Bunny is about to finish her first year at school. Reception is over. I cannot believe how quickly time has gone by. Just twelve months ago, she was still at preschool; I was still informed about her day-to-day activities by her pre-school key-worker; I knew who her friends were, what she had eaten, what they had played or learned about. And I was so worried about all of that changing.
I can still remember the first time she tried on her new uniform. She looked so very smart decked out in shades of navy blue and so very grown up. She looked so proud of herself too. But when I teared up a little bit at the thought of my baby growing up too quickly, she asked what was wrong, and then she made me even more proud.
‘I’ll always be your baby,’ my lovely, sweet little girl had said.
On her first day at school, we had taken time to have a special breakfast of pancakes. We took photo after photo of her in her new uniform. So many that she started to complain and pull faces until we gave up. Then we walked her to school.
She held each of our hands as we went: mummy one side, daddy the other. The knots of nerves tightened in my stomach with every step. She didn’t really seem to be bothered. She chattered and skipped along, asking to be swung into the air every third step.
As we walked, we passed other parents on their way home– some we knew, some we didn’t. They each looked a little tense or tearful. It’s not easy to let go.
Taking her to the door was easy. She seemed a little nervous, but happily ran off to play – barely saying goodbye. We left feeling relieved that it had been so simple, and we walked back to our car feeling a little bit tense and a little bit tearful.
I looked forward to the end of school all day; I wanted to hear about her day; I wanted to know that she had been alright. It was horrible to find out she hadn’t been.
Shortly after we had left, she had broken down. She had become a little upset, the class teacher had told us. She had sobbed and screamed for us and wouldn’t stop, the other children had told their mums. And I felt so responsible.
Maybe we hadn’t prepared her properly. Maybe we hadn’t made it clear we were going to leave her there. Maybe it was our fault she had panicked and become so anxious and upset.
Other mums and their kids were so kind. As the weeks went on, I would get texts to tell me they had seen her playing happily through the gates during playtime; they would ask their kids, her new classmates, to take care of her; they would share their stories of older children and empathise. One of my friends took me for coffee one horrible morning after Bunny had held onto me and sobbed in the classroom, not wanting to let me go. I had had to pull her off me and walk out, leaving her to cry in a room full of strangers. It was horrible. My friend listened to me cry into my cuppa, helping me laugh at myself for looking like a nutter. Then she phoned school and asked if Bunny had settled and stopped crying. She had.
It took a while – it felt like forever – but she eventually made friends and started to go into her new classroom without tears.
A few weeks in, she went to a birthday party. She ran around and around with a new friend from school. Despite her still crying most mornings, there was progress. It was starting to get better. Sometimes, she would run off to play while we waited on the playground for the doors to open. She clung to us less. She smiled more. And then, suddenly, she was going to school each day quite happily.
Now, a year in, she is happy and confident with her new friends. She looks after them when they feel sad, and she helps to make them smile. She has learned so much: the beginnings of reading, writing, arithmetic – and resilience.
An ‘R’ conventional thought forgets.
In those first few weeks, I had been sad that she wasn’t in the same class as her little best friend. I had thought that her start to primary school would have been much less upsetting had they been kept together. But now, I am so glad that they weren’t. Because, without him there, she had been forced to make many more friends than she would have otherwise: she had learned independence and resilience. And I had learned to trust that my kind, compassionate, funny little Bunny can and will cope without us being right there with her.
So, now we wait on the verge of Year 1, I hope that this new resilience helps her through the change of class and change of classmates. Because my little girl is growing up – and I have to let her work out each new beginning for herself (as I anxiously hover very close by).