When my eldest son started school last year, I had expectations.
I expected homework fatigue (right). I expected meltdowns over wearing the same outfit every day (wrong). I expected lost hats (grossly underestimated). I expected a monkey-bar induced hospital visit (replaced with a concussion from a toilet lock – yes, really).
What I didn’t expect was to make friends. Not Isaac (I knew he would – he’s generally fairly likeable), but me.
For whatever reason, I’d never quite gelled with the mum crew. My mother’s group was lovely, but we never clicked. While they lingered over decaf coffees and worried about sleep cycles, I couldn’t escape the cafe fast enough (it appeared Isaac felt the same way, as he screamed any time we approached a venue where I might have the option to sit). At daycare, I never seemed to see another parent, let alone make conversation. We were clearly all too busy pretending not to hear our children crying at drop-off, or frantically checking our emails one last time before pick-up. At kids’ birthday parties, I was usually so preoccupied trying to ensure my children weren’t depositing their faces into the birthday cake, that I barely said more words than “happy birthday.” So mum friends? Let’s just say they weren’t plentiful.
And don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t upset about this. I admit I did feel a fleeting worry that I wasn’t like other mothers who seemed to generate such joy from Gymbaroo and afternoons at the park, but I had my people already. Between school, university and early career workplaces, I’d acquired a wonderful collection of friends. If I’m being honest, I thought I’d reached my limit. Perhaps this was my quota for life?
Making friends with other kindergarten parents didn't even feel like an option.
At orientation mornings, I was completely overwhelmed by the mothers who seemed to already know each other. Then on the first day of school, I honed in on the mums who accompanied their children with DLSR cameras and pinboards purely for Instagram purposes and thought to myself with a total feeling of inferiority, “Nope, these are not my people,” as I beelined for the nearest cup of coffee to sob into.
But, as the year unfolded, I found out that I could not have been more wrong.
In fact, I think I could go so far as to say that I have found some of my best friends at that same school gate.
If you’re about to send your baby off to kindergarten, I’d guess that you just might too.
Despite having experienced 13 years of school education myself, I had been oblivious to the sheer amount of time parents spend at school. Whether you’re there at 9am and 3pm every day, or your child is in daily before-and-after school care, involvement is unavoidable. And much to my surprise and delight, this involvement has been one of my biggest blessings of motherhood thus far. Pre drop-off coffees, endless assemblies, sports days, birthday parties, weekend sports, after school activities, Friday afternoon ice creams. The time we spend in and around our children’s school is significant.
And it’s not only the other parents who make it possible or endurable, but enjoyable.
I have clearly been very fortunate that my son's local public school is in an area where many parents share similar values to my own, but as far as lives and circumstances go, we couldn't be more different.
There are full-time working women, freelancers, part-timers, stay-at-home mothers. There are married parents, single parents and separated parents. There are creatives, executives, personal trainers, career-breakers, entrepreneurs, midwives, and psychologists.
And over the course of just one year, these women have been the cornerstone of my sanity.
We’ve picked up each other’s children when we’ve been late from work. We’ve looked after each other’s kids while we’ve tended to their siblings. We’ve reminded each other at 8:30am that it’s “wear a purple shirt” day. We’ve brought along a few extra purple shirts just in case. We’ve danced and laughed at No Lights No Lycra. We’ve poured our hearts out at book clubs. We’ve cheered on each other’s children as if they were our own. We’ve drunk wine a few too many times in the park. We’ve experienced loss, health scares, relationship challenges, career changes, joys and successes, pregnancies that have ended well and others that haven’t.
We’ve bonded in ways that I’m sure are thousands of times stronger than the friendships of our children.
So, if you're preparing your little one in his or her first school uniform this week, those tears, that grief (and sometimes that relief) are normal.
But this is not just a new transition for your child, it may just be for you too. And if your experience is anything like mine, prepare yourself for one of the biggest joys possible.
Jacqui, Lucinda, Sarah, Leanne, Wendy, Laura and so many more … This one was for you. X