Are They Starting School, or Are We?

 

By Suvi Mahonen

It was Wednesday evening and the orange haze of the setting sun was slipping from the sky as I found myself dashing down a concrete path lined with azaleas.

Typically, I was late, and as I entered the imposing auditorium and squeezed my way past rows of trousered and stocking-clad knees to a vacant seat, the head of junior school frowned at me from behind the podium.

“Sorry,” I mouthed, feeling like I was the one going back to elementary school.

I sunk down into my spot on the wooden bench, surreptitiously brushed popcorn crumbs off the front of my dress and folded my hands on my lap, determined to pay attention to my 3-year-old daughter’s prekindergarten information session.

“The after-school extra-curricular activities are structured to provide optimum physical, mental and social growth opportunities for your children,” the head of junior school told us, before going on to tell us about the French, gymnastics, music, swimming and other classes the kids were expected to start in their very first year.  

The man seated beside me in gray pants, white shirt, and blue and white striped tie was holding a small notebook. He clicked his pen, turned to a fresh page, and …

He’s taking notes! I realized.

Bewildered, I scanned the room. Most of the parents were either taking notes or consulting what looked like a tome of Biblical proportions but which, on closer inspection, was actually the school’s prekindergarten handbook. A handbook? For prekindergarten? They weren’t even 4 years old!  

I began to panic as I rummaged through my handbag. Tissues, phone, Shopkin, half empty box of raisins. But no pen, much less anything to write on.

Desperate, I went to turn my phone on the video function so I could at least record what was being said at this vitally important meeting, only to drop it in horror when it started ringing.

By the time I had switched it off, the head of junior school was looking at me sternly over her narrow rectangular glasses.

“For those who have turned up late I would like to remind everyone again to please switch their mobiles to silent.”

Great.

My daughter had not even stepped through the school gates and I’d already ruined her chances of success. Fourteen years of her not being allowed to run for class president or captain the hockey team let alone being allowed to attend the baccalaureate.

As I listened to the head of junior school talk about codes of conduct, late pick-up fines, nude-food lunches (what?) and the importance of developing positive attitudes toward lifelong learning, I wondered what it was about parenthood that made me such a failure.  

I thought back over the past week. Thursday: running hideously late (I just needed to type that one last sentence) and arriving to see my daughter standing at the front door of the early learning center, holding the hand of an extremely peeved child care worker. Friday: letting a string of four-letter words erupt from my lips while waiting in backed-up traffic, then turning around to see my daughter’s bright blue eyes watching me. Monday: getting out carrots, zucchini, chickpeas and a bag of brown rice for dinner then putting it all away again – untouched – and popping Sunday’s leftover macaroni and cheese in the microwave. Tuesday: when my daughter wanted me to read Elsa’s Gift to her (for about the 317th time), but I put on the “Frozen” DVD instead.

In a few short weeks, my daughter would be starting school. It would be one of the most important, transformative periods of her life. But perhaps there was someone else who needed a refresher course.

Could I honestly say that I was doing my best, every day? Could I honestly say that when my daughter looked at me, I was showing her what it meant to work hard, to respect the rules, to participate in the community and exhibit a positive attitude toward learning?

Or was there, like I suspected, vast room for improvement?

At the end of the one-hour meeting, the man beside me caught my eye. He grinned as he slipped his pen back into his shirt pocket.

“It’s all a bit nerve-racking, isn’t it?” he said.

If only he knew.

Suvi Mahonen is a Surfers Paradise, Australia-based writer. Her work has appeared in many publications internationally, including in The Best Australian Stories, The Australian and The Huffington Post. She runs an eco-friendly art shop offering a great range of gifts, clothes, homewares and stationery online at www.redbubble.com/people/suvimahonen.