I forgot raincoats. I’d spent the day before dragging the kids from shop to shop in search of school shoes, uniforms, school bags and lunch boxes. It was hellish as shopping experiences go, with the minions moaning every step of the way as is customary when any form of shopping has to be done. But it was a case of needs must as it had been so long since their feet were last measured, I hadn’t a clue what size they even were anymore.
That’s not normal for me, but nothing has been normal about the last few months. When the supposed non-essential clothes and shoe shops closed during the early stages of lockdown, I did wonder if mine were the only pesky kids who kept on growing, with little regard for the pandemic.
One particular child seems to have grown the most. When we entered lockdown he was a little curly-haired Montessori-attender, my baby boy who bounced in every day happy to see his Montessori teachers and friends, but bounced out even happier to see his mum at collection time. Now he somehow is a curly-haired little boy who fits into a school uniform.
“Imagine,” I said to my eldest who was in second year in secondary school when her youngest brother was born, “you’ll be in second year in college when your baby brother starts school”. I never thought the day would ever really arrive though because it seemed so far into the distance, but then I made the fateful mistake of blinking and here we are.
This week, he starts school properly and for the first time in 19 years all of my children will be in formal education. “You should do something for yourself. You deserve it after all this time,” a mum I interviewed for an article recently suggested as we chatted about our family circumstances. I felt crazy explaining that having juggled the juggle for almost half my life, the idea of all my children finally being in either school or college unnerved me.
And yet I know how incredibly lucky I am that all my children have reached this milestone. Just a couple of days ago, the youngest celebrated a much anticipated birthday. Normally I’m very sentimental about birthdays, particularly those of my eldest and youngest. His was a complicated birth, the memory of which plagued me for a long time. I’m eternally grateful that his birthday is a day of celebration when it could have been so different.
I tried to make an appointment to see the optician yesterday. “How about September 10th?” the woman on the other end of the phone asked me. I was stumped for a minute, as I considered if it would even be possible. With staggered drop-offs and pick-ups, I’m not sure I’ll have time for anything come the return to school. In contrast to the freedom I once thought it would bring, I’ll instead be on permanent school runs, with time for little else except maybe for throwing on a daily load of uniforms for washing.
Gone are the breathless apologies of the last six months to those who called me with work-related issues as I ran up the stairs to escape my children so I could speak with minimal interruption, to be replaced no doubt instead with a breathless apology as I run to the school to collect yet another child.
It’s been a challenging few months for everyone, with asks greater than any of us could have imagined. The tools we normally used to protect our mental health unavailable for a time, and some only in limited form even now. As we head into a winter of uncertainty, the need to mind all has never been more important. One day at a time seems the only way forward after the summer like no other.
“We’re almost out of raincoats,” the shop assistant informed me as I scoured the rails during a late-night trip to the shops. We’ve only smaller ones left, what size do you need?” she continued.
“From 5-6 up, please,” I replied. “Ah no she said, we only have really small ones left, for babies and toddlers.” And it hit me again. I am no longer there. I own school-aged children now.
For all my experience, this is a first. My last first. There is comfort in the familiar, but this is not familiar. There will be no more very first days of school.
All is as should be, but it stings a little all the same.