A September morning and a too-big school dress, a neat little ponytail, knee-high socks and shiny black shoes walking little legs through the school gates for the first time, her tiny hand held tight in mine. The first morning of school, and both of us brand new.
It’s been a year of so many firsts and we’ve navigated them all with a little help from each other and our friends. The first meet and greet with the teachers, now beloved friends and trusted partners; the first choosing of a locker (did I elbow another parent out of the way as I bagged her my lucky number? I hope not!); the first school lunches packed and morning routine perfected (it took a while); first swimming lessons, library books, Christmas concert, field trip and sports day. For her, the first year of no longer being a baby; for me, the first year of watching her grow up.
And now at the end of it, as the last day of the first school year approaches and the summer holidays loom long and lazy ahead of us, I’m realising – too late as with all things motherhood – that these firsts will never come again. Never again will she be brand new at school, and never again will I be the rookie mum.
I compare her school picture on the first day to one from today, and the changes in my little girl are plain to see. The school dress is no longer too big. Her socks aren’t knee length as she now rolls them down, “Because it’s cool Mummy.” (I don’t know if she means “cool” literally or metaphorically but I fervently hope it’s the former). Her shoes stopped being shiny a long time ago, no matter how much I ply them with polish, and she doesn’t need to hold my hand as we walk into school any more (although, thank goodness, she occasionally still wants to).
The changes in me are less obvious, but no less dramatic. I walked in on the first day a rookie, with all the school firsts ahead of me. I’ll walk out for the summer next week with them behind me.
In some ways this will be a relief. Oh how I wrestled with my habitual tendency towards disorganisation to ensure she never arrived late. How awkward I was at the school gates in those early weeks when I felt I was the only person who didn’t know anybody. How shy I was at that first PTA meeting and how I worried when I forgot a water bottle or a library book. I longed to be able to negotiate the landscape of the school routine with ease and confidence as I saw the mums around me doing.
I suspect that next year, I will. The uncertainty will be gone. The ladies I was shy of at the school gate are now my dear friends and confidantes. Our morning routine runs – at last! – like a relatively well-oiled machine. I’m not a rookie any more.
I’m so grateful for all the richness that our firstborn’s first year of school has brought into our lives. As a child I loved school, and it’s been a pleasure beyond my imaginings to watch her doing the same. I’ve loved watching her form friendships she’ll now always remember and learn new things taught to her by someone other than us. I don’t recall a greater thrill than the day she came home and told me all the names of the continents or the one when she described the life cycle of a butterfly.
As for me, I’m lucky that I’ll get to experience it all again with my littlest one in a few years, and I know I’ll revel in each moment as much as I did this time because it will be different. But never again will it be the first. My rookie days are over and it’s yet another reminder that – though the days can be long – the years are flying by at agonising speed.
There’s so much wonderful stuff to come – I long for the day I get to help her with her Shakespeare homework, but I know that that day too will come and go in the blink of an eye.
So this week I’m going to take extra special note of the last of the firsts. The first last day of school, the first weepy farewell to a wonderful teacher, the first last chat at the school gate, and the first first day of summer. The last firsts in a year of last firsts I somehow forgot to notice.
After the summer we’ll come back to do it all again – a little taller, a little wiser. But I’m definitely going to miss those firsts.
Happy holidays, baby girl. I’m so proud of you.