Starting school is a big moment for kids, but also for mums. Here’s one North Shore Mum’s message to her kindy kid about watching her walk through those giant school gates for the first time.
We’ve spent so long playing schools together on all those unhurried afternoons over the years, it seemed like maybe just another game when you called me to your room this morning, saying ‘Time for school!’
But this time, there’s a real uniform for you, one that’s impossibly small; your lunchbox is real, and has real food in it, instead of all those Peter-Pan-style imaginary snacks we pretended to eat. You’ll have to open the clasps yourself. Will you be able to, all on your own? The thought of your tiny tummy grumbling, because your lovingly packed lunch is just too tricky to unpack tears at my heart, makes me worry.
It’s silly, and we know it, us mums. Silly to worry so much about something as small, as simple, as snacks. For me, when I worried, I tried to think back to my own start at Kindy, wondering how I handled it, those days mum left the lunchbox in the fridge, or the tuckshop skipped over my bag with its handwritten order and $2 coin stuffed inside. What did I do? I can’t remember now, at 40, with two little children to nurture, the crisis lost to the mists of time. It mustn’t have been so bad, I tell myself, if I can’t remember; but it doesn’t help, not at all. Or maybe it helps a little with this particular worry; but there’s so much to worry about, isn’t there?
You’re calling again, for me to come and see your uniform. It’s like seeing a painting springing to life; something you see in your mind’s eye for years before it happens, suddenly taking shape. There’s the wide-brimmed hat, the school socks, the proudly pressed fabric bearing the colours of the community we’re all now a part of. What will it be like, I wonder, school today is so different from when we began. Being born in 1980, like me, or before in the 70s, suddenly seems ancient, the way a 1940s birthdate was to me, once, when all our mums ferried us to school. I pass a silent thanks to my mother, and the mother who bore her; they trod this path before me, never betraying their fear or worry, showing only their pride and thrill as we ventured into the world.
But it’s hard to watch the beginning; as my child tackles the looming school gate, it’s incredible how tiny they appear. Were there always so many children at a school? And I couldn’t have ever imagined a child smaller than my own, so miniature the limbs, so small the fingers and toes always seemed to me. And yet there are children smaller, and more mind-boggling, children bigger. Were there ever so many children in the world? With so many names, their own lives, their own bubbles of life they navigate. Will my child fit in?
The time seems to seep; the minutes today are long, but the hours so short. Like this life we’ve shared, where the days are so long (and the dark nights, endless); but the years are short, so criminally short, they deliver us to the school gate with so many adventures untested, so many words unsaid; and the times my temper was too short, my patience too limited, weigh on me so heavily. Have I done enough? Have any of us?
But it’s too late now as the bell tolls, calling my child, and so many others, to ordered lines and the carefully planned new life of a student, with a teacher who is a true leader and not the imaginary teacher I so often pretended to be.
Seeing them speak, their kindness and grace, their very knowing patience with my certainly unnecessary questions, I know now, how much more the world has to give to my child. More than what I can give, or at least something different and important, these teachers, I know these educators are the next in the long line of people who will guide my child; and I know too, how wild the world is, and how wide, and how small we all are within it. My child, but also myself, all of us so small within it.
I wave goodbye, as we do, us mums, cheerfully; showing only the bravery we hope they one day will inherit. Trying, as we do, to shelter them from any pain, even when it is our own. Our confident wave goodbye, sending a clear message. Confidence that school will deliver them the love and care that we have strived and tried these last five years to deliver, on our own, or with our partners and families, all of us now part of a village that will raise our child.
We say goodbye, maybe not for the first time, and certainly not for the last. A goodbye that also carries permission to go well, to go forward, to conquer and to learn, with others who are not their mothers. One of the first and greatest gifts we can bestow, to our beautiful, precious, kindy kids, so tiny as they walk away from us into the unknown.
Go well, my beautiful kindy child. And go well, all my other mothers out there, letting them go.
- This letter was originally written in 2021