White Ankle Socks and Rookie School Mums

There’s something about seeing them out there in the world without us: that little person that we held curled in our belly and heavy in our arms for so long. Something about watching them – before they’ve seen us – untethered from our own body, afloat in the big wide world. The first few times we return in time to catch them playing independently at a crèche or childcare, the sight seems miraculous, almost shocking: concrete proof of the idea that this child of ours can, and does in fact, continue to exist without us right beside them.

Last week my daughter took some bold steps out from under my wing and into that big wide world. She went ahead and – gulp – started school. It was a huge day, coming on the heels of a roller-coaster 24 hours (more on that later). However, as I work at the school part-time, I was granted the enviable opportunity to spy on observe her briefly a few times as she adapted to her new habitat. They were treasured glimpses that helped to set my mind and heart at ease.

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Honestly, the build-up to first-day-of-school was monumental, at times overwhelming. Despite having taught junior primary for over a decade, I still found myself completely bewildered by decisions about non-marking sports shoes and iron-on labels and contact versus removable book covers. In the lead-up I indulged in spurts of panicked online shopping on school stationery sites with cute names like Dinkleboo and Stuck on You – seeking solace among contented owls and jolly robots, swirly fonts and pastel shades. However, when none of the name stickers, fairy book covers, personalised library bags or iron-on labels had arrived by the start of school and I was forced to improvise with clear covers and laundry markers, I was left feeling like the biggest school rookie mum around.

Meanwhile, my daughter appeared to be holding up well. She was counting down the sleeps until first-day-of-school. She had breezed through her school transition visits, thought her new teacher was “beautiful and nice”, and was excited that her kindergarten bestie would be in her class. However, the thing about my girl is that she can be a bit of a sleeper weeper. By that I mean that she will often appear calm and excited about an upcoming event or milestone, while a whole layer of anxiety is actually bubbling just beneath the surface – ready to erupt without warning in the form of an emotional volcano. Sure enough, at quarter-to-five on the afternoon before school, it blew.

It all came down to the socks. Our family had been enjoying the Australia Day public holiday and we were about to crank up the BBQ for dinner, when I called my daughter to her room to try on her uniform one more time before school. Of course, we had tried on the dress, the hat and the shoes when we bought them in the weeks prior. The only element we hadn’t tried on was the white ankle socks purchased from the school’s uniform shop – but who tries on socks? (Only a fool wouldn’t think to try on the socks! shriek all the experienced school mums. But as I said, I’m a rookie school mum and it hadn’t even crossed my mind). She pulled them on and – boom – up she went.

The socks, you see, didn’t feel right. They had padded soles, and when shoes were added to the equation, the shoes felt too tight. The obvious solution was to find an alternative pair of thin white ankle socks in her cupboard that would feel more comfortable with the shoes. But do you think I could find a single pair of plain white ankle socks that didn’t have visible holes and/or a pink stripe across the middle? What had started as crying progressed to wailing. And what had started as a reasonable mother trying to reassure her daughter that she just had to wear-in her shoes a bit, progressed to a mother teetering precariously on the edge of hysteria. After all, I asked myself, what sort of foolish, rookie mother gets her child to try on her complete uniform when it’s too late to fix anything that’s not right? “I’ve ruined her first day of school!” I sobbed to my husband. Because I know my daughter better than anyone, and I know with absolute certainty that if her socks don’t feel right and if her shoes are too tight, that is going to be the thing that overshadows new books, and nice teacher and best friend and fun playground on her first day.

It was ten-to-five on a public holiday, the day before school started, that Superstar Daddy sprang into action. There was a “do or die” look in his eyes as he grabbed his Superstar Man-bag, keys to the family sedan and bolted to the door on a Mission. I asked him where he would possibly find white ankle socks or even a shop still open at this time, but he was not to be deterred. “I have to try!” was his brave response, he was gone.

Meanwhile, not willing to take my chances with anyone – even Superstar Daddy – managing to locate a sock-selling store in Adelaide just before five on the Australia Day holiday, I went in search of a back-up plan. I found it right at the bottom of my two-year-old’s sock drawer: a pair of plain white ankle socks in toddler size. I have to try! rang in my ears like a mantra, as I wiggled my daughter’s feet into the undersized socks and tugged on her school shoes. I could hardly breathe as I waited for her verdict. In a tiny voice my little girl peeped, “They feel good,” and promptly burst into tears.

A surge of relief and love washed over me as I gathered my daughter in my arms. My little girl, a week off five, about to embark on the biggest day of her life. I knew just how she felt – how anxious and excited and strange and completely overwhelmed. I also had a hunch that the time just before starting was going to be the hardest bit, and I tried my best to tell her this. Tomorrow, things would likely be okay – we just had to get through tonight. And it wasn’t over yet.

I rang Superstar Daddy immediately to tell him the good sock news, but he wasn’t answering his phone. I had expected him to return to start the BBQ after a dash to our local IGA around the corner. When there was no sign of him after half an hour, I started to grow irritated. I couldn’t imagine what was possibly taking him so long. As the time stretched to an hour, my irritation turned to anxiety and my calls became increasingly panicked. Okay, so perhaps my own emotions were a little heightened too, but by quarter-to-six I had reached the conclusion that he had had a terrible accident and was lying pinned inside our crumpled car somewhere. I was on the verge of contacting relatives when Superstar Daddy burst in the door, clasping a pack of slightly padded, mostly white ankle socks. Not perfect, but about on par with our toddler socks in the category of better-than-nothing.

So, against the odds, my daughter made it to first-day-of-school: correctly attired and tear-free. She was a picture of smiling serenity as I kissed her goodbye and weaved my way back through the gaggle of flapping, pecking parents. Personally, I was feeling a little raw and woebegone. I was exhausted before the school day had even begun. But I had a class to teach, so I took a deep breath and did my best to hold it together.

Late in the morning, between my classes, I saw her: out there in the big wide world – or at least the Reception playground. She was springing across a row of stepping-stones, light and carefree in her new school shoes and white (toddler-sized) ankle socks. It was impossible to feel bereft at the sight of her: untethered from me but not aimless, afloat in the world but not adrift. I smiled at the miracle of my daughter, brave and curious, exploring the world without me. And then, with a bursting heart, I kept on walking.

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Ten Sweet and Somewhat Strange Things About my Son at Two

I’ve never been much good at keeping up baby books – they always seemed a bit too prescriptive. But something I have started doing and want to keep up is writing a post for my children at each of their birthdays- whether it’s a letter, an anecdote or a list. It’s about marking the occasion; recording where they’re at and what they treasure at a particular point in time.

So, on the eve of Elijah’s 2nd birthday, here it is… a handful of both lovely and a-teeny-bit-wacky things I want to “bottle” about my little boy:

1. Occasionally, during bedtime cuddles he likes to place a hand on either side of my chin and attempt to pull my head off. I never quite know whether to laugh hysterically or be seriously disturbed.

2. He calls motorbikes, “Gwungaga!”. Said with much gusto and a German accent. I have no idea where this came from.

3. His favourite activity in the whole world is to scoop sand out of our chiminea or dirt from pot plants to fill his toy trucks and diggers (yep, we’re finally caving and getting him a sandpit for his birthday). Painting with the toilet brush comes a close second.

4. He adores and worships his big sister. Thinks she’s hilarious and brilliant. Seeks her approval when he makes something. Seeks her laughter when he says something funny. Loves to hop into bed and cuddle her. Semi-regularly clocks her over the head with a toy car.

5. He calls Lily “Ging Ging”. I kind of hope it’s a long time before he learns to say her name.

6. He calls butterflies, “cuttacuttacutta” (said quickly with corresponding pinching motion to represent flapping wings). And ditto.

7. In the right mood, he will surprise me by independently creating quite tall and elaborate structures out of Duplo. In the wrong mood he pretty much just shrieks and cries in constant frustration because he can’t fit a block where he wants it to go.

8. He loves Maisy books. He loves Where is the Green Sheep. He loves anything about diggers/ cars/ planes/ cranes/ trains. He loves The Australian Women’s Weekly Kid’s Party Cakes.

9. He learnt a new joke last night, and in the toddler-esque spirit of things getting funnier the more you say them, has used it extensively since. It starts with me asking him something, for example, “Do you want your spoon?”                                                Elijah: “No. No…se. Nose.” End joke. Cue hysterical laughter.

10. My boy has a smile that floors me. Every time. He may have just unpacked my wallet all over the picnic rug or tipped the dog’s water bowl over his shoes – but he beams that cheeky, milk-teeth grin at me and I’m putty. I realise that I may have to develop some kind of armour to get through his childhood, parental authority intact.

Happy 2nd Birthday, Elijah Hamilton. May you always be as delighted and excited by life as you are at two. I love you deeper than a digger digs and higher than a crane can reach.

Elijah: doing what he does the best - getting dirty!

Elijah: doing what he does the best – getting dirty!

The Big 4

It may not be as monumental as an 18th, but her 4th birthday still felt pretty big to me. Not long ago, I could account for what my little girl was doing every moment of the day (except, of course, for those occasional deeply silent moments when she was having clandestine adventures with whiteboard markers and quilt covers or patches of mud and her legs). Now she is away from me – either at childcare or kindy – three days a week. And she knows things that I never taught her.

 

One evening before Australia day, I caught her sitting on the toilet belting out, “Orstalya all let us rejoice, for we are young and free!” She was amazed when I joined in too, “I didn’t know you knew that song, Mummy!” Yep, I know it (at least to the half-baked level of most Australians), but I didn’t teach it to you, my girl. She can count to 30, she can count by twos, she wants to be a childcare teacher (“Or maybe a school teacher, so I can be at school with you, Mummy.” Aww.), none of which came from me.

 

It’s a good thing. It’s healthy that there are influences apart from our family. But it’s the teeniest bit disconcerting, when you feel the distance between yourself and your child widening for the first time. You recognise that this is the first step, that in another year it will be school and then there will be no stopping that bullet train to independence.

 

We delight in talking with her, and marvel at her funny, curious, sometimes surprising thoughts (“Jesus could have got down from the cross if he wanted to, couldn’t he? He could have got away from the bad men and climbed on the roof. He could have climbed on a ferris wheel, couldn’t he?”). We pray for God’s grace to cover her. But no longer can we protect her mind, guard her heart completely. She is learning so many wonderful things about the world, but it is inevitable that at some point she will be confronted by some not so great ideas too. And of course there is the fear of every parent: what if the other kids are mean to her?

 

We hold her close as long as we can and as often as we can: our big-little 4-year-old girl. She has lost her delicious baby-fat; the round belly has flattened and the squishy thighs have stretched into lanky legs. Her hair is darkening, but the tips remain the straw-yellow of babyhood.

 

She has had a few sleepovers at her cousins’ house, and loved them so much as to declare, “I wish I could stay for 60 days or even one week!” She loves holding her daddy’s hand and jumping waves at the beach, but becomes hysterical if her brother splashes water in her eyes in the bath.

 

She has a complex relationship with her imaginary twin/best friend Mia. Complex in that sometimes she is Lily and Mia is the invisible friend, and sometimes she is Mia and Lily is the friend. She likes to play childcare/kindy/school, and often refers to herself in the collective third person (“’Hoorah! We love pizza!’ say all of the kids”). ”). Playing it doesn’t always prevent tears at the drop-off, however, although she usually ends up having a good time.

 

She had her first camp-out in a tent in the backyard with her daddy this summer. We had a BBQ dinner and icecream cones in the backyard. Then after the baby was asleep, the three of us stayed up to watch a movie together, make glow-stick flowers and arrange sleeping bags in the tent. It felt special to watch a movie with our big girl at night, albeit the Winnie the Pooh Movie.

 

On the eve of her 4th birthday, I was tucking my little girl into bed and lamenting the fact that she was growing up so fast. “Don’t worry, Mummy,” she implored. “Maybe you can say a prayer to God. He made the whole world, so I’m sure he could make me be little for a bit longer!” It’s tempting, my sweet girl.