The build up to my four year old daughter; Ashti, starting school was immensely difficult for me! We did our research and chose the school which suited her best. We attended the summer fayre and open evening and had the home visit, which all went smoothly. I hope parents in Kurdistan benefit from similar stepping stones provided by schools to make families more comfortable and welcomed during these transitions.
Whilst buying her uniform, I showed how proud and happy I was, she looked so smart and perfect in her uniform. But the side of me which was breaking down, I kept that hidden for most of the summer holidays. I left purchasing her school shoes until the last few weeks before she started school. It felt like once the shoes were bought, it confirmed that she will finally be leaving me. I used the summer holidays to do many activities and days out with her. I just wanted to get the most quality time and memories with her.
The start date approached, and the night before she started school; as we put her to bed, I couldn’t stop hugging and kissing her. I found myself staring at her while she slept. I found my voice shaky as my husband was having a normal conversation with me. He asked me “What’s wrong? Are you OK?” The more I was adamant that I was alright, the shakier my voice got. As he hugged me, I burst out crying uncontrollably in his arms and couldn’t get my words out. All I wanted was to have my Ashti small forever. For she was perfect, fun, kind, cheeky, considerate, sensitive, strong, inquisitive, sharp, wise and loving. She had the deepest conversations with me and always wanted to do everything with me.
I ironed her clothes to perfection, triple checked everything and went to bed. I woke up countless times worrying and praying to God to keep Ashti as lovely as she is, to protect her, keep her safe and happy. In the night, I heard little footsteps running down the corridor and into my bed. Ashti’s little sister; Arianne, had woken up. She wanted to lay in my arms, she planted a kiss on my face and a little hand on my cheek as she fell back asleep. This was just what I needed. It felt like a gift from God to help me relax. I then had the most comforting dream that she was so happy at school and my heart was at ease.
I wonder if you all felt this too: although Ashti had gone to nursery for a year before and to countless toddler groups; when it came to the morning of attending reception, I just wanted the ground to swallow me up. I wanted to cry like a baby. But I showed a happy, excited and positive mummy. As I got her ready, watched her eat breakfast and fixed her hairstyle; I could see and hear the excitement in her voice, eyes and smile. Just once she got emotional and hugged me tight, saying she will miss me too much. I reassured her she will be just fine and I will be there to pick her up soon.
As we walked to school, I took countless photos of her, I held back tears but had that lump in my throat. I watched her embrace this change so smoothly and beautifully that I became ashamed of myself for not coping. I wondered if this was normal. Why weren’t the other parents showing their sadness? Was everyone trying to be brave too? I saw her best friend and her mum hugged me, then I burst out crying. I couldn’t hold it in any longer. She cried along and we both comforted each other. All the while, our daughters were chatting and playing away. It was time to leave, but I delayed my exit. Subconsciously, I was trying to just hold onto my baby girl a bit longer. Finally, I kissed her and told her to have an amazing time. I told Arianne we have to leave now, she ran away and said “No, no, me play Ashti! Me stay!”
I convinced her to come with me, we were going to music class to keep busy. I couldn’t go back home without Ashti around. There would be too many memories of her surrounding me. Arianne came to me, but as we left I held her so tight and cried. She hugged me and said “Mummy, you ok? Ashti come on, come on! Or Ashti big girl?” All I could say was “Yes, Arianne, Ashti is a big girl now.”
As we walked away, with mixed emotions, I felt proud of her for settling in so well, for looking so smart, for being so positive and awesome on her first day at big girl’s school. I also felt like I have never missed her so much. I wondered if her perfection, innocence, curious mind, kindness and wisdom will be preserved whilst at school. I wondered if she will miss me. At the same time I didn’t want her to as it would make her sad. I was basically still a wreck, but I showed Arianne my happy side so she doesn’t catch onto my sadness.
We went to a toddler music group, and as soon as we entered, the teacher, assistant and a few other parents all asked where was Ashti. And so it began again, the tears filled my eyes and fell uncontrollably down my cheeks. All the women who I thought were tough started crying too. It was such a scene! It was reassuring that they had all felt this too, and they still do, even though some of their children are my age now! A few new parents came into the room, and when they saw us all teary and hugging, they wondered if they had walked into the wrong group, ha!! It was hilarious!
As we sang, I watched little Arianne being so happy, clever, funny and full of life. She sat close to me, and reminded me of the days when I used to bring Ashti to this group, we always sat in the same spot back then too. I reminded myself this is Arianne, this is my time with her now. Soon, the group was over, usually we would leave last as Arianne loves saying bye to everyone. But as soon as the clock hit 11am, we were out of that door like lightning, making our way to pick up Ashti. We arrived early. The 15 minute wait felt like forever. But as I spoke to other parents, I heard myself in their voices. We all felt the same.
As the classroom door opened, my Ashti was the first one out. She gave me a beautiful piece of artwork she had made! She looked ever so beautiful, still so clean and smart but just a bit grown up now. She then said to me “Why are you here mummy? I want to stay!” I knew from that, she had a fantastic time. She showed us her favourite spots of the day. So far, she had wanted to be a princess dentist when she grows up, but today she decided she was going to be a vet from now on. She told me she had known the date and day of the week and had stood up and recognised it on the board in front of her whole class. She told me she had made new friends and that she even loved her new head teacher.
We spoke all the way home about her day. She hugged Arianne and said she missed her soft cheeks. And me, well I was so happy to have her next to me again, we held hands all the way home. Daddy came home with a present; her first big girl book, The BFG by Roald Dahl. When I saw it, guess what? I did it again, I started crying. It hit me again, our little girl is not so little anymore.
A few days into her going to school, I have accepted it gradually, the best gift I can give her right now, is the gift of letting her be independent. As my first born, it was never going to be easy to let her go, but it’s for everyone’s benefit. The gift of education, a good school and a child who is curious; are all priceless. I was told that only a good mum cares so much and crying is my way of showing my strong bond with Ashti. This is definitely true, and I am also pregnant with our third child, so I guess hormones are playing a part in this too.
I want to wish every parent, carer, guardian, and every little child who is now just a teeny weeny bit bigger, all the very best in their new stages in life. If your child has started nursery, reception, college or university, let it all out, all the emotions and tears. But please don’t feel helpless. Use this free time productively. Whether we work, volunteer or your work is raising a family, we need to maintain a healthy mind and body so we are ready for every day and for our children and husbands to enjoy life with us.
My 5 tips to help cope with our children starting nursery or school:
- Confide in family and friends. They may have faced this transition before and can listen and comfort you.
- Spend the less one to one time you have with your child productively. Suddenly, this daily limited time feels very special!
- Participate and engage in conversations, online groups and days out with parents of other children in your child’s class. This helps you to feel more involved and you can share your feelings and ideas regarding this new phase in your lives.
- Try to keep yourself busy whilst they are at school. Spend more one to one time with your other children, go to work, start voluntary positions, study or get involved in your community. It will contribute to your own growth and social life which is essential.
- Plan and organise great weekend days out (or in) that you can spend with your child. These create lifelong memories for you all and strengthen parent to child, and sibling relationships.
I am still learning to embrace this change. When I kiss her in the mornings and wish her the best day ever, I see an independent child who is ready to face her day with excitement and happiness. For me, that is all I need to feel comforted. I hope such changes are smooth and easy going for you and your children. Don’t hesitate to speak to the teacher if your child is struggling with this transition, and share your techniques and ideas of how to make them more comfortable whilst at school. At the end of the day, the best feeling for us as parents is knowing that our babies are comfortable, happy, safe and thriving at school. And let’s be honest, a few more hours to ourselves each day is not too bad anyway!