So here we are yesterday, man and boy, father and son, enjoying each other’s company for the last time in two months. My youngest boy has hardly been away from my side since the start of the school holidays. But now both he and I were looking forward to him starting Reception today.
It was going to be a very routine affair. He loved nursery, virtually skipped to it each day, and as his nursery classmates would now be his new Reception classmates, I thought it would be a very straightforward transition: Drop & Go.
But just when you think you know your kids like the back of your hand, they go and do something that completely discombobulates you. And as I type I am in a maelstrom of discombobulation.
The morning started well enough. All three kids were up, washed, breakfasted and dressed in about 15 minutes. Good going. So far so good.
My wife then took the eldest up to her school and then came back because she wanted to see her youngest start Reception for the first time. We’d gone through this when the youngest started nursery in January. Then, he wandered in, started playing with some toys, and waved us goodbye. Out of our three kids, it was the easiest home-to-school transformation we’d had. And so the four of us – me, my wife, our six-year-old and four-year-old boys – all walked to school together, hand in hand, like a scene from The Little House On The Prairie.
And that’s where this little blissful picture of familial harmony shatters. Because the moment we appraoched the youngest’s new clasroom door, he went into meltdown. He clung to his mother like a mussel to a rope. Every time she tried to prise him off, he’d latch back on again. He wasn’t crying, but he was trying to bury his head as far inside her coat as was possible without turning into a mole.
I looked at my wife’s pained expression. What shall we do? our eyes said to each other.
‘He’s milking it,’ I said. ‘He knows you’re a soft touch so he’s making you feel guilty. Leaave him to me. He’ll be fine.’
And so confident was I in that assertion – and so confident was my wife in my confidence – that she reluctantly agreed to leave and get the bus to work. I took my son in my arms and whsipered in his ear: ‘It’s time to start school now, son.’
He starting howling and crying like a little lost puppy. ‘Want go home, Daddy. Want go home.’
‘No, Sam, it’s school day today. You stay here.’
‘No, Daddy. Nooooo.’
By now, his new classmates were curious and gathered around. His new teacher offered to take him from me. Other parents raised their eyebrows in empathetic pity (whilst secretly thinking, I’m sure: ‘I’m glad mine’s not like that.’). The school cook even came over and told Sam it was fish and chips for lunch. All to no avail.
‘Want go home, Daddy. Waqnt go home.’
He was so traumatised, I decided it would be better to take him outside for a sit down and a chat on a bench. Snot was pouring from his nose and great big fat tears plopped from his eyes.
‘Love you, Daddy. Love you. Want go home.’
And that got ME started! My eyes filled up and I could feel the prickle of salty tears creeping down my face.
‘Can’t go home, son. It’s school time,’ I whispered, when all I wanted to do was to bolt out of the gates with my boy under my wing and have him playing at my feet as I wrote a different kind of post, about cooking or ironing.
‘Want go home, Daddy. Want go home.’
Now the Head Teacher was at my shoulder.
‘Everything OK, mate?’ he asked (he’s a Kiwi).
‘Yeah, fine. Just a blip. He’ll be OK,’ I replied.
But I wasn’t sure. And then eventually, after 45 minutes of this, the penny dropped. School wasn’t the problem – I was. My son and I had become so close over these paqst two months that he knew how to push every button in my emotions.
‘I’m doing more harm than good here,’ I thought to myself.
And so I carried him back into the classroom, and heaved him into the arms of the assistant.
‘Should I just leave him?’ I asked, seeking assurance.
‘Yes. Go. He’ll be fine. Five minutes after you leave, he’ll be loving it.’
As I walked towards the door, my son pierced the air with a heart-wrenching screech of: ‘Daddddddddeeeeeeeeeeee!’
But I didn’t look back. I closed the door behind me. And then stood there, listening to his screams of protest and sobs of despair. But I didn’t go back in. I just waited. Trusted. Knew he couldn’t keep it up forever.
And then his sobs started to be replaced by the laughter of his classmates. I peeked inside – just an eyeball, to make sure he couldn’t see me – and he was laughing too.