The night before our boy started junior school this week, he crawled into my lap at bedtime, and said simply, “I’m scared.” Even though he was going into a class with at least six of the children he had in his old class – some of them his dearest friends – he has felt more and more nervous about starting a brand new school as the weeks have gone on. It breaks your heart when they do things like this.
It’s so much easier as an adult – with numerous school changes, new jobs, and going to toddler groups full of strangers under your belt – because you know that while it might be tough at the start, a classroom with lots of new faces will soon become as familiar as the last one. But explaining that to a boy who only turned seven three weeks ago, who can’t remember his first day at preschool, and who just looks at the world with a mixture of excitement and apprehension of the unknown, is very difficult. He’s just got to live it to learn it – and there’s not really much more you can do to prepare them.
The one thing I could tell him was that everyone would be feeling the same…but when we got to the school gates at 8:30, I could see he didn’t believe me. So many of the children looked to be brimming with confidence: rushing about the playground, laughing with their parents, and shrieking and shouting to their friends. How could all of these lively children be feeling the way he did, when they were all behaving as though they didn’t have a care in the world? He stayed close to us, held hands, and tried to stop the tears from coming.
But at this very moment, my friend – who also happens to be mum to one of our boy’s favourite friends – told me that her son had been just as apprehensive, in spite of the brave façade. “They all feel the same, they just wear it differently – for some of them, it’s on their sleeves.”
And then the doors opened, and the behaviour changed as reality set in. Long hugs with parents started, and some children wouldn’t let go without gentle encouragement. There were a few lip wobbles, and one started audibly weeping – her bravery had carried her as far as the teacher, and then deserted her. Another boy tried to run after his retreating parents, and had to be retrieved by a couple of staff members.
Our own little chap’s eyes filled up, and overspilled…and then his friends arrived. Finished with their own goodbyes, they all put their arms around our little Sausage, and bore him away in one big hug to meet their teacher.
He met us with a great big smile later, after a brilliant day – and I hope it was the same for every child starting a brand new school this week.
That first morning was a great reminder for me that you never know what’s going on inside other people; and if you feel nervous, the chances are that someone else does too. They just don’t show it in the same way.