Wednesday, March 28, 2012

FIRST TERM OF PREP 2012 – a parent’s perspective.

LEAVES on the trees tremble. Birds are starting to chirp away up high. A vague dusky kind of light settles over the suburbs. It’s too early. I don’t usually leave the house at a quarter past seven in the morning- I have never had to take somebody to before-school care in the past , either.

This year my eldest daughter has started Prep, and as I take her to school- or rather, she takes me, bounding along on her bike- I feel incredibly proud and grown up and important. The whole of the busy street can see me as I stroll behind her, holding my work bag in my right hand, and carrying her heavy purple backpack over my left shoulder. I’ve seen these fathers’ before and not taken much notice. But now I can see how it makes you feel special and good inside.

S didn’t want to think about Prep in the holidays. So we didn’t push it. It wasn’t until there was about a week to go that I said to my wife ‘we have to start talking about school or it will come as too much of a shock to her.’ There were some concerns at kindergarten. Quite a few uncertainties about where she belonged. So we made a point of bringing it up in as positive a fashion as possible during the remaining week of the holidays. “I can’t believe you are about to start school. You will have such a great time and meet so many new friends.”

The first few days, even the first couple of weeks, shocked us. It was a much smoother transition than we could have hoped for. Not everything was perfect at school, but she liked the teacher, there were some kids to play with, and the ‘buddy’ was warm and generous with her time. In fact during the majority of the whole of the first term S has pretty much enjoyed school. We can tell because she wants to talk about it- most nights- even if her stock answer to ‘how was your day?’ is initially always ‘ok.’

It hasn’t been a walk in the park in every aspect, however. I work full time and my wife works Mondays and Tuesdays. Before school care and after school care on those days has been difficult. The regular pattern has begun with a sleepless night on the Sunday. Tears and more tears after that. Is she seeing if sobbing and a distressed face might change her parents’ mind? Sleep doesn’t come until around 9:00 PM on those nights. And then there’s the next morning. An anguished “I DON’T WANNA GO TO BEFORE AND AFTER SCHOOL CARE!” reverberates around the hall. Grandma drags a reluctant child, but she gets there eventually. Even if her day goes ok, there is a repeat of this on the Monday night and then the Tuesday morning the next day.

This is where I come into it, the apprehensive father. Last Tuesday morning was a good example. Mother had already left and S was anxious the moment she woke up. The pain on her face suggested that ‘doll doll’ had accidentally been thrown out in the rubbish. The clashing of steel and rubbish bins outside was not enough to drown out her miserable cries.

Somehow she managed to get herself dressed but she didn’t eat a thing. I put the preventative ‘nit spray’ in her hair, gathered her backpack, and we were out the door far too early. Walking down Bruce Street, me lumbering a long way behind the back of her bike, S suddenly gets off her bike and says ‘Daddy, I think I’m going to vomit. I have pains in my tummy.” We sit on a kerb for a bit, thoughts of the consequences of going back home flooding through my mind. A few minutes later, thankfully, we are back on our way. By this time, however, along with all the other heavy things, I am now wheeling her bike.

Upon entering the makeshift kitchen area of the school, the lovely women carers take one look at her face, and launch into a repair job, wild excitement about the hour ahead in their voice. Poor S is cynical and doubtful, and worse still, the journey has taken so long that her father has to immediately leave. The air outside is fresh and invigorating. Miraculously, when her mother picks her up at the end of after-school care at the end of the day, she is kind of smiling and not quite ready to leave yet.

Not every day is like this, however. Sometimes those non before-school and after-school days aren’t too bad. One night recently she told me when I got home ‘I smiled at some of the kids today, Daddy.’ I have been teaching her a mantra: ‘make sure you remember to smile and be friendly.’

On some occasions that journey to school on a Tuesday morning has been the highlight of my week. It was the first couple of times when I felt the most proud. She is bounding ahead, the purple streamers streaming out at right angles from her handlebars in the wind. Her purple-uniformed back is arching as she is striving along Bruce Street enjoying the morning ride, eager to show her father her new surroundings. I am walking behind her, watching her, absolutely enjoying this new experience of following my beautiful purple clad daughter. Now I know what it feels like to be the father of a child at school.

Now there’s only a week to go and the first term of her school life is about to draw to a close. And now we have another reason to be proud. She found out today that she has become the nominated rep for her Prep grade’s SRC.


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