My daughter has started school. It is a huge event for us. You can see the school yard from our house so she has already watched the kids coming and going and this has been a point of great excitement for the last year. It was almost too good a fantasy that one day she would be one of those rucksacked children filing in to the building that she has seen so many times from the outside. To me it looks like so many other schools, but to her it has taken on the mystery of a fairytale castle.
Like good responsible parents we read through all the stuff that the school sent us, the structure of the school, the philosophy, learning goals, various celebrations, holidays, staff, bullying protocol etc. I remembered what Dr. Winston had said about preparing your child for school in that programme on the BBC, so I told A that she was going to school because she was going to learn, which was apparently the key word and also there were going to be lots of other children to make friends with. We went out to choose a school bag and a lunch box (actually in Holland it’s called a bread box due to the fact that bread seems to be the top and most important food staple to all Dutch folk and I say all because it transcends class, political leanings, health freaks, food philistines, everyone, if a Dutch person thinks it’s lunchtime they don’t ask, “shall we break for lunch?” they are far more likely to say “shall we eat a sandwich?” and while we’re on the subject a sandwich is a slice of bread topped simply with cheese, ham or chocolate sprinkles, yes even for adults!) So we’ve got the breadbox.
The first day arrives and A is suitably quaffed and neatly plaited. I am very proud. The other parents seem friendly and one mother helpfully introduces herself as Anouk, one of the parent reps and says I can ask her anything I need to. When we leave A smiles and waves goodbye, then turns back into the circle and listens to the teacher, who has achieved a trance-like atmosphere in the classroom by her morning ritual of playing the harp! (I should add at this point for anyone who is wondering whether I am lying that the school is a Steiner school….”ooooh” I hear you say)
When we pick her up A shows us a picture she has drawn and is smiling from ear to ear, so all in all I’d say it’s a good start.
Things continue to be successful for the first few weeks, she has a couple of friends, she’s been baking bread every Thursday, she’s been on a woodland walk to collect conkers, she’s learnt some ancient songs about gnomes and she’s even had a couple of playdates. One minor hiccup was when A turned to me while we were eating our evening pasta and said,
“Mummy, why is the teacher not teaching me things?”
“Ahh” I replied
I had to have a bit of a think about how to answer this and then I tried to explain that all the playing and stories and making stuff was also a form of learning. I think I had, by way of Robert Winston accidentally given her the impression that she would be proficient at reading and maths now that she was already 4 years old and well into her first month of school!
Because we live just across the road I have to admit that I have already quickly pulled yesterday’s jeans on and put my jacket on over my pyjama top to take her to school. For the first few weeks A’s dad and I tried to keep up an element of decency in our attire, but due to the proximity we knew there was always a strong likelihood of going to school in our pyjamas, it was just a surprise how soon. As soon as I open the front door, I see other parents cycle past me smiling always wearing the appropriate rain gear. I’ve usually got the baby on my hip (who’s also got his jacket over his pyjamas) and wild non-brushed hair, but A has got clean clothes and teeth so I don’t mind.
Anouk cycles past me and I call out,
“Hi, I’ve got a question. P gave me this envelope for the class kitty, but I don’t know exactly what I’m supposed to do with it”
“Oh” she says “You just put €25 in it and pass it to the next parent on the list, it was all explained on parents evening”
This was like a heavy clout and I feel my face drop the smile from my face. SHIT SHIT, parents evening! It was last Wednesday and I forgot it! How could this happen? My first parents evening! Now I vaguely remember reading all the important emails with the attachments that we got in the first week, but what the hell! I didn’t write it down and now we look like negligent fools! This is how I feel at that moment. Deeply ashamed. And mortified. Maybe this sounds a bit extreme but I was trying so hard! I apologise to the teacher and make an excuse about being a scatterbrain because of the baby keeping me up all through the night. This is actually very true. I’ve been up at least 4 times a night for the past week, but it feels like a cop-out, we’ve all had babies that’s why we’re here and looking around I don’t see any other parents in their pyjamas forgetting parents evening.
A is blissfully unaware of my failures, she greets the teacher cheerfully, sits between her 2 new best friends, waves goodbye and turns back to the circle eager to start learning!