The first day of school marks the end of an era
I remember the very first moment I saw my daughter.
It’s a moment made even more precious because I was the first person in the entire world to see her. She was scooped up and laid on my chest when she was a mere couple of seconds old. And she didn’t cry. She just looked up at me with enormous blue eyes, and slightly pursed questioning lips, and it was as if she’d always been there.
For the first year of her life, I was the constant. While daddy had to go back to work after two weeks, she and I had all the time in the world and we filled it with each other. I was the one with all the knowledge, and I took pride in it; I knew every little scratch that appeared, every sniffle, every new word, first food or grumbly mood. If she was upset, only mummy’s arms could make it better.
She was exactly 12 months old when my maternity leave finished, and - as any mother will understand - there was a period of adjustment. On the one hand I revelled in picking up my role outside of the home, of morning coffee at my desk, adult conversations, a reminder that I had a purpose beyond motherhood. But there were moments of loss too - nine hours a day when I wasn’t there to witness my little person’s small milestones. I had to make peace with hearing about my daughter’s day from other people. Luckily, in my case, the other people were her grandparents, and I’m really grateful to them for enabling us to keep our daughter’s precious early days in the family.
Nursery was the next big change. My husband and I took her along last September and, for the first time in three years, we had to walk away and leave her with people that weren’t immediate family. She smiled and waved to us from the window, and I remember feeling that I might burst with pride at the confident little person she was becoming. Luckily her nursery teachers were wonderful, but it was still strange to see the photos they’d send home of the things she’d been doing without us. There she was, stroking a donkey on a trip to the farm, or sat eating with chopsticks at a local restaurant to celebrate Chinese New Year, or rehearsing for her school nativity with a halo of tinsel in her hair. Suddenly she was coming home singing songs I’d never heard of, and talking about children whose names I didn’t know.
In the past year, she’s grown and changed so much, but she’s still my little girl. She still calls daddy and I her best friends, and we’re still her favourite people to play with. But this week, she starts big school. The uniforms are bought and labelled and she’s excited to see her new teacher, and make new friends.
And as for us, we realise that now it’s time to share her, and just hope we prepared her well enough. There are so many new people and new experiences on their way, and though we’ll be there cheerleading her every step of the way, this is the start of her school journey and I know there will be lots of things in the coming years she’ll have to work out for herself.
There are so many things I hope for her from this time in her life. I hope she realises how much fun learning can be, and is better at it than I was. I hope she meets people from all walks of life and continues to learn that the only thing that matters about a person is their character.
I hope she makes friends that will last a lifetime. I know it’s naive to hope she never feels sad or left out, but of course I hope it anyway, and I hope I’ve taught her better than to ever make anyone else feel that way too. As she gets older, I hope she’s drawn to the kids that are kind and quirky, rather than the ones that seem cool, but won’t have her back when it matters. I hope she’s brave enough to be exactly who she is, without apology.
So as I’m buttoning up her school shirt and brushing her hair this week, I’m also making peace with the idea that - from this moment - she’ll never be just ‘all mine’ again. From now on there’ll be a whole portion of her life that I’m not a part of, and that’s okay. But no matter who she meets in the future - who gets to see her lovely smile, make her laugh, and be her friend and confidant - I’ll always be grateful I got to do all those things first.