I am still coming to terms with the fact that I no longer have control over when I see my child. This time last year I was allowed to see Betty during every waking hour if I wanted to. I loved the freedom of being able to act on a whim, and not having to get written permission if I wanted to take her swimming, or to London, on a Wednesday morning, for example.
What makes this transition even harder is that I mostly have absolutely no idea what my daughter does for the six and half hours that she is away from me each day. This is the polar opposite to how it was up until last September when I knew her every move, from when she went to the loo, to when she picked her nose.
I have obviously gleaned the basics of her school day. I know they have registration, assembly, playtime, lunch, and do a bit of reading and writing, but I don't know where she sits, who she talks to, what she talks about, and what she's actually like at school.
In all other areas Betty is a great talker; in fact her constant chatter can be intensely irritating at times. But she very rarely talks about school. Each afternoon, when I ask her what she did at school, or who she played with, she says "I can't remember - please can I eat my crisps without you talking to me".
Being a novice at this school malarkey, my imagination began to run wild, and I came up with all sorts of reasons why she wouldn't talk to me: was she unhappy, being picked on, scared, bored, finding the work too hard, had I been sidelined in favour of a bunch of five-year-olds, or was she indeed just too tired to speak?
The neurotic mother that I am, I naturally thought the worst, and convinced myself that she was being picked on. A few incidents lead me to this conclusion. Over the course of a couple of weeks she came home and casually told me that she had been tickled too hard, she had been told that she was smelly, and that her arms were too long. I was all for marching into the school and trying to sort the situation out, but my husband, ever the voice of reason, managed to stop me. He said he'd spoken to Betty and found out that she was actually pretty chuffed about having long arms.
I think these statements were magnified because she never normally mentions school. That is, apart from very occasionally offering little nuggets of information that she has learned, like "do you know Mummy, a heavy rock dropped on the dinosaurs and made them extinct but there's still one left".
Despite assurances at parents' evening from her teacher that all was fine (in fact the teacher practically laughed in my face at the idea of Betty being shy), I was still consumed with worry about whether or not she was happy at school.
To add to my worries, I even had fleeting thoughts about whether it might be Betty who was the one picking on other children; I swear I have seen her give some well-hard looks to some of the other kids.
Also, she has come home a few times with little blue tiles in her book bag, taken from the mosaic which is cemented to the playground wall, which made me wonder whether she's a silent criminal in the making.
So in an attempt to learn more about my school-girl daughter, I offered to help out in her classroom once a week, and like a mole I could see for myself what was going down.
However this backfired when Betty told me off for standing too close to her all the time, and then laughed at me with her classmates for not knowing how to say 'anemone'.
A couple of weeks ago Betty's friend came home for tea with her. During the short journey from school to home I swear I learnt more about what Betty gets up to, than I have during the last two terms.
As I drove, I listened with utter fascination to the two girls chatting away in the back. I found out about their game of horses and penguins, and how a year four girl asked them to join her secret club. I found out that they didn't like the school windows, and that they loved to make 'bark angels' (as opposed to snow angels).
And all the while the two girls giggled hysterically, sharing one private joke after another. It felt like a real honour to be allowed this little glimpse into her school life.
I have now learnt that asking Betty what she has been up to at school the moment she walks through the door doesn't get me anywhere. So instead, I tell her all about my day, and sometimes she offers up some information of her own just to shut me up.
And if I am craving something a little more meaningful than "I played" or "I didn't like the sandwiches you gave me", I invite one of her friends over for tea and drive really really slowly from school to home.
Do you have any cunning ways to get more out of your children at the end of the school day?Some have suggested playing good thing/bad thing about today (can be extended to silliest/funniest/saddest) on the way back from school or at the table later. Does that work for you?