With the children in school, Megan in nursery, and Harry engrossed in Cbeebies, I thought that I would grab a moment to catch up on some blogging. And yet sat here at the computer, trying to write a guest blog post, I can’t think of anything else at all but the look on Evas face when I left her at school this morning, when I prised her little hand from mine and handed her over to the teacher. I can still picture the way that her little face crumpled, tears pouring down her cheeks, her beautiful little mouth whispering, “Mama!” and the look in her eyes that begged me, “Please don’t leave me.” I still can’t swallow past the lump in my throat, the dull ache in my stomach, the feeling that, if this is what is right for my child, why does it feel so wrong?
And it’s difficult because, just a few months ago, Eva was a very different little girl, full of confidence and excitement, talkative and cheeky, having the time of her life at nursery. She used to skip down that path three times a week, Megan beside her, and allow me to leave without a second glance goodbye. And although Megan was there with her at nursery, I was assured that they both had their own groups of friends, rarely played together, or even bothered with eachother very much at all, and yet I think for Eva it was the comfort that, if she needed her, Megan was right there. And that’s always been the case with Eva, she very much leans on her little sister for her confidence, always one step behind, waiting on Megan to try something first, egging her on from a hesitant distance, ready to follow in her footsteps. But still, she was happy, secure and self assured, and in that way I felt she was more than ready for school.
On her first day at school she had leapt out of bed, excitedly pulled on her uniform and ran to school with us trailing behind trying to keep up. And yet as soon as we got into the playground and the overwhelming number of children hit her, the unfamiliar surroundings and the strange faces, I saw the way that her demeanour changed, the way that she instantly clung to my hand, her lip quivering, and told me, in no uncertain terms, “I want to go home!”. That first day was hard for her absolutely but, for me, seeing her so distressed, having to physically wrestle her arms from around my leg, and push her through the door, that was hard for me too.
Every night for the first six weeks we had hysterics at bedtime, pleading and begging with me to phone her teacher, “Tell her I hate school!” she sobbed, her arms around my neck, her tears pooling into my hair, “Tell her I won’t be coming ever again!” she pleaded. And I would hold her and soothe her and tell her all of the reasons why she had to go to school, how it was so much fun, how there is so much to learn, and eventually she would fall asleep, her eyes red and swollen, her little body emotionally drained. And every morning she would wake and cry when she saw her uniform laid out waiting, sob as I forced her little feet into her shoes, the black, shiny ones that she had been so excited for over the summer, and wailed as I dragged her down the street and into the playground, where she would start all over again, “But I don’t want to go to school!”.
When I ask her why she hates school her answer changes by the day. It ranges from it’s boring to I’m tired, to a whole host of reasons such as the boys are too silly, the teacher says the same thing over and over again, we always have to tidy up, I miss you, I want to go to nursery with Megan, I don’t like school dinners. And although the school and her teacher have been lovely and reassuring, and done everything possible to help her settle, their attempts, and mine, never seem to get us anywhere. And when I pick her up from school each day and they tell me, “She was absolutely fine!” I can’t help but wonder, fine for who? Because just because she isn’t crying all day doesn’t mean that she isn’t feeling sad, does it?
As half term approached I was literally counting down the
days hours, just limping along, completely drained, focusing on the fact that we had two weeks to look forward to, a lovely family holiday, and so much fun to be had. And on the first day of half term, when Eva woke and realised that she didn’t have to go to school, she was a different child again. She was the Eva I used to know, full of smiles and laughter, silly and carefree, a spring in her step and the sound of excited chatter over breakfast. And as lovely as that was, it was also heartbreaking to realise just how much school has changed her.
Yesterday when we went back to school, I waited with baited breath in the hope that we had turned a corner, but as she sobbed putting on her school shoes and clung to my hand on the walk there, hiccupping loudly beside me, tears streaming down her cheeks, I felt like crying too. As I handed her over to the teacher with an apologetic smile, waved her goodbye as she looked at me accusingly, I knew exactly what she was thinking, Why are you leaving me? And so when I came home to find that she had left me a picture, ‘Mummy and Eva’, holding hands, big smiles on our faces, it just about broke my heart.
Because I think that is just about the crux of it, that, regardless of the many, many excuses she comes up with each day, it’s all about wanting to stay at home with me. And in that way I blame myself.
Eva never went to nursery until she was three, and even then for just five short hours each week. In her pre-school year she did fifteen hours yet, with me being at home and no need for extra child care, the rest of the time she was with me, Megan and Harry. And where as Megan and Harry often gravitate towards their Daddy, Eva is very much her Mummy’s girl. And maybe we had too much fun together, perhaps that’s half of the problem? We undoubtedly had an amazing four years together, going from play groups to parks, days out, days in, baking and dress up, games and crafts, each day filled with a new adventure, with cuddles and kisses and so much love.
Or perhaps the problem lies with the fact that Eva depends so much on her sister, something which I also question myself on. Perhaps I should have encouraged her to be her own person more, separated them where possible, instilled more confidence in them as individuals rather than as “Eva and Meggy”. Perhaps I shouldn’t have dressed them the same, my little twins-not-twins, styled their hair differently, made them far more aware of those fifteen months that separated them. Perhaps I should have realised that Eva would struggle without Megan, that although she was the eldest of the two, she needed Megan far more than Megan needed her. Perhaps I should have done everything differently, or perhaps nothing at all, and although the rational part of me knows that I did everything I could, it’s so hard to see my daughter struggle and feel completely helpless how to make her happy.
A lovely friend said something the other day, when I told her how Eva was struggling with school, she said, “Think of it as a positive that you made her time at home so special that she doesn’t want to go to school. Think of it as a wonderful thing that she loves you so much that she would rather be with you than anyone else. In that way, you should be proud of yourself.”
And maybe she is right, along with all of the advice I have kindly received over the last few weeks. I know that she will settle eventually, I know that it won’t last forever, but right now, today, it’s hard to see her so very sad, to see her personality change and wonder where did my happy little girl go?
And yet sat here now, eating my second bar of chocolate, knowing that in five short hours I will pick her up and she will greet me with a smile, I have to remember that this too shall pass.
Did your child struggle with settling in at school? Any advice would be greately appreciated!