There are so many things that you don’t know until you do. Confused? Well, it’s actually clearer than you may think.
It’s that whole ‘walk a mile in my shoes’ concept. No matter how many times you may read about something, you won’t truly understand it until you’ve felt it.
Like parenting. I wrote this article on parenting after the crushing reality that everything I believed before I had kids was a lie.
Now, nearly 11 years into my parenting career I have accepted another reality… No-one can ever truly prepare you becoming a school mum in the jungle that is school life. But I’m going to give it my best shot anyway.
1. You don’t suddenly get more time when they start school.
Au contraire! You will lose hours and hours of your day. It will begin with Contacting their fucking school books. Oh yeah, that shit still happens. You would think after all these decades that someone would have invented something less torturous than Contact wouldn’t you?? Apparently not. Welcome to OCD hell. After all that covering is done and they actually start going to school you will think “oh my god, what am I going to do with myself? I have ALL DAY to myself!” if you’re an idiot like me. 9-3 is not all day. And in fact, it’s more like 9.30ish until 2.45ish once you factor in your kid not letting you leave in the morning, getting stuck talking with other shell-shocked parents in the car park and then getting back there early to get a park and/or be waiting right outside the classroom door as soon as your kid walks out, just like you promised.
2. It’s not like kindy
I had this weird misconception that going to school would be just like kindy but bigger and better. WRONG. Kindy is like a fairytale compared to school. Now there’s rules and real start-times [not whenever you managed to drag your pre-schooler in]. There’s also only one teacher per 28ish kids not the lovely half a dozen that a kindy typically boasts. School is harder and longer and much, much more tiring. For you and your new school-kid.
3. Things will get worse before they get better
Not all school starts are easy. Here’s the thing. Often, your kids will start off happy and excited as anything that they are FINALLY a big school-kid. And then they realise they’re expected to turn up EVERY.SINGLE.MORNING for the rest of their foreseeable future. And then the wheels fall off. Suddenly they’re resisting every step of the way. They’re begging you, with real tears, not to leave them in that classroom. They’re bawling in front of all the other parents [who you do not know!] and then the tears infect all the other children like that movie Outbreak and everyone’s sobbing and begging and the first time school parents are panicking. It will get better and my best advice for you here is to look to the only expert in the room, the teacher, and follow their lead.
4. School uniforms are the best thing ever invented
Oh how I hated the idea of a school uniform! What a fool I was. They are a parent’s lifesaver. All I have to do is make sure they’re clean and know whether it’s PE day or formal day. That’s it. No more arguing with my fashionista youngest on what t-shirt matches what shorts and why his favourite top is still in the wash. And the genius uniform manufacturers make it all wash and wear! No ironing, no stressing. All hail the school uniform.
5. Bullying will happen
Think your kid won’t be bullied? Think again. You may think they’re tough enough/strong enough/smart enough to stand up for themselves. You may even be right but take it from me, it’s often the children you least expect to be a victim that become one. And it’s horrible when it’s your kid. It affects children in many different ways so always watch for any cues that they may be dealing with something you don’t know about. You may want to march in to that school and do a little bullying of your own once you find out who the bastard is that’s inflicting their cruelty on your little angel. Don’t. Email your school principal and copy in the teacher with all your concerns and as many details as possible. These people are trained to deal with these situations and, in my experience, handle it with the best possible outcome for everyone. A little, opportunistic, passing death stare to the bully does wonders for your own mental health too.
6. It’s like YOU’RE starting school again too
Oh yes! This is a big one! So it’s not just your kid who is meeting new people, learning new routines and navigating new friendships – it’s you too! What is this fresh new hell? You thought your days of recruiting new friends was over now that you’re all grown up didn’t you? Sucker. See, your kids make new friends and those friends come with parents. Parents that you’re gonna wanna like if your kid is wanting to spend time with their kid. It just won’t work any other way. Trust me, I’ve tried. So the initial playdates also masquerade as a bit of a courting ritual for the parents too. As in all dating scenarios you can expect mixed results. I have made the most unexpected lifelong friends through my children but I’ve also come across some deadset nutters as well. TIP: usually if the parents are nutters, so are their offspring.
7. School holidays are heaven… and hell
It’s the end of term and everyone is limping to the finish line. It’s like a relentless marathon of cutting off crusts, polishing shoes and trying to get out of the house without forgetting either their school excursion form, hat, fruit snack or all of the above. Everyone is exhausted and school holidays cannot come soon enough, right? WRONG. It’s a trap. The first few days of not having to stick to the usual schedule seems blissful and you may even trick yourself into thinking you’re going to be one of those laid-back mums who’s just going to go with the flow and let each day take it’s own course. Bahahahahahaha! You poor thing. Listen to me. If you’re not actually going away on holidays, you need to PLAN some things. Lots of things. Playdates with your new friends. Trips to the beach/park/playground. Swapsies with other parents [y’know they take your kids one day and then you take theirs another]. Sporting clinics and vacation care. Holidays are stressful and Summer holidays have been known to break even the most capable of parents. If you’re working then add another layer of ‘I can’t cope with this shit’ to your days. You will need to call on all your support networks to get you through.
8. Parents and Friends Associations are… a necessary evil.
Every school has their own volunteer parents association. Some are full-blown outfits and some are a less formal situation. Whatever yours is like, you may be inclined to join. And why not? You want to be involved in your child’s school community and you have management/event/admin/marketing skills that you just KNOW they could benefit from! Sounds like a no-brainer and I would encourage you to give it your best shot but just a mild word of warning. From my research I have learned that there’s always that one [or three] control freak on the committee who likes to throw their weight around. And they may not be interested in any of the skills you bring to the table – or your ideas. Being on the committee may involve tuckshop duty, baking for cake stalls, hosting morning teas, organising school dances or managing the annual quiz night… all of which will probably excite you in the first couple of years. Not so much by Year 5.
9. Reading, Christmas Craft, Sports Day and Excursions
Are now a part of your life. How much fun or work this involves is entirely up to you. I personally managed to avoid everything but sports day, mainly because my kids flat-out insisted that I watch them.
10. Having to make school lunches is like the death of a thousand cuts
Oh god. School lunches. The bane of my existence. Bread, butter, vegemite, cut the crusts off. Repeat. Sound hideously dull and boring? Oh it is. I’ve tried, repeatedly to add some life and nutrition to those lunchboxes. I even managed salad wraps for a little while – but it was short lived. Whilst they love gorgeous, healthy and nutritious meals at home, apparently anything that takes longer than 45 seconds to inhale is not welcome in my sons’ lunchboxes. Sometimes I get a little bit adventurous and sneak some cherry tomatoes or mini cucumbers but I’ve been known to throw them out on Monday morning after them unknowingly sitting unchecked in the school bag all weekend. Or worse… the entire school holidays.
Also, no-one told me how quiet the house would be or how much I would miss them or how I immediately think one of them has broken all their limbs every time I get a call from the school in the middle of the day!