A salient lesson
Our three year old daughter will start primary school this September.
In some ways she seems too little to be going. Physically smaller than many of her classmates, younger by some months than the majority of children starting alongside her.
In others she's ready. More than ready.
Her determination to learn already shines through. Her desperation to compete with her older brother. Her persistence as, tongue firmly anchored to the corner of her mouth, she attempts desperately to find the coordination to form letters as the males in the family do. All of this tells me she has the grit, the resolve and the desire to start learning in a more structured environment.
Dutch and American family members are horrified at the thought of our sending our child to school at such a young age. "You're not giving her time to be a child," says her Dutch uncle. We explain that it's the British system. That we, here, send our children to school once they turn four and that, as she will be four just on the deadline, she has to start this coming year.
While she is intellectually ready. Ready for the challenge. Ready to be challenged. I'm not certain of our daughter's readiness in terms of her emotional maturity.
Her bravado. Her projection of confidence. Her security in the position of Queen Bee at her play school provides camouflage for her insecurities. Insecurities she hides really very well.
No more so than when she left me in the school entrance this week, leaving hand in hand with one of her teachers to go to the Reception Classroom. Not even looking back, my farewell wave ignored as she happily chatted away.
We'd talked about the afternoon. To prepare her. To manage her expectations. And to ensure that she realised that this visit to school was different.
You see, I'm the Chair of Governors at our children's school, so we visit often. Very often. On occasion by necessity some of those visits include taking our daughter with me too. She therefore has become used to walking around the school. She knows the layout. Can get a drink. Can use the toilets. Is a primary school veteran already.
She's also very familiar with some of the staff. Happily sitting on the office manager's knee. Joking with the receptionist. Chatting happily to the teachers.
My concern therefore was more to ensure she realised this was not going to be like the other visits. This visit was focussed on her. This visit was special. No playing with the office staff. No wandering off as she liked. She was here to conform. To begin to learn the ropes. To understand that her relationship with the school was changing. No longer the visiting sibling. A pupil in her own right.
The afternoon passed relatively calmly. I spent it with other parents happily chatting and drinking tea in the staff room, used for the occasion as a waiting room. I wasn't called to comfort any distress, soothe any upsets.
However, when we got home our daughter was quieter than usual. A little more reserved. A bit less ebullient.
I was back at school for a Governors' meeting, so left J to deal with bedtime.
When I returned home he described our daughter's distress at bed time. Her desire, unusually, not to be left alone. Probing as to the cause had elucidated the cause:
"At school. I didn't know if Daddy was coming back."
As usual, her bravado had hidden the fear. My horror was, I'm sure, plain. My preparation concentrating on managing expectations of environment and behaviour, I had forgotten THE most important message.
Over the years we have learnt on many occasions how tenuous our children's sense of permanence and security can be. Our constant reminders forgotten. Regular affirmation dismissed as the terror of rejection takes over.
No matter how much we stress their security, the enduring, unending love we feel for our adopted children we know so well their insecurities remain.
I should have remembered that this week. And I feel really very badly about it.
A salient lesson I'll not forget.