I didn’t think I would be emotional on my daughter’s first day of school.
After all, she was always so confident. She was the type of baby I’d happily volunteer to be held by the person teaching paediatric first aid when they needed someone to demonstrate on. Rather than cry and cling to me, she would giggle, laugh and play with the teacher’s glasses.
At playgroup, she’d crawl into the centre of the room towards the toys without looking back. And, when she started at nursery, she loved it so much she’d sometimes ask at weekends if she could “please go back again today”.
She’s sociable, too - she invited the decorator, who was painting our house at the time, to her 4th birthday party and still regularly stops people when we pass along the street to ask what they’re doing in their gardens. When we had to have our front wall fixed, she eschewed CBeebies in the mornings in favour of sitting on the doorstep with a bowl of Cheerios “to talk to Chris the builder”.
For all these reasons, I didn’t think I’d be emotional when she started school. I wasn’t worried about her not making friends, or not liking her teacher, or being shy.
But I was wrong.
There is something so momentous, so resonant about watching your child take their first step on a ladder that’s so familiar to all of us. Most of us, even now, can probably name our first (or favourite) primary school teacher, or our four-year-old ‘best friends’.
Many of us will remember the small details from our own childhoods with startling clarity, too: in my case, the scratchy feeling of my awful brown synthetic school uniform against my knees, and the white chalk lines on the grass of the school field on sports day.
I remember the way the boys used to catch daddy-long-legs and throw them at the girls, and the feeling of panic when one got trapped beneath our skirts. I remember ‘wet play’ and crawling through the corridors playing ‘tigers’ with my friend Gemma – who is still one of my very best friends, 30 years later.
And I remember the confusing feelings, too: of having my first crush, when I was nine, and the shame of being told off for doing something wrong by a teacher I admired. I remember making friendships I thought would last forever, and the exquisite pain of losing them.
All these feelings and memories came flooding back the moment I found myself walking hand-in-hand with my daughter in her brand-new uniform, towards the red-painted gate that marked the start of the rest of her life. A life which will see her grow, and learn, and develop her own opinions. A life which will inevitably mean she won’t need me quite as much any more.
I did it with my daughter, and next year I’ll be facing the same emotions when I walk my son in on his first day, too.
And I know exactly what I’ll need when that happens: sunglasses – to hide those teary eyes. And lots and lots of tissues.