When we talk about our children starting Big School, the emphasis is on children settling into a new routine, making new friends, finding their feet – and so it should be.
The thing is, there’s one thing nobody mentions – the way it affects us parents!
There have been several changes to our routine since S started school. The most noticeable is that we’ve gone from a four-day week to a five-day week. I started having Wednesdays off when I returned to work after a breakdown six years ago; this is the first time since then that I’ve regularly worked a five-day week. It sounds silly, but it is a big adjustment: not so much with working five days, but with not having that lovely mid-week day off with S. I loved our Wednesdays together, and I also miss knowing that I had that day midweek to catch up on the washing or housework if I needed to. Without that midweek break, I feel a bit lost and can never figure out what day it is!
Another thing that has been a tough one has been having to be at school on time. With nursery, drop-off was any time between 8 and 9, and since I was paying for her to be there it didn’t really matter if we decided to be late, or if I wanted to collect her early and go off on a jolly. The walk to nursery was only two blocks, so we would just set off whenever we were ready. Now, the walk to nursery is around half an hour, up a hill. And we need to be there on time! Mornings this week have been a little stressful as I worry about what time we need to get up, what time we need to leave the house by and so on. I’m sure we’ll get into a nice little routine soon, but I always struggle with timing on these things. I get the same thing when I have to leave to collect S: I always panic that I’ve left the house too late, and then kick myself when I arrive at school, ten minutes early and a sweaty mess from hurrying!
The biggest thing thing that has been hard to get my head around is spending more time than I’m used to making idle chit-chat! For the three years that S was at nursery I didn’t really see other parents, and that suited me fine – I’m quite the introvert, and can be quite unsociable at times. I work from home and could happily spend all day at my desk, not speaking to another soul. I would have a quick chat with S’s keyworker when I collected her, and that satisfied my need for human connection. That, and the chatting with S until bed time, any way!
What hadn’t occurred to me about Big School was that I would spend ten minutes every morning and afternoon hanging about the school playground and making conversation with parents I barely know. The only thing we know we have in common is that our children have all just started school together. It’s a bit weird. For me, at least; I’ve never been the kind of person who would happily wander into a room (or playground) filled with people I don’t know.
A couple of my friends have had bad experiences with their children starting school; they’ve arrived in the school playground and found that all of the other parents seemed to know each other already, and none of them seemed to want to make new friends. Words like cliquey and excluded were used, and both of my friends have said they can’t imagine how they’re going to just stand there alone, not talking to anyone, every day for the next seven years while their children go to school.
S’s school is not like this. Lots of the parents do already know each other, but most people seem happy to chat to whomever happens to be standing near them. I already knew three sets of the other parents in S’s class, because their children went to the same nursery as us. Although I didn’t know them particularly well, it was a good start. And they all seemed to know other people in the playground, so I’ve met lots of people already. In fact, in our first week at school, when S was only staying for two hours per day, one of the mums heard me say that I had a conference call with a client booked in the next day, and offered to have S over to play so that I could speak to my client in peace. Everyone is very friendly, and I’m actually getting used to making idle chit-chat.
I read somewhere that the purpose of chit-chat is not to kill time or to fill awkward silences, but actually to enable us to find the things we have in common. That’s not only true in school playgrounds, but in all social settings. We ask each other the same questions: how is he/she settling in? How was your weekend? What are you up to this weekend? On the face of it, it’s pretty mundane. But it’s how you get to know people, and how you find the things you have in common. After all, we’ll be hanging around in that school playground together for the next seven years!