I can’t imagine living in a time when kids didn’t go to pre-school. The more I research working class life in the Victorian times, the more I shudder at the thought of kids just being an inevitable burden; of being turfed outside to play shoeless amongst nearly every pre-technological danger known to man. These days we are more inclined to socialise our babies from the very early days and it’s not lost on me how lucky children are today to have the resources they have.
Today is the last day of preschool for my son, who will turn 5 before the end of the year. I never really did the whole baby group circuit – not having been an NCT mum and generally feeling awkward and unwanted amongst other mothers at these things – instead preferring the company of my family and friends both with and without kids.
Nor did I put him into nursery as a childcare option. I didn’t have to be anywhere for work and had personal reservations about leaving him anywhere outside the family until he could articulate his needs and feelings. That’s by no means a pop at anyone who does; I had crippling parenting anxiety throughout the first two or three years of his life that. It’s rather to explain why he had never spent any time with anyone outside his family for even a minute, until he was two and a half.
I expected him to cling to me. I expected tears and overwhelm.
The one thing that I am confident I am good at in life is being thoughtful enough to try and understand most little kids no matter how irrational their needs or desires. I am still stunned when I see something as simple as a parent standing talking to a friend at length with their baby in a pram facing direct sunlight, crying. It’s not hard to tune into kids; you don’t always get it right but it doesn’t take much to try.
So, trying to put myself in his shoes on our first day in nursery, I was prepared for him to not like the room, to be afraid of so many other children around him, or to be confused by the grown ups and their role there.
Instead he didn’t look back.
Fast forward to today, his last ever day at nursery school. And it is a school too, by the way, not just daycare where they play all day and pretend to follow the Early Years curriculum. He’s had weekly music lessons, physical education, forest school, and literacy. He wants to stay there forever and I can’t say I blame him.
I’m not a pushy parent; I never have been. I just want him to get the most out of life and be kind to other people. His report says he’s independent and does whatever he pleases – I know some of that comes from me. I’m an introvert and like to do my own thing. But I know there was a time that he worried that other kids didn’t like him, and I blamed myself for those early days where I didn’t sit round on a playgroup floor eating shit biscuits and singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star while he snoozed on my lap every morning.
I’ve never hurried him into anything; I’ve let him do everything at his own speed. I’ve lost count of the amount of times that I’ve seen parents brag their kids know their left from their right at the age of one (they probably don’t, and will forget tomorrow) or can write their name at age two which is usually a fluke because their hand strength isn’t matured by then. My mum always used to say to me “don’t rush your life away” and that’s exactly what I’ve done with my son – my only child – because life’s not a competition.
The girls at nursery school seemed to grow up way before the boys. They were the first to talk about having best friends and who was invited to birthday parties and who was and was not permitted to play with them that day.
Practically all were toilet trained by the time they stared at little nursery aged 2.5. We waited til 3 when his speech was better for expressing himself and it went smoothly. I could’ve give a shit if someone’s daughter was dry at 18 months. I bet there was piss all over the show for the next 18 months though that the parents neglect to mention. The competitiveness that so many parents show as soon as they have a kid is so offputting.
He’s never been first at anything: speech, walking, counting, writing, toilet. And I don’t care. He did loads of things early but I didn’t shout about them and only my parents seemed particularly over excited by it. We have more important things on our agenda. Learning to co-operate, learning to listen, learning how to understand other people. I don’t see these over achievers with their ballet certificates and exclusive unicorn parties teaching compassion. You wonder how much of their parenting is about the kid and how much is a projection of themselves.
We graft behind the scenes and don’t talk loudly about our projects or our progress. I teach him not to show off about what he’s got or where he’s been – it may not be as fancy as some of the posh kids but if it stops one child from feeling ‘less than’ then it’s worth it. The preschool world is full of milestones, full of progress, full of show offs.
He’s had speech therapy which mostly centred on listening and repeating noises and the rest suddenly came tumbling out all at once before he moved on to the next phase and now he’s fully caught up. Kids have their own pace. You can help them and give them to tools to make life easier with eg speech. But pace is something they control.
I’ve watched him grow from a toddler – hardly any more than a giant baby really – with a padded nappy bum, fine baby hair and chubby face with only a handful of words (nearly all related to vehicles) to a long lean boy who can reason and ask intelligent questions. His ability to retain information is astounding; and his report quite rightly acknowledge that he is extremely articulate, with a vast vocabulary and knowledge. That, after four years of doubting myself, I finally take credit for.
We might not have made loads of friends in the past four years together, but I made a bright and curious kid, ready for the world. At his own pace.
Today we walked to nursery for the last time. In the spring, I’d announced my intention to start walking to nursery every morning in the good weather. But then I had to go to work every morning, then I hurt my foot, and real life got in the way. Before I knew it, it was the last day of nursery and I only had once chance to do it again. In September, the new school will be too far to walk to.
So we walked, and talked, and sang the songs we sang when we used to walk there with the buggy, and then graduated to walking alongside the buggy, then finally without.
We remembered where the toadstools are in autumn, where the holly and ivy grow together. The funny ornaments in people’s front gardens, and the silver streamers from a carnival float that got caught in a tree two summers ago, the tattered remnants of which are still just about visible in amongst the current crop of bright green sycamore leaves.
We sang ‘You are My Sunshine’ and recalled the time the Methodist church were giving out Celebrations on their front step one Christmastime a contender for one of the Top Ten days of his life of ever there was one.
We held hands all the way.
We were late, as usual. But some things you have to do at your own pace.