For the mums

off to schoolIf my memory serves me correctly (because there are often times it doesn’t) it was 19 years ago that I took my daughter’s five year old hand and walked her into her Grade 1 classroom to start her schooling.

The night before had been fairly riotous. In a bid to quell her excitement, I had invited close family friends over for a barbeque. They arrived at 4pm, bearing sausages, gin and zero expectations of etiquette. How could they? There was an excited five year old bouncing off walls and the side of the pool, showing off her brand new uniform to the younger offspring of my friends.

As responsible parents, we poured ourselves large measures of Bombay Sapphire, frightened it with some tonic, and set about dissecting the pros and cons of private schooling and whether head lice was really an issue.

Eventually we cooked the sausages.

After they departed, I was unable to settle young Jade. She wanted to stay up to practice her reading (which was no more than using her own words to describe what was happening in the pictures of the book) and practice her singing (she opted for Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl but sensibly changed the word brown to blue so it matched her eyes).

I think I was asleep before she was.

Jade 2Now, when morning arrived, something happened that had never happened before. Never. Let me explain. You see, my daughter can sleep for Australia. When her father and I first brought her home from hospital, we fed her and changed her, and popped her into her bassinet. It was 4.30pm. At 8.30pm, I anxiously started to do five-minute checks, worried she’d stopped breathing. But she slumbered.

At 10.30pm, I wanted to wake her but her father was militant and declared you never wake a sleeping child.

At 11.30pm, I opened the scotch bottle.

At 1.30am, I passed out, as you do when you haven’t had a drink for nine months.

At 6.30am, I woke up in my own bed, my sleeping husband on one side and the dregs of a scotch bottle on the other. I lay in bed for approximately one full minute, happy in the knowledge it was a Sunday and I could sleep in.

Until…

I remembered I had a baby. In my house. That hadn’t been fed or changed since 4.30pm the day before.

And I screamed.

I ran to her bassinet, sure in the knowledge that I would find her suffocating in her own nappy or perished from lack of food.

Not at all. She was still contentedly sleeping.

Jade 1She eventually woke at 8.00am, happy and chirpy. Had a feed, had a bath, had a cuddle, and went back to sleep. Just like babies are designed to do.

This, of course, charted a course for Jade, where she became the Queen of Sleep. When she was four months old, we had a dozen friends over for Christmas drinks. Apparently the neighbours found our music (which was only Abba for God’s sake) so loud they called the local police to hush us. I politely showed the nice constable my sleeping daughter, who was in the room next to the music and sensibly said “Officer, if she can sleep, I can’t understand now the neighbours feel the music is loud”. The nice constable didn’t have an answer.

A few years later, Christmas morning was a laugh. Whilst every child in Australia was terrifying their parents at 5am with squeals about Santa and presents, Jade slept on. In frustration, I went to her room at 9am and woke her.

“Darling, it’s Christmas morning, don’t you want to see what Santa brought you?” I begged, camera at the ready.

“Mmmm,” was her muffled reply. She lifted her head, nodded at the bulging sack at the foot of her bed, rolled over and slept for another half hour.

So when it came to her first day at school, I was fully prepared to drag her out of bed by her plaits and force-feed her Weet-bix.

Instead, she wanders into my bedroom at 5.30am, fully dressed apart from her shoe laces, holding her brush for me to plait her long hair. She’d already had an attempt at breakfast and had her backpack by the front door, ready to go.

That has never happened again.

We drove to her new school and when I took her into her classroom, I instinctively knew she was in good hands. Her capable teacher, Mrs Bird, had taught Grade 1 for a hundred years and there was nothing she couldn’t soothe with a smile and a hug.

I went back home and sat at my kitchen table with a cup of tea that I’m sure went cold. The day I had been waiting for, almost dreading really, was here. My girl was growing up and I wasn’t sure if I liked it. I was sure there was nothing I could do about it but that doesn’t mean I liked it.

Like all the other new mothers, I was at the school gate an hour before I was needed. My reward was this tiny blonde creature, long plaits flying, running through the quadrangle and into my waiting arms to tell me about the “bestest day ever Mummy”.

That night, I stroked her hair as she slept, and wondered if I’d still feel the same way when she was in high school.

Jade 3Of course, within a nanosecond, she was in high school, and I was traipsing up to All Hallows’ School to again drop her off, this time for Grade 8. The plaits were replaced by a messy bun and she slung her mobile phone into her pocket, but I was still the worried mother, carving myself up inside wondering if I’d made the right decisions and armed her with the right skills to handle high school.

And then, in another nanosecond, it’s five years later and I’m sitting in the All Hallows’ graduation ceremony and high school is done. They’re off to schoolies week and university, driving their cars and kissing their boyfriends.

And I sat there and wondered where the time had gone. I remember week after week of being a single working mum and that relentless cycle of washing, ironing, making lunches and driving to her to netball, ballet, music, choir and her father’s. Of making sure we had enough money for holidays and a laptop, and eventually private school fees. Of making sure I was a sort-of-cool mum but not an over-the-top-cool mum – nothing that would embarrass her. Of thanking my workmate for covering for me while I was at sports day or home with a sick child.

In a blink, it was over. No more lunches, no more ironing uniforms, and if she needed to go somewhere, she could drive herself.

I had all this free time and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.

So, to the mums out there who today started the school trek or continued it, I will tell you what a wise person told me many many years ago.

When it comes to parenting, the days are long but the years are short.

Make the little moments count.

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