‘Champagne and Tissues’ they call it at our school, a morning tea (or champagne) for parents of kindy kids, a post drop off refuge to seek solace from the discombobulation of children starting school, a hanky and prayer handed out on arrival.
I needed it. The hanky and the prayer. My first child at school I could deal with. I still had one at home to break the fall. But I knew then it was only a matter of time before reality would set in and they would both be gone for the good part of each day, slipping further from my grasp, a leap closer to boyhood from babyhood. Then what would become of me?
My anguish is mitigated by knowing how much my youngest wants this. He’s been counting down the days since he could count, asking me how many more sleeps, melting down at Westfield for no other reason than that he’s self professed “bored” and hankering for Big School. Day one he was off without a backward glance and tells me what he hates most about school is going home. So I conceal my selfish longing and try not to cling, careful not to rain on his parade.
It’s comforting to know I have company. Thousands of other parents also grappling with the abrupt change of school starts, a new life phase, almost as daunting as motherhood itself. “I felt quite lost”, says my friend, LJ, mother of three. “It was like a grieving process”. Information abounds on how to help kids with separation anxiety. But what if they’re not the issue?
This thrilling new start for child is a consequential ending for mother.
For a good seven years my children have been my life. I’ve been blessed to be able to keep my career ticking simultaneously along, working mainly at night making it possible to compartmentalise. My days slipped into a steady rhythm of playgrounds, bush walks, scootering, Banksia Buddies. BrightSparks and Action Sports.
We’ve met every animal at the zoo, had picnics for two, and played endless games of Monopoly Junior. On one memorable occasion (craft not being my strong point), we made a rocket out of kitchen paper rolls. ’Adventure Tuesday’ we would call it (or whatever the day), as my youngest and I whiled away the rambling hours while his big brother was at school.
Now from 9:15 to 2:45 at least, the house is empty. Unnervingly so. And there amongst the Hot Wheels tracks and Lego detritus of the morning’s play, the world is my oyster.
I think of all those things I haven’t been able to do for seven years, and there are many: Yoga, exercise, tax returns. Read books, sort photos, send thank you cards (from my first baby’s birth). Update my website. Write more, work more.
Funny, but there were moments over the last few years when I craved more/all (?) of that and now the time has come, I’m wavering. My new relationship with time, now that I have more of it, is love-hate. The pressure to do something useful with my five-and-a-half unscheduled hours a day weighs heavily, what Sarah Napthali, author of Buddhism for Mothers of Schoolchildren calls, “the gnawing sense of failure around how effectively we use our day”.
The routine of the school day brings its own challenges, a burgeoning ‘to-do’ list and, with that, writes Napthali, an “obsessive attachment” to being efficient. At school pick-up, we look about and wonder where the day went.
I take note from more seasoned school mums who seem adept at making the most of it. They turn up in their active wear because they genuinely are en route to the gym. My friend, Brigitta, says she felt sad “for about an hour” when her second son started school, then excitement. “I felt like I got my life back”, she says. She’ll happily go to the movies or for lunch with friends in the in-between hours because nurturing herself makes her a “better mum”. “I need that time to fill myself up then, when the kids get home from school, I’m happy to focus on them 100%. The washing is done, the shopping is done so I can give them my all”.
That would be handy. In the meantime, I’ve rostered myself on as ‘parent helper’ and for tuckshop duty, a transition, of sorts, embracing new found ‘free time’ while looking over my shoulder.
This article was first published in Sunday Life Magazine and DailyLife.com.au on 19th February 2017