It’s the little things.
In theory, you’re completely down with the fact your small person is starting school this week.
To be honest, these summer holidays have been so unrelentingly long that you would consider leaving your kids with wolves between 9am-3pm if it gave you five minutes to write a work email or finish a cup of coffee.
You know she’s ready. You know he’s excited. You’ve been to the open days, you’ve checked out the route in the morning. The school shoes are paid for and polished. They’ve been worn around the house a few times. Lunch boxes have been practice-opened, labels are on all of the things.
Maybe, like me, you already have a kid or two at the school, so you're pretty certain that the place knows what it's doing. That the teachers don't have scales under their clothes. That they've guided tiny, confused people through the whole 'sitting still for more than 15 minutes at a time' thing a few times before.
You know all that.
And yet. It's the little things.
You watch him try to look brave when someone tells him, 'You're going to make so many friends!' Because you know he's shy underneath the relentless noise and motion, and he's privately terrified he won't.
LISTEN: If your child always has headphones in, this is something you need to hear. Post continues after audio.
It occurs to you that she's going to have to take care of her own things. Take off her hat and bag and hang them up on a little hook with her name on it. For some inexplicable reason, this makes you catch your breath in your throat.
You're wondering whether he'll feel self conscious about the weird/healthy/unhealthy/exotic/boring food you've packed him for lunch. The peculiar intimacy of the very particular things you know he will eat.
Will anyone sit with him while he struggles to open that new lunchbox, or will he be alone? If he's wrestling with that stiff catch, will someone help him?
You think about her needing to go to the toilet. And being too self conscious to ask. You know she often leaves it to the last minute. The idea of her having an 'accident' in front of a room full of strangers makes you want to keep her home with the blinds closed until she's 15.
You have a little moment about the possibility of a 'mean' teacher, who doesn't get his sense of humour. You're a tiny bit petrified that all the other kindy kids will be able to read already. You can't deal with how tiny she looks compared to that bloody great backpack. You're silently praying that your kid won't be the one who bites/hits/pushes first. That you're not that mum from Big Little Lies. Please, no.
Okay, it's not like you'll be sitting at home sobbing and struggling to fill the empty hours because your precious flower has never been away from you before. That 'first day' narrative hasn't been updated since the 1950s. The vast majority of Australian children go to some sort of preschool these days. Yours, like many more, has been in childcare for a few days a week at least since she was a toddler. It's not like this is the first time you've waved her off into the care of professionals. No.
But still. It's such a Big Thing, school. It's the beginning of his first true steps to independence. Of outside influence - from friends, from teachers, from lessons themselves - looming as large in her life as you do. Those first steps on that first day feel like they could be the steps that lead them to whatever they're going to become. And that's something wonderful, but it's also terrifying because what if it's not? What if those steps are to disappointment and anxiety and bullying and cigarettes behind the bike sheds (does that even happen any more? You must Google it) and phones and social media and clandestine pashes and worse, much worse... STOP.
Your little person is starting school and it's going to be fine. I've been there and I'm there again, and it's definitely the little things that get me, just as they get you. And when I let the little things spiral off into the big things, I also feel like staying home on Thursday and just quitting my job.
But I won't. And nor will you. You're worried about the other parents, but they will turn out to be like all other people everywhere - you'll really like some of them, others you can take or leave. If you're really lucky, your kids' friendships will be with the offspring of the first group, not the second, but if they are, you will deal with it. You're an adult, after all.
Your insecurities about the school gate - you're never there enough or you're there too much, you don't know anyone or else you're trying to know everyone, you can't keep all the kids' names straight with all the parents' - are exactly the same as everyone else's.
You're worried about volunteering. Do you have to? Can you do it too much? What if you don't do it at all? It's okay. It takes all sorts. I am a terrible non-volunteer. Some of my great friends are in the canteen every week, doling out sugar-free icy poles. Everyone's dealing with it.
And no, there's no way of knowing, right now, if your little person will fly or fall through their school days, in the long run. And since there is no way of knowing that, it's best for us to all hold hands and focus on day one.
After all, it's the little things. Like that bloody hook with their name on, and that stubborn lunchbox catch.
If we can guide them through those without falling to bits, we've totally got this.
And yes, you've totally got something in your eye. Me too.
How are you feeling about your kid starting school? Any words of wisdom for newbies?
LISTEN: The Carnivore’s Guide to Raising a Vegan: This week on our podcast about family life, we find out what to do when your teen is the only vego at the dinner table. Plus, could headphones be sending your kids deaf?