When the letter landed on our doorstep, I knew it was something that mattered. The handwritten address had my married name on it, which I’ve only recently started using. It wasn’t junk mail or a circular. Someone had purposefully posted this.
It was a letter from Milin’s new school. The little primary up the road which had been our first choice and where he will start reception in September. Come for a meeting, the letter told us. Tuesday, 7pm.
And so we rushed home from work, got the kids bathed, scoffed a supermarket pizza, got Jasmin to sleep and Milin ready for books – and left them with my parents and made it up the hill and into the building with two minutes to spare.
I’d changed my trousers, touched up my make-up from the day’s smudges, and put on perfume. It felt like our first day. I wanted to look right, but I wasn’t sure what that was. I wanted people to like me, but I was too scared to talk to them.
We walked into the school hall and sat in the second row so I could see the overhead projector. I’d forgotten my glasses. I searched the faces of the parents while we sat in rows, waiting for the head teacher to begin her talk and hopefully reassure us: your children will be fine. Would these be the parents we made friends with over the years, who we helped out with drop-offs, who we organised summer fairs with, who we kept in contact with via text because we worked to different schedules and only did the school run on opposite days.
We were given an envelope each. It had details of our child’s class, the uniform, stay and play sessions, start times for breakfast clubs, information about school lunches. I wanted to cry.
I found out I was pregnant with Milin almost exactly five years ago. Tony and I had just got married and I was a successful and serious New Zealand newspaper journalist, life was fun – work hard, play hard, shop hard. Weekends were spent running in the bush, swimming in the sea and then drinking coffee while pouring over the papers and choosing what to cook or where to eat. I hadn’t thought I’d find myself sitting in a school hall in England so soon, raising my hand and asking how best to prepare my child for reception. But that’s where we are, because in that five years, we have been lucky enough to have Milin.
He’s changed us beyond recognition. And while in my daydreams he is still a tiny newborn with goggly eyes who seems feather-light and barely makes a sound – when I look at him really I see my child is on the verge of becoming a school boy. He runs fast, he speaks with confidence, he makes his own decisions. He doesn’t need me for everything. He can go most of the day without me. He still asks for me when he falls or is tired or feeling sad for some reason. But, really, he is quite content playing Lego, building dens, chasing friends, and playing out action adventures involving superheroes.
Teach them to dress themselves, to recognise their own shoes, to help themselves to water when they need it – it is time for them to become independent. That’s what we were told in our meeting. I wanted to cry, selfishly, because I don’t want Milin to need me, or want me, any less.
But then we talked about how, in reception, the children grow. They get quicker at putting their socks on after PE. They write their names, they read. They choose what they want for lunch. They run around the playground, they meet their friends at the gate after having to wait all weekend to see them, they discover writing and stories and wrap their heads around totally new concepts. Slowly, my sadness and worry (how would he cope? would he be scared? would he be able to dress himself after PE?) – that sadness and worry turned to excitement.
I hope that school is full of laughter and fun as well as learning. I hope reception is pretty much all about fun in fact – he will have plenty of time to learn. And actually, now I see it. Reception is going to be amazing. There will be days when he is sad or frightened or worried or scared or out of his depth or lonely. But there will also be so much, much more than his days hold now. Lessons, games, adventures, friends. Life.