Don’t think A.A. Milne took Christopher Robin quite that far, but nonetheless, it’s a good enough analogy for today’s entry.
In February of this year, Small Son turned the Grand Old Age of 11 years old. This is perfectly normal and well within the expected targets of a lifetime – but given his premature birth and subsequent dubious prognosis on the day he was born (“possibly not past 12pm”), it was something else entirely. Of course, in the UK turning 11 also brings with it the big step of moving out of primary education and up to a secondary education establishment. (Note for Americans and other aliens – I have no idea how your junior high/high school system works, so apologies if you’re puzzling over what I’m talking about).
It’s one of those transitory things that’s surprisingly huge, both in physical and mental terms. Small Son goes from being in Year Six and the biggest/oldest in the school to being Year Seven and being the smallest/youngest in a school that’s far, far bigger than he’s used to. He no longer gets to wear reasonably casual polo shirts and jumpers – now he has to wear a shirt, tie, blazer, smart trousers and – horror of horrors – lace-up shoes. Now he gets to study lessons individually with different teachers for different subjects instead of getting the general grounding that primary education gave him. He has the added problem of not knowing anybody else at the school. His dad and I, as parents who genuinely care about the emotional and educational development of our very much-loved son, chose to enrol him in a school that is in a different location to the one most of the others from his Year Six class have gone to.
For comparative purposes, the school Small Son has gone to is pretty much opposite his dad’s house. It’s well-respected, has a good OFSTED report, excellent exam grades and state-of-the-art facilities. The kids aren’t called ‘kids’ or ‘children’ but are referred to as ‘young people’. They take pride in educating their students not only academically but also devote a full hour lesson a week to what they call ‘Citizenship’ – or, you know. Basic manners). The other school, whilst closer to me and easier logistically from my point of view, has a known drugs problem, had a reasonably awful OFSTED report, its kids spit and swear and gob off at the bus stop in the morning and the best qualification he would get would be an A* in ‘Which Benefit Can I Milk to the Max?
And as a parent, I have to take all this in my stride.
So I took the day off work today, purely for the joy of driving over to ex’s house to witness Small Son in full school uniform regalia, with a bag that seemed too big for him, with a neatly tied and straight tie and clean white shirt (apparently the one he SHOULD have been wearing met the wrong end of some shoe polish last night) and looking somewhere between excited and apprehensive, with a good slug of nonchalance thrown in for good measure. His dad and I accompanied him as far as the school gates and then watched this tiny red-haired boy disappear in a throng of other similarly dressed youngsters. 8.30am start for this school.
Somehow, I managed to put the day away. I’d made the decision not to come home, but kill time in town until 2.45pm when he would be released back into the wild.
Waited outside with some other first-day parents and made some idle small talk (which was really nice, actually) and waited for him to show. He did, eventually, trailing along behind a few other people. His first day, it transpires was, and I quote ‘fine’.
(Note: it’s not just women who use that word and possibly don’t mean it).
He certainly enthused when we got back to his dad’s house and looked over his timetable. They gave him the wrong one to start with, which meant he turned up to D&T: Food Tech (what old people like me knew as ‘Home Economics’ when I was his age) instead of ICT. So way to be horribly embarrassed on his first day. He didn’t seem to be, though. He got through lessons of Maths and Science and half an ICT lesson, ate lunch, meandered around the school yard (by himself) and generally seemed fine.
His first observance on coming out wasn’t ‘it’s a nice school’, or ‘my form tutor is nice’, or even ‘I hate it’. No. It was ‘I don’t like this tie, I feel like I’m being throttled.’
Today was a day that will never be repeated, and he’ll forget it, in time. I know I forgot my first day at secondary school. But I don’t think I’ll forget his.
I’m so proud.
I love my son.