Friday, February 1, 2013

Phoebe O'Toole is Going To School

It was a lovely morning today when the girls and I dropped Jack off at school. He threw kisses at us as he ran up the footpath to the school gate, never once looking back as his enormous Grade One feet thundered along.

We drove home for a morning of fairy dress-ups and play-doh, bathing baby dolls (in Daddy's study, of course) and spreading Barbie paraphernalia all around. The girls perched up on stools at the kitchen bench and 'helped' me make chocolate chip cookies. They were quite sceptical at the length of time it took the biscuits to bake, and then cool enough to be tasted. I think they thought they were being duped, because they both kept checking on the oven trays.

We had a picnic of ham sandwiches and peaches on the floor. We did some drawing, and some more play-doh. The girls skimmed around the driveway on their scooters while I rearranged the garage, hoping for just a little more usuable space. Obviously, they both wanted the same scooter. The pink one. We had to work out a system of taking turns so that the squabbling was diminished, somewhat. The poor old blue scooter got scorned.

When it was nearing 3 o'clock, we trooped back to school to collect Jack. The girls trotted happily around me as we visited Mrs. Hunter and the Grade 3's to say hello. They played in the sunshine outside Jack's classroom until he ambled out, and then smothered him with impatiently-borne hugs and kisses.

He chased Maisie around the asphalt, just as he used to do to Phoebs when she was little. I stopped him, before she lost half the skin on her face like Phoebe did. I shepherded the kids back to the car with promises of snacks and quiet time for tired, sweaty boys, and snacks and ballet time for hyperactive girls.

Friday afternoon, after school, just as it has always been.


Today was identical to so many other days I have enjoyed at home with my two girls, except for one very significant detail. It was my last day at home with Phoebe before she starts Prep.

To see your child all dressed in their school uniform, so proud and so eager to get out into the grown-up world, is a moment of true emotional upheaval. You know this moment is coming - there can be no surprises when this little buddy of yours has been counting the sleeps for over six months - but it just seems to rush up and slap you.

For some reason, seeing your five year old dressed in a too-big school uniform removes all vestiges of how big they are, and firmly plonks the baby they used to be, right there in front of you.

This moment in time, when they take an enormous step away from you and begin their life without holding your's what you have worked towards and expected since they first burst noisily and magically into your world. Every thing you have taught them, every little skill you have celebrated and sweated over...from learning to walk, to feeding themselves, to doing up their own buttons...they have learned all of this from you, so that they might be able to learn so many other things for themselves away from you.

It might not seem like much, but every single day spent with your children teaches them something new. It might be how to speak on the phone (goodness knows, the Mouse knows how to be imperious to prospective telemarketers) or walk to the shops ("I get my baby and go shops, ok? Hi Mum, I back! Here da carrots"), but it's all important to them. When our babies go to school, all of the teeny tiny little lessons we've given them come to the surface. It's just so hard to trust that you've taught them enough, and that they'll know what to do without their little hand clasped firmly in yours.

I suppose in a way, the 'baby' years - the years of day sleeps and toilet training and throwing uneaten lunches away and wiping down food-smeared high chairs and hanging out load after load of washing; the years of toys strewn all over the carpet and rescuing the cat and knowing the words of every single God-forsaken song on every Wiggles DVD in your TV cabinet - seem endless.

If you are a stay-at-home mum, a working full-time mum, or somewhere in between, when you spend every day at home doing the exact same things, you take it for granted that that's what you'll be doing for a very long time.

And then one day, you wake up and it HAS been a very long time. And it's over.

It's the time warp of childhood. Five years that appeared to be of normal length suddenly got swallowed by a worm hole.

So today was my last day at home with my sunny, funny, easy-going, stubborn, question-asking, slowest eater in the world. She insisted on wearing her school uniform at home. All day. She had me put pig tails in her hair with her proper school elastics and hair clips. She practised writing her name, over and over (backwards, mirrored). She made 'chocolates' with the brown play-doh, and 'bikkies' with the orange. She played so beautifully with her little sister, and it broke my heart to think that neither of them realised the significance of today.

Then again, perhaps it's good that they didn't.

I have enjoyed so many of these days with my biggest girl. But I have also wasted too many of them, even though logically I knew they couldn't go on forever. I guess I was simply assuming that the long, long years of babyhood would stretch as long as I needed them to. All too soon, my round-faced, baldy baby ("I never cried, did I Mum?") has grown into the sweetest little girl simply bursting to go to school. And on Monday, that's what she'll do.

All I can do is hope that in all my days at home with her (as patchy as they were, given my shifting work patterns), I filled her pockets with enough kisses and cuddles to get her through the school day without me. I hope that even when she's sitting on Mrs. Heron's carpet, she knows how much I love her. I hope that no matter Phoebe is learning, she knows that I am thinking about her, and waiting to hear about her day.

I will not cry on Monday. (I have to face my new class of Grade 3's on Monday, and it just wouldn't do to present them with the Ugly Crier now, would it?) No, I will not cry for my grown-up baby when she trots through her classroom door for the first time. She deserves better than that. I will smile and be happy for my baby girl who will absolutely devour school life. And I will put my trust in her, that all the years spent reading and singing and dancing and play-dohing and drawing and tidying up and squabbling and scootering and kissing it better and playgrounding have taught her enough to go out into the world of Big School. Even if those years turned out to be much too short indeed.