As parents you measure your life in milestones based on your children’s activities. The fact is, you no longer have your own activities and if you did, these would be very short and scheduled when the kids are asleep. But, luckily the majority of people you socialise with are probably in the same situation, so going to the local pub once every 6 months should be possible. Gym? Haven’t been to the gym for decades.
So, it is no surprise that when your child starts school, this big day is a major event and it is vital that both parents attend. Our big day had been in planning ever since our daughter was born. In Ireland, you have to register for school as soon as possible, to make sure the child gets in (ridiculous). So we registered our daughter 18 minutes after giving birth. Felt stupid filling in forms still wearing the surgical outfit and goggles.
Our daugther started school, Junior Infants, last year. It was somewhat surreal to attend the introduction meetings during the summer where the principal talked about what to expect. This in itself was in hindsight planned at a ridiculous time. It was in the evening at 19.00 (7pm), when kids are meant to be sleeping – at least ours. If you don’t have a babysitter and two kids, then this becomes a challenge. Therefore, most parents attending this meeting had brought their kids along, making it almost impossible for the principal to speak. Funnily enough, as soon as the principal stood up on stage all the men fell silent, and I did too. I guess we all had some run-ins with the principal when we were kids. Now, we wanted to behave when the principal was nearby – a natural reaction, a power that comes with being The Principal.
All the proud parents attended the two hour long briefing on how important it is to drop off your kids and leg it, as well as the method they use to teach kids how to read and write. They use phonetics, which is basically pronouncing the sounds of the letters when spelling. For me, it was a challenge to understand my daughter for a few weeks after she started, as she was using these sounds for a lot of words. It would be the same if you were to read [reed] phonetic [fuh-net-iks] writing [ra:i-ting]. Gradually, this becomes your second language when you do homework with your child and you have to have full conversations using the phonetic language (which doesn’t exist by the way). Having spent two hours on really uncomfortable chairs, we left the school no wiser and probably even more nervous about the Big Day.
This is were the madness began. My wife wanted our daughter to have enough different outfits to last her the first school year, resulting in a shopping spree in Zara, H&M, Next, Benetton, Designer labels, picking up 238 outfits with matching accessories. Slightly exaggerated, but we bought a lot. This was pre-recession of course. Due to the recession, my son will probably inherit all the clothes, hand-me-downs, when he starts school, which would make him a perfect target for being beaten up. Nobody, except Scottish kids, wear kilts to school!!
We also bought her a new school bag, with wheels on, and a lunchbox. I provided some pens and paper, sponsored by my work. She was ready to take on Junior Infants. We should have known better, but I gave her a pencil sharpener, which lead to all pencils being sharpened until they were an inch long. I could not borrow more pencils from work, so we had to buy her a new pack. All her books were bought as soon as we got the book list.
The Big Day finally arrived and my daughter was ecstatic. This was it, out little girl was all grown up now, leaving the house for a part-time school career. Yes, she had attended play-school, but this was different and it felt different too – probably because my wife was sobbing the days leading up to the 1st day of school.
We left the house earlier that morning, to make sure we were on time, only to find that all streets within a mile were blocked by cars. All parents in the area were taking their kids to school too – weird! Luckily we had VIP parking in the area. Dressed in the latest kids fashion, we proudly walked to school and made our way to the yard. All kids were so excited, but the parents even more.
ALL parents, including ourselves, had brought along any film camera we could find, to document the special moment in our lives; mobile phones, digital cameras, video, polaroid, etc. You name, it was there. Every step you took, you were asked to get out of the frame or got a video camera in the face as the proud father was following his child walking with the school bag. I was exactly the same, honestly, and I was even using a ‘clapper’ for the various scenes. My wife was so embarrassed everytime I screamed “Action!”.
The teachers came out of each classroom, calling in the kids, and this is where emotions erupted. Remember the scene in Indiana Jones, where the Nazi woman looks at the Jones’ and screams “ALARM!” It was like scenes from Titanic. All mothers holding on to their kids and whispering “Don’t let go!” In every direction you looked, people were crying and kids screaming. I think the parents were the root of the problem. I had to be dragged screaming (and most likely crying too) out of the room by the school caretaker, holding on to my daughter and her table + chair. My wife was locking herself to the rail, in the yard for some reason like some tree-hugger. She kept scratching me when I was trying to remove her from the rail while she was crying uncontrollably. It was absolutely chaotic. I remember seeing one parent pretending to faint hoping to delay school start – how childish! All this caused our poor kids to get scared and start to cry. I’m sure the teachers were dreading this day all summer.
Most kids sat in their chairs and were innocent spectators to their parents behaviours, not knowing how to react. They were just looking forward to their first day in school.
After the civil war scenes had finished with most parents receiving detention from the principal, school finally started. All parents walked calmly to their cars. Most women were still in tears and trying to find ways to run back, but their husbands held them back.
My wife picked up our daughter after lunch and she had had a blast in school, making so many friends and playing in the yard. She ate her lunch and she was basically delighted to be in school. The drama went on a few more mornings, for the other kids of course. My wife had her moments every evening, questioning if our daughter was ready for this, quietly crying in the bathroom. I was ordered to delete certain parts of the recorded footage, still and moving images, so I guess censorship still applies in some countries.
Anyway, we survived our daughter’s first day in school. Now we are already planning our son’s first day in school.
Good luck to all the new parents. I’ve heard they have riot gear on sale in London, after the recent summit.