My daughter starts school next week. I’m not sure who is more nervous. It’s been many years since I had a First Day Of School – my eldest son is 13 – but I remember his (and my own) VIVIDLY. It was nerve-wracking, full of anxiety and tears. And that was me. Writer and Mamamia contributor, Kate Hunter is also doing the First Day thing (again) this year and has helpfully compiled this list for the benefit of anyone who wishes to read it.
In To Kill A Mockingbird, 6 year-old Scout Finch is escorted to her first day of school by her 12 year-old brother, Jem. Their mother had died years earlier and their father was busy that day. Scout suspected some money had changed hands in this arrangement, as she heard the, ‘unfamiliar jingle of coins in Jem’s pocket that day.’
I thought of Scout as I got the last few things my littlest needs for her first day. Imagine what would happen if I sent Sally along with her big sister, a molasses sandwich and said, ‘Be good. Don’t get a whipping on your first day.’
I’m tempted, but I won’t. I’m not worried about Sally – she’ll be fine. These days it’s the parents who have to toe the line more than the kids. I’m a veteran of first days. I know the ropes and I know the rules and I know that if you become tarred with the stigma of sending your kid along with the wrong kind of drink bottle, well, memories are long.
Sally will be the third (and last) of our kids to start school. She went there before she came home – we picked up our eldest on the way home from hospital. There’s nothing about the place she doesn’t know. At three, Sally could tell you where the library is, what day the Year 2s have swimming and that you can’t make a right hand turn into the roundabout at drop-off.
What I’d like to share now is my view of the practicalities of school life. What’s worth worrying about, and what – in my opinion, isn’t.
This occupies many parent’s thoughts and the almost the entire month of January. When our eldest started school, I ordered the Ultra Mega Deluxe Pack of custom labels, complete with rocket motif. There were special shoe labels, (supposedly) dishwasher and nuclear-war-proof lunchbox labels, sew-on fabric labels and skinny little sticky ones for pencils. Risking libel from label companies, can I say that no label sticks forever. I took a permanent marker to Sally’s stuff.
2. Book Covering.
This is an antiquated practice from the time when one Macquarie dictionary would be used by 6 siblings. In my opinion, there’s no need to cover an exercise book. If you (or the school) insists, be aware that with Con-Tact, you get what you pay for. The cheaper stuff and is like Glad Wrap coated with a film of glue.
3. Stationery supplies.
You may think sending 8 glue sticks with your kid on the first day is excessive. It is not. By August you will get a note along the lines of, ‘We have been so busy in Prep C, we have used all our glue sticks! Could mums, dads and carers please send in 6 more?’ You will wonder if the teacher has been sniffing them, but take it from me, it’s best not to ask.
4. Pick up and drop off.
The arrangements for the youngest students are very complicated. Surely it’s easier to spring an inmate from Pentridge Prison than it is to pick up a five year old from school in 2011. I have no advice here, it’s just an observation.
5. Lunch boxes.
If you ever watched Littlest House On The Prairie, you’ll know that Mary and Laura took their sangers to school in a bucket. The bucket was made of tin and had no compartment for an ice brick. I watched every minute of 9 seasons and never saw a fridge in the schoolhouse. Nor did I see either of the girls hooked up to a drip in Doc Baker’s office. Why did Mary and Laura not die of food poisoning? Come to think of it, why didn’t I? Mum was always bunging leftover bits of Saturday’s barbecued chicken into Monday’s sandwich. It spent the day in a steamy schoolbag, sometimes being eaten on the walk home. Buy the simplest lunchbox that will do the job and try not to worry.
In my experience, the gorgeous lunches you see in the magazine ‘Back To School’ specials are no match for a banana and a vegemite sandwich (note: not a banana AND Vegemite sandwich). But when my son started school, like many, I thought, ‘You know, he might enjoy a seasonal vegetable risotto in a little Tupperware tub, or a cottage cheese, turkey and raisin wrap, but oddly, he didn’t. I asked him, ‘Does Joel have mini chicken pasties? Does Sarah’s mummy make her cheesy zucchini muffins?’ He had no idea. His focus was on scoffing lunch as quickly as possible and getting out to play. I stopped worrying about it and he’s had a Vegemite sandwich every day for 5 years and DOCS hasn’t been around yet.
7. Recording The Big Day.
Even at the height of her fame, Princess Diana didn’t attract the same attention as the average child on her first day of school. Classrooms built for 25 kids become saunas as 50 adults jostle for the perfect camera angle. Often grandparents are there too, adding to the fun. Make friends with the other parents – maybe they got a picture of your kid? Lord knows no one gets a decent shot of their own.
What are your tips for sending kids off on their first day of school?