Handing your children over to another person and walking away is always hard. We all know that it is part of them growing up, part of us growing as parents too, and that it is necessary; but it's hard. Because for so long, when they are teeny, we make every single painstaking decision for them. The decisions feel so hard and so scary at first, and like such a massive responsibility that we're constantly terrified we might get wrong. But over time we get used to making all those choices, to always being there to love, to cuddle, to teach, to discipline, to know that everything in their little world is just the way we would like it to be.
When my children were newborns there were times when being 100% responsible, 100% of the time felt suffocating. Having to make every decision felt like a job I just wasn't big enough for. And in the earliest days I felt like I was waiting with baited breath for a 'real grown up' to come along and take the reigns for me. That is the steepest part of the parenting learning curve I think, the moment when you realise that the cavalry isn't coming and it really is going to be up to you to nurture that tiny person into a grown up.
Long time readers of this blog, will know that in a past life I was a primary school teacher. It was a job that I loved. And a job that I have to say I was damn good at (those ofsted people even told me so). I taught Reception and Year 1 and could not have been happier. A class of 30 little people aged 4, 5 and 6 isn't everyone's cup of tea, but it was totally mine. There is nothing like the kick of knowing that you are giving those little minds the beginnings of everything they will need to get them the whole way through school, and through life. I taught countless children to read... just think about that for a second... what you are doing right now, as you read this post, someone taught you how to do that... and I gave that gift to the little children in my care. And for all the long days in classroom, long nights planning, headaches caused by the sheer volume of excitable small kids together, the toilet accidents (not mine I hasten to add) and the tears, I got my payment in full knowing that while the children wouldn't remember me their whole lives, the skills I was giving would last a life time.
But my past experiences in my career mean that I am finding my latest experiences as a mummy so incredibly confusing. Because my beautiful boy is off to school in September. And somebody will become that amazing person for him, that giver of skills and knowledge. I honestly think that the first year in school is one of the most important; a fun filled first year can give you a thirst for learning to last a life time... but a bad one, could set someone up with a fear of school which is beyond damaging. This first year will set up how he feels about school learning forever, that's such a big thing. And a big part of me wants to sit his new teacher down and just check that she agrees with me, that we are on the same page, that she's going to fill my little man up with ideas and opportunities and skills that will last him long beyond her care. Which is silly, because I know that I don't need to. Because we picked the right school, and my goodness did we look at plenty, and she seems lovely, and after two sessions my little guy already seems to love her a little bit.
It just feels very strange to be on the other side of it. I used to organise the whole induction process, book the visits to preschools and nurseries, hold meetings with the new (and sometimes very nervous) parents, carefully plan those settling in sessions so I could get to know my new cohort of children while making them feel happy and valued and welcome and safe. I used to assure those parents that while I would never know their children as well as them, that I would get to know them pretty well over their time in my class, that the precious little people they had made and grown and nurtured thus far, really mattered to me too. I meant it. I genuinely think that anyone working in education would feel the same... those children in your class matter to you. And that is why teachers work the hours they do, put in the effort they do, put up with the rubbish that they have to on a daily basis... because they want to make a difference in a child's life.
I think the fact that I have been on the other side of this has it's disadvantages and it's advantages. It is very hard to turn a 'teacher head' off once you have one. And despite the fact that I stepped away from the classroom when I had my son, and have no current desire to go back into one, it's still really hard to be in a classroom and not think about what you might do differently. I was highly critical and quite picky about both the schools and preschools we visited in preparation for applying to send our children; which may seem like a good thing (and I'm sure it is) but sometimes I really envied those parents who were simply looking at whether the displays were nice in the classroom, how big the playground was and what they thought of the school uniform. I walk around a school and see so much more, I read a prospectus and can see between the lines, I have opinions on phonics schemes and reading programmes and the early years curriculum... and sometimes I think I know too much.
But on the flip side, while so many of the parents were anxious at that first settling in session; hanging back to give their children an extra cuddle, worrying their way through the entire new parent's meeting that we had while the kids got settled, asking lots of questions. I simply held my little man's hand while he walked into his new classroom, watched as he introduced himself to his new teacher and teaching assistant, and after a quick look around the outside space with him; said my goodbyes and left my beaming boy behind to start a new adventure of his own.
Because if being on the teaching side of this taught me anything, its that this particular adventure will be all his. And that the more willingly I step back, the more quickly he will step up to all the great things I know he'll be. School is about learning, yes. Am I excited to hear all the things he'll learn, yes. Do I want to see him shine academically, absolutely because I know that he can and should. Will I be in that door like a shot if I don't think he's being challenged enough, too right I will. But I also know that none of that is what is really important about school. What is really important about school is that he gets to have a life that is separate from me, from his family; where he can be simply himself.
And I guess the really scary part as a parent is that he can start making more of his own decisions; those decisions that suffocated me in my first days as a mummy, but which over the passing years I've got used to making as easily as I breathe in and out. He can choose his own friends, his own lunch, how to use his free play time. And I just hope that we've taught him well enough, and that his teacher will continue to support him, in making the right decisions.
It really is the first steps away from needing me so much I guess, which just about breaks my heart, but which also excites me beyond measure. Change is hard, it's scary and it's horrible. But if parenting has taught me one thing, it's that change is so often worth the heartache it causes. And I have no doubts that school is just going to be another change that seems scary right now, but which will bring so much good that in another year's time I'll be wondering what I was so worried about. Parenting is all about changes and adapting to them. And with everything along our path so far that has changed I have shed a few tears, mourned how fast they grow, worried things will never be the same... and with every change it's all just got even better. Because the privilege of being a parent is getting to see your children change and grow and knowing that the world has you to thank for putting them in it.