parent opinion

'I'm about to become a kindergarten empty nester and I feel... ripped off.'

Like thousands of other kids across Australia, my youngest son Leo starts his first year of primary school on Monday. 

I will be highly emotional as I dress him in his crisp school uniform and take cute photos at the front door of little Leo dwarfed by his enormous school backpack and brimmed hat. 

We will walk to school together with his big brother Toby who has just started in Year 6, and I will feel proud and a little nervous for him as I wave him off into his new classroom. Then I will go home alone, have a little cry, and relish the peace.

Watch: Kindergarten kids describe how they feel about their first day of school. Post continues below.


Video via HooplaHa.

But aside from the sweet sadness that inevitably comes with becoming a 'kindergarten empty-nester', there are other big feelings I am grappling with this time around. 

There is a sense of relief that at age 43 and after a long journey with fertility issues, I finally have both my boys at school. It’s hardly the finishing line of parenting, but there is something significant about this milestone and how it enables me to give more energy to the next stage of my working life. 

But there is also another emotion bubbling under the surface, a feeling that has tainted so much of our collective experiences these last two years: I feel ripped off. 

Ripped off that COVID has consumed such a normal and wonderful stage of Leo’s life. Ripped off that our last two precious years of 'mummy and Leo' time in between his daycare days, were laced with worry, uncertainty and isolation from family.

Ripped off that his grandparents and his UK family did not get to play a part in his cherished pre-school years. 

And now I feel ripped off that the never-ending impact of the pandemic has also hijacked the joy of starting school.

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In 2016, when my eldest son Toby started school, it was after a carefree summer of family time in what seems like a whole other universe.

In the months leading up to his first day, I remember the new kindergarten parents being invited to an introductory talk at the school’s library. We entered a room full of smiling faces and as the teachers talked us through the curriculum and the way school life operated; we breathed in the smell of picture books, took in the artworks on the wall, and felt a sense of excitement for our son’s future. 

Listen to Mamamia's podcast This Glorious Mess: Little Kids. On this episode, we discuss the transition from pre-school to big school. Post continues below. 


On Toby's orientation days, we met teaching staff and took tours through the colourful kindergarten classrooms. Parents swapped emails and enjoyed tea and cake before waving our kids off to learn and have fun. One organised mum set up a playdate at a nearby park for mid-January and families came together and watched the kids make new friends. 

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For that whole first term in 2016, a few of us parents stood and chatted in the playground, forming friendships amongst ourselves. We helped each other out if a parent was running late from work for school pick up, made weekend plans for the kids, and eventually began meeting up for drinks and dinner at the pub without the kids.

I look back now at those easy, breezy times of being present within the school community, making connections and establishing routines, and I feel somewhat bereft. 

Some of these families have become an important part of our lives and the school, in the centre of our community, was a place we always felt welcome.

But they were simpler pre-pandemic times and oh boy, don't we know it?

While our school is still wonderful and the teachers still work their magic, the building, still at the heart of our suburb, is now a place we cannot easily enter.

Teachers remain contactable via email, phone, and on laptop screens, but for new parents, this is not the experience it once was.

In the lead up to Leo's first day, there was no library talk or group playdates. At his orientation (which we were very fortunate to have at all), I awkwardly waved at a few other parents behind masks as we socially distanced ourselves before dropping the kids off in the playground and getting on with our day. 

On Monday morning, we won't be standing around chatting, or exploring classrooms. Instead, there will be the nervousness of administering and then awaiting RAT test results followed by a swift outdoor drop off at a designated time slot.

Yes, I will walk my boys to school together but once inside the gates they cannot play together, or with any friends outside of their own year group, and Leo will not have a Year 6 buddy to show him the ropes like Toby did. 

Toby and Leo. Image: Supplied.

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All the safety measures and rules around mask wearing and year group's mixing are there for good reason: we want our kids to go to school and we want our teachers to stay healthy and well. 

But all the things we used to take for granted like social catch ups in the library and seeing our kids' classroom were luxuries that we didn't realise were luxuries - until they were gone.

And so, I feel ripped off. 

For Leo, for myself, and for all the parents, kids, teachers and schools that have missed out and continue to miss out on so many joyful and simply normal experiences, thanks to COVID. 

But as we often say in 2022, 'it is what it is'. So when Monday arrives and (fingers crossed) our RAT tests are negative, I will still feel some of the same emotions I felt back in 2016 as we all walk to school. 

There will be excitement, sadness and relief amongst the frustration and I will try to smile at the other parents and teachers from behind my mask. Leo will still have a wonderful day, unaware of all he has missed and continues to miss out on.

And I'll continue to keep on keeping on; steering my kids through this strange era while maintaining my parenting communities online, hopeful of a time when we can do normal things and properly connect in real life.

It doesn't seem like too much to hope for.

Is your child starting primary school in 2022? How does that make you feel? 

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Feature Image: Supplied.

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