Friday, 10 July 2009


Yesterday I went with Sam to the induction afternoon at his school nursery, about which he had been very excited for days.

He's had good experience of schools during his short life, having even been unfazed six months ago by the process of a grilling from thirty seven-year olds on the subject of how toddlers are different from babies, and at the end of which he sat down contentedly for a story with them all.

In short, I was kind of expecting it to be plain sailing, which it was, right up until we had to go into the nursery classroom. Sam had been bantering - or at least happily making daft noises - with all the reception kids who had come over to the fence to investigate the gaggle of pre-schoolers and awkward-looking grown-ups; they seemed a thoroughly genial bunch of children.

Sam was reluctant on entering the room, but began to play with a 3D magnetic jigsaw, occasionally sharing remarks with another boy and his mum. But then, there was a moment where it seemed he looked up, his surroundings closed in, and his whole self melted spontaneously. It seemed to dawn on him that the fairly small classroom was thick with people - children and adults - milling around, with most of the latter simply ignored by the former.

Springing to his feet, he clamped himself to my neck and began to cry "I want to go home now, I want to go home now, I WANT TO GO HOME NOW," with an increasing anxiety shortness of breath. I could feel his heart belting like a drum machine as the tears flooded his cheeks, leaving little wet patches on the carpet, and his whole body became a white knuckle.

Probably for the first time since I was ten - deaths, illnesses notwithstanding - I sobbed publicly, visibly and nearly (very nearly) uncontrollably. A man not given to that kind of self-expression, surrounded by level-headed young children happily patting at playdough or charging around in their own little worlds with plastic dinosaurs in hand, and by adults that didn't know where to look.

We asked to go outside for a walk, and returned to the classroom ten minutes later, where it was all I could do to sit boy on lap beneath the coat pegs in the corner, as the pleas restarted. Pressed emotionally and physically into a corner, one of the other parents kindly took some sympathy and relayed a request for some train track to coax some sense of comfort and familiarity. Despite a couple of these half-effective distractions, the indoor parts of the afternoon nonetheless continued in similar recoiling vein.

The one thing that leaves me glad we stayed is that Sam loved playing in the outdoor classroom, forgetting his anxiety instantly and role-playing delightedly in the hidey house / pretend cafe with other nursery and reception kids and charging around on the various bits and pieces.

We chatted on the way home, and he told me that he liked the teacher and the children and the playground and the sing-song but not the banging [of drums and tambourines during the sing-song] or "all the grown ups... they were scary."

Really, there was enough to suggest that he'll be fine once he finds his feet, and the reception children especially were all thrilling to play with. But, as I write this post and say to myself. "he'll be three tomorrow," it's all I can do to choke the tears once again.

1 comment:

Shane said...

Sheesh, man. The things we do for love.

You're right to focus on the stuff that says it'll be alright. It will. But you'll be tested a lot, along the way. Gentle reminders of the cool stuff will be called for - 'I wonder if there'll be any new train tracks...', 'I wonder where they get their toys from...', 'I wonder what games people will be playing'. You know the score - you've been playing it for 3 years.

Also worth remembering: there's nothing at all wrong with finding the whole nursery/school set-up to be utterly dumbfounding, confusing, alien, unpleasant. And when you've been so rapt in caring for the bean for so long, then his rapid-fire heartbeat is a justifiable signal for you to melt - as awkward as that may or may not later feel. There are massive ways in which you'll both/all benefit from boyo's routine-to-be. Got to be willing to grim it out for a while, though - that said, I'd say there's a good chance that junior will surprise you. The sooner that he feels a mastery of his own new environment, the better - be led by him, and don't feel backwards in encroaching a bit into the nursery school staff's space/time, if that feels necessary. Equally, it wouldn't make you a bad parent for daring to make a sharp exit (leaving boyo to settle) early in the process - when you ultimately find him getting on with getting on, your heart will hop, step and leap like never before.

I may have overstated that last bit, a bit, but you get the gist. You do.