Darling Daughter now has one week of Primary school left. From September, she will join her brother in the shark-infested waters of a large, highly competitive academic powerhouse, where they expect pupils to organise themselves and build independent lives. For most of the other mothers of children in her class, with their eldest or only children, it is a time of excitement and anticipation. Whilst Darling Daughter has been ready to move on for a while, the whole step fills me with quaking, tearful trepidation. The various new school induction events have induced dread rather than joy in my heart. Tears have sprung to my eyes during the Chaplain’s presentation.
For the last nearly 12 years Darling Daughter and I have walked to school together, first with her big brother then just the two of us, sometimes reciting tables and spellings, sometimes debating points of history, or the dynamics of her class, sometimes just chatting, always just being together. For the past five years, we have done early morning clarinet and piano practices, raged at each other for being disorganised or impatient, held hands. From September she will be out of the door for the school bus at 7.30 every morning, building her own social life that will not include me. I shall become peripheral, someone who cramps her style, someone who is always on at her. I shall miss her so much. The thought is deeply traumatic. Unbearable.
Four years ago, when we were about to move back to London from an expatriate stint in Paris, the Boywonder was about to take the same step. I was excited and relieved as he was leaving a dreadful school to take his hotly-contested place at this large London day-school. I thought that would be the end of my worries for him. I can see many of the other mothers in Darling Daughter’s class as they beam with pride and jostle for position in the hierarchy feel the same way. As if their child’s 11+ milestone was the culmination of all their efforts until now, and that they can sit back and relax. I shake my head, for this is just the beginning of that fraught trudge towards adulthood. Little did I know how hard his teenage life would hit me.
We are currently plunged into end of term, end of school events: my 11th school sports day, my 7th swimming gala, preparation for my 9th Prizegiving. Wherever I go around the school, I can see vivid mental images of my small children toddling about: the Boywonder at three in his Kindergarten sports day, jumping up and down before the start of the race and pausing in the middle to wave at me in my T shirt on which I had appliqued his name in red sequins; Darling Daughter, as a serious three year old with Parisian-bobbed hair taking care of her little friend who was so painfully shy that she could not bring herself to speak to me for years; the Boywonder’s barnstorming solo trumpet performance at eight of Fly Me to the Moon, a grade 6 level piece with which his then trumpet teacher had refused to help him; both children sitting together alone on the school wall weeping on their last day before they moved to Paris; Darling Daughter’s anguish on her return from Paris as she realised that all her previous friends had redistributed themselves into new friendship groups. Of course, I could go on and on.
There have been triumphs and disappointments, inspirational teachers and bullying, power-crazed ones. Darling Daughter was crushed last year, only to be cherished back to her former self in this, her final, year.
What will become of her? Will her little light be lost among the other clever, outgoing, confident pupils at Secondary school or will she find it just the nurturing, stimulating environment she needs to blossom into the extraordinary adult we can already see waiting? Who knows?
It is now time to put aside the animosities, for the inevitable final goodbyes to so many friends. We shall make a determined effort to stay in close touch with the children who are currently her soul-mates. We are counting the days until she sees the back of one or two people with whom she has got along less well… I feel exhausted, emotional, full of hope and gathering apprehension. I just hope it will all turn out OK for her and that she will be happy, fulfilled and well-balanced in her life.