It happens every night, now. I gasp awake in the darkness of my bedroom, clutching at my rabbit-pounding heart, and realise it’s 3:33am. Always, 3:33am. I’ve seen horror movies; I know what this means. I am being haunted. But what’s haunting me isn’t a demon doll, or the ghost of a witch in the walls.
It’s a local primary school.
Specifically, the school my older son is starting in a few weeks. The inexorable approach of his first day of term is like a slowly dripping tap on my nerves, and it’s keeping me up at night. I lie there, clutching my duvet to my bosom, as a parade of collegiate anxieties caper across my eyelids, preventing sleep.
Initially, my thoughts are rational, pertaining to rules and regulations listed in the Bible-thick stack of guidelines my husband and I struggled to carry home, following our first ‘getting to know you’ event.
Where do you even buy black plimsolls these days? How many gym kits does my son need? Should he have a fresh uniform every day? Given his propensity for using his own sleeve for cleaning up messes, should I pack spares? How come there are 50 compulsory taster sessions before term even gets going, why are they all in the middle of the bloody day, and what am I meant to do about work in the meantime?
Settling into my night of no sleep, I start to worry how my son will cope. What if he’s lonely? Who will comfort him when he cries, or when he just wants his mum? Who will administer the parental kiss essential to healing any cuts and scrapes? What if there’s a mean, pushy older boy? There’s always a mean, pushy older boy. Oh god, what if my son is the meaner, pushy older boy?
As the drunks roll home in the alleyway outside my house (“But I love you, Anne-Marie, I never meant to get off with your sister!”), my thoughts turn to how I will cope. What happens if he asks me a homework question and I don’t know the answer? Will my son get detention? Will I get detention? Will my son think I’m stupid?”
“Also,” my brain pipe ups, helpfully, “What is the PTA? Is that a real thing, or is it something the film Bad Moms made up? Will I be expected to join it, and bake brownies out of alfalfa and carob and sadness because no one’s allowed wheat or soy or nuts or sugar?”
[Read More: Why everything you think about PTA members is wrong]
I’ll be doing the school run in the morning, I worry, before any showering can take place, while I still look as though I should live under a bridge and spend my days challenging goats to impossible riddles. How will I navigate the bitchy-schoolgate-mum situation (if it even exists)? Should I ignore them? Pretend to be foreign? Challenge them to an impossible riddle?
The first streaks of pink appear over the horizon, and outside my window the birds begin the sleepy chirruping of the dawn chorus. As I grow wearier, my thoughts become muzzy, and muddled, and emotional.
“OH GOD, BLACK SHOES!” I cry, internally. School means goodbye lovely cute printed trainers and hello ugly black contraptions that look like the cars they drove on the Eastern Bloc in Soviet times. What about the beautiful blond curls that spring all over his head? Will they make me cut them all off and replace them with a buzz cut? What if he learns racism at school? What if he picks up phrases like “na mate” or “yeet”? What are the legal repercussions of kicking him out of the house if he calls me ”thicc”?
The sun rises and I drift into a light, uncomfortable slumber, occasionally muttering words like “my baby” and “give him back” and “maybe we should look into home-schooling”.
I’m worried, ultimately, that school will turn my son into someone else. That he’ll learn there are no snakes called “Alancondas”; that the dinosaurs are all dead; the existential horrors of loving pigs and loving sausages, and understanding how those two truths interact. I know this is irrational, but it’s such a big change, the anxiety is running rife in my mind.
Somehow, as the clock rolls over to 5am, I realise that I’m already grieving the loss of the sweet, idiosyncratic boy he’s grown into at home, and dreading the harder-edged, less innocent, more guarded boy I’m expecting him to become.
But this is silly, I think, because he is very much himself, and no amount of schooling will change that. So, I start to feel at peace with the whole idea of school. My son is ready: endlessly curious, full of energy, and always up for a new friendship. I had similar worries when he started childcare, then nursery – and those worries never came to anything. It is good that I worry, I tell myself, because if I was too laid-back about new challenges I might never meet them.
Still, I think as I finally drift off, I’ll miss his little face.
Which is when my bedroom door slams open and my son shouts: “MUMMY IT’S FIVE AM, SO YOU HAVE TO PRETEND YOU ARE A MUMMY ROBOT AND I AM YOUR BABY ROBOT AND WE ARE GOING TO JUPITER.”
It’s at this point I wish my son had already started school, and that it was a boarding school. Until, of course, the whole cycle of anxiety begins again at 3am. Hurry up, September. I am exhausted.