school again, it's your face your child will be looking for at the school gates, eagerly waving a first messy painting that will have pride of place on the kitchen wall until it is sunbleached and gravy splattered.

This is only the start. There will be other rites of passage for your growing children, all to be faced with a mix of maternal pride, nagging worry and an undercurrent of loss, while you silently cheer them on from the sidelines. Like the first day in First Form, when big P7s have to suddenly adapt to being the smallest fish in a much bigger pond - something for me to fret over on behalf of Number Two Son next year. Then there's the university or job interviews. And the day you drive them to the airport or ferry terminal for a riotous Fresher's Week. Letting go doesn't get any easier, even when they are 6ft 2in in their size 12 boots. My eldest son, newly a law graduate, has just left home again to study for Bar exams in London. Watching me fuss and lard on unheeded, unneeded advice while he packed, his father, from the relative safety of behind a newspaper, boldly suggested: " Maybe you could go with him ... he's bound to need someone to sharpen his pencils ..."

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