So, prize for the most embarrassing parent at the Year 6 leavers’ assembly goes to… me. Yep, everyone give a big hand to the mum who couldn’t stop blubbing. Eek! Was it the collection of shiny innocent-looking faces up there on the podium that set me off (notice I say innocent-looking), or glancing down at the programme with the word ‘Goodbye’ scrawled in huge childish letters? Was it the kids’ sincerity when they started warbling out What A Wonderful World without any irony in their sweet voices? Or When A Knight Won His Spurs, a hymn that took me waaaay back to my own primary years with my fellow Not Those Mumma. Oooh, I don’t know, it wasn’t just today if I’m honest – I’ve been feeling a bit wobbly these past few weeks, it has to be said. And indeed there’s enough going on to feel very wobbly about. But, putting disturbing world events aside for a moment, I know my particular jelly-like feelings are rooted in the fact that I’ve reached the end of an era… the school run.
Now, I know many schools will have broken up already and many of you will be kicking back, relaxing, all thoughts of the classroom banished until September. But if you can bear to, stick with me… for I sort of need a shoulder to cry on (albeit a virtual one).
It’s so strange, this utter emotional wretchedness that has befallen me of late, because if you’d asked me about this a few years ago, I’d probably have said how I couldn’t wait to be relieved of this daily duty – the mad rush in the morning, my child urging me to hurry up (shouldn’t it have been the other way round?), then negotiating all the traffic (hey, give me a break – we live a 40-minute walk away) and cursing people for parking on double-yellows just so they could get that bit closer to the gate rather than ‘park and stride’.
So shouldn’t I be feeling a sense of relief rather than a sense of mourning? Is it because I’m a midlifer that I feel the oncoming change so keenly? Is it my crazy hormones that have been sending me into a tearful mess every time I mentally tick another day off until that final drop-off? Is it just a reminder that I’m getting older or my kids don’t need me so much? Maybe it’s the knowledge that I’ll no longer share a friendly ‘hi’ or pass the time of day with the other parents now. Once they’re in secondary school it takes a very special effort to keep in touch, and that’s hard when people are busy dashing off to jobs as well.
Perhaps it’s the sad realisation that there will be no more hand-holding or a peck on the cheek at the school gate. Or maybe it’s that there will be no more cheering on at sports day, no more hastily put-together class assemblies or helping out at the Christmas fair. Is it because I know that once they hit secondary school, parents become akin to an annoying gnat in the eyes of their offspring? And even if they’re not still too old for a cuddle, peer-pressure and Snapchat put paid to them ever admitting to wanting one.
But who am I kidding? Maybe I’ve always been this way. Looking back, I can remember returning to work watery-eyed after I’d dropped my first-born at nursery for his first day. He was fine, absolutely fine being separated from me, turning away from me all too easily and giving his lovely new carer a cheerful gummy grin (then again, he had previous on this – his very first smile at six weeks wasn’t at me or his dad, but at the washing machine!). Of course I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way really, but I felt ravaged. Then, once I’d settled into a happy routine of dropping him off, I would pass a school on the way to the station. One day in early September I squeezed past a group of reception-age kids congregating outside with their parents, all waiting to go in on their very special first day of school – and that set me off on another watery-eyed journey, even though it would be four years before my own would be starting school. I could already see the milestones flying by. Goodness only knows what the nursery staff made of me on my boy’s last day there before he joined ‘big school’ – as they sat there wishing him well and letting him tuck in to a farewell piece of cake, I could only look on, dabbing frantically at my misty eyes and blowing my nose emphatically.
But this has become a bit of a habit, and a source of ridicule among my school-mum friends – who have witnessed the same emotional outpourings from me, whether it was my youngest sitting in uniform waiting to meet his reception class; or waving the older one off on a school trip (I had to remove myself and go and hide in the car, where I had a good blub before I went home to sniff his pillow). At least I didn’t go as far as the mum who ran after the school bus, waving alongside and bawling her eyes out (though in truth my heart was with her).
So, tomorrow morning, if you should pass a crumpled-looking soul in the street – gaunt expression, eyes covered by huge sunglasses even if it’s pouring down, do spare a thought for her – it could well be me!