As school ends we find ourselves in No Man’s Land...
The long summer break from school signals so many things.
It heralds a more relaxed approach, when alarm clocks can be turned off, when breakfast is eaten at a leisurely pace, when there’s plenty of time to locate missing shoes and jackets before leaving the house, without anyone (me) breaking into a panic-sweat about beating the morning bell. It’s also the chance to ditch the nightly ritual of wondering what filling to use in tomorrow’s sandwiches so they are eaten, rather than stuffed inside an empty crisp packet.
It’s leaving school uniforms buried under a pile of T-shirts, shorts and flowery dresses until September when you have to dig it all out to check if any of it still fits. (It won’t, by the way, it’s an absolute given that children grow at least two centimetres during the six weeks they are off school).
It’s a time when GCSEs and A-levels are now a fading memory (and results day in August seems like it’s months away – it’s not - but whatever that piece of paper says, life usually works out just fine). It’s a time for chasing after the ice cream van waving a shiny pound coin as it drives away and planning a trip to the lido at Woodhall Spa (or try Billinghay’s outdoor pool to beat the crowds). There’ll be water fights in the garden and rainy days spent indoors watching the TV. Trips to the beach and picnics at the park with at least one wasp encounter to be had at some point in the proceedings. Between the fun stuff, there’ll be boring life admin - the trips to the supermarket with the kids trailing behind saying they’re bored; housework, which really should be put on the backburner until September 5, because trying to keep a tidy house in the school holidays is like shovelling snow in a blizzard – impossible.
Then, as the end of the holidays draws near, thoughts turn once more to the start of a new school year. If your child was a new starter last September, the reception year is now under your belt. All of those wobbles about leaving them for the first time will be in the past. The new academic year will bring continuity – a familiarity that should by now be established. Then, there are the Year 6 pupils, who have earned the right to a spot of big kid swagger. At the top of the school, they are usually pretty confident because they’ve got this going to school malarkey licked. As a parent, you probably feel the same way, too.
But for me, this particular school holiday marks the end of an era.
From being a shy pre-schooler to the confident Year 6 pupil she now is, this summer holiday brings with it the end of everything we have become familiar with.
From getting to know most of the teachers, to the layout of the classrooms, to knowing which mums make the best cakes for the annual bake-off (and making sure we bag a slice), to the receptionists who never judge when I drop off a Greggs carrier bag holding a tuna sandwich for my child’s lunch because the bread has gone stale overnight, my daughter’s time as a primary school pupil is coming to an end and I can’t help but feel nostalgic about it.
It’s not just my daughter that will be moving on at the end of the summer holidays, I will be too. I will have a child at secondary school.
My daughter is ready for the transition. I’m not. I don’t mind admitting I am slightly wistful and a tiny bit apprehensive about the change (I don’t deal with change very well).
But it’s not just the practicalities of the change – that she will have to be up an hour earlier to catch a bus by herself, that she will be a couple of miles away from home, instead of a seven-minute walk, that she will be rubbing shoulders with sixteen-year-olds, it’s not just those things that are giving me butterflies if I think about it for too long. It’s more than that. It’s realising she is growing up, becoming an independent person. Secondary school marks a new chapter in her education but equally takes her on a journey towards adulthood.
And there’s the rub. In my head, she’s still my little girl. I can remember her first nativity play and how cute (and terrified) she seemed as she stood on the stage, wearing a tinsel halo. I can remember how in Year 1, a lovely teaching assistant had to take her hand and lead her into class on most days, otherwise, she would have hung off my leg like a human koala bear. Then, how in Year 2, she decided she was ‘over’ missing me and would walk into the class by herself.
I have attended every sports day and kept every headteacher’s gold award sticker.
I have a video stored on my phone of my daughter winning an ‘Oscar’ for a short film she made and thousands of loom bands stored in a box marked ‘school fair’ from when we ran a loom band stall at the summer fete.
I can recall the surge of pride I felt when she told me she won a class poetry competition and I still wince ever so slightly at the embarrassment of her winning a cake decorating contest after she submitted a Victoria sponge I bought from Sainsbury’s. (To be fair, it was a DECORATING contest, not a baking contest and she did all the icing herself… plus, I came clean to the judges).
There are eight years of mostly happy memories bookended between each summer holiday and the beginning of the new school term, memories that have been preserved like pressed flowers between the pages of an encyclopedia.
And now, we are in limbo, as we spend this last summer holiday in a no-man’s-land between primary school and secondary school.
I’m sure it will be an exciting ride, bringing fresh challenges, excitement, apprehension and a uniform bill that will set me back a month’s salary.
I’d better get another encyclopaedia ready to press some new memories.
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