There are 200 children that attend Big and Medium’s primary school. The majority go in smiling and excited about their day ahead. Big absolutely loves school. She skips in, and comes home full of news about her day. She strongly believes that her teacher is a real-life princess. So does Lovely Husband.
Medium, on the other hand, hates it. As soon as she wakes up, she’s surly. She doesn’t want to eat breakfast or get dressed. Eventually, she’ll come round enough for us to feed her and get her ready for school. She’s subdued on the journey there, but usually bounds into the playground happily to play with Big and her friends.
But then the bell rings to start the school day, and to start Medium’s tears. Her response is almost Pavlovian. “Ooh, bell – I must cry.” The Reception children face a long walk from the playground to their classroom. It’s even longer when you’re grasping your sobbing child’s wrist and half pulling them up the path, before untangling them from your leg and bowling them into their incredibly kind and patient teaching assistant.
I have tried staying with her, but it makes her worse. I have tried putting notes in her pockets and giving her something of mine to ‘look after’. I point out a particular cloud or some other landmark each morning and tell her that every time she looks at it, Mummy is looking too and that I’m never far away. I tell her what she’ll have for tea so she can look forward to it. I tell her the exact time I’ll be picking her up. I excitedly wonder if the dinosaurs will be out for her to play with, and if her friends will have bunchies or plaits today. Nothing works. She’s developed a vocal tic that disappeared over half term, but returned as soon as her uniform was laid out.
I’m left wrung out before the school run is over, and constantly questioning myself. Medium is only four. She doesn’t legally have to be at school, and I wonder if I’m damaging her somehow by making her go. I’ve considered deferring, but she’d lose her Reception year and the jump to Year One is big enough without that hurdle to cross too. The speed at which they rattle through the early phonics – something she doesn’t find easy anyway – in Reception rules out the possibility of her losing that year. Put simply, she has to go.
This week, she starts part-time hours and breakfast club twice a week to see if that eases the anxiety she feels at leaving me. She’ll miss assembly for a while, and school are trying to work out coping strategies for her at lunch times. They’re supportive, and we’re meeting regularly to come up with new ideas to make this easier for her.
But nothing makes it easier for me. My guilt at leaving her so unhappy lasts all day. It’s exhausting. Medium is my sunshine child; the child that smiles all day and throws out so much love. I just wish she’d come out from behind this cloud.