So, yesterday I packed our eldest off to school, not just for a normal Friday, but to spend most of her day at the school that, all being well, she’ll be attending from September. You know the one I mean, where you go when you’re too old for Primary? Now, I was well warned that this point would be reached quickly and I listened and, I did believe them – in that way that you do when you think, ‘yeah, I know time goes fast, but you see I’m the exception to the rule, because I can actually slow time down when I want to.’ Well, you see, turns out I can’t. And, the result is, I am now in that position where I’m the one telling others how fast it goes while, at the same time, trying my very best to deny the truth of my own words.
At this point, let me be clear about two things: while I am dreading the thought of that next step, it is not because I don’t trust the professionals I’ll be handing my daughter over to, or that I don’t want her to grow up. I have no trust issues and I love watching the young woman she is growing into. What I dislike though, I suppose, is the fact that all those things I think I’ll have time to do or the things that I’ll learn to do better/ differently/ more patiently/ with greater listening before saying things that can’t be unsaid – you get the idea – well, I somehow seem to make time move faster where all those things are concerned. You’d think I’d have sussed how time works after the length of time I’ve been aware of it but, I don’t suppose we ever really have the amount we think we need, do we? Also, I am fully aware that there are many, many people out there who would just love to be in the position of preparing for this stage and I do not take that for granted, not for one moment and I cherish every second. I think there’s a little bit of all of us that wants to either go along with our children, holding their hand and keeping a watchful eye, advising them every single step of the way or to wrap them up in bubble wrap/ a little safety bubble/ a padlocked room until they’re 40… Too much?? Maybe just a touch!
So, since, all being well, the changes will be rung in September and I can’t hold her hand the whole way or tell her what to do each hour of the day, how do I want to prepare her for what lies ahead? Well, it should hopefully cost a bit less than getting kitted out for her new school, but I think many of the principles are the same (not the principals, that’s a totally different thing altogether!) My dear, eldest daughter, here is my advice to you:
First, you’re going to need a uniform – one that is the same as all the others, but one that will have your name on it so that you’ll know it’s yours. You’re going to be there as one of hundreds of pupils, all members of one school community, all dressed the same, all signed up to the same ethos, but you’re not exactly the same – none of you are. You’re very much your own person and that’s something I don’t ever want you to lose sight of. It can be so easy to try to say things/ act in a certain way, to fit in and just be ‘one of the crowd’ and, while I certainly don’t want you to be on your own, I don’t want you to become a clone either. Growing up is so incredibly challenging and it can be very easy to speak/ behave in a way that helps you to ‘belong’ but, if you aren’t being true to who you are as an individual, it’s just going to make life even more complicated. Growing up in this world has enough challenges without having to remember the script that an act your’re putting on has you following. Sweetheart, don’t forget who you are and don’t ever try to be someone else just to try and fit in – you are you – never forget that!
Secondly, there are certain things you’ll need to take with you: PE kit, pencil case, stationery, about a million things from a list (I’m assuming). You need to be prepared. And while I will probably check that list off a hundred times to make sure you have everything you need, I want you to learn the importance of checking those lists for yourself. Sometimes you’ll forget things, or maybe not be totally prepared, and while I know that deep down I’ll want to be able to ‘fix it’ when things are forgotten, what would you ever learn if you don’t become independent and learn how to get yourself organised? There’s no reason why I couldn’t just do all your organising for you but how would that prepare you for the reality of growing up and all those occasions when there isn’t a grown up to hold your hand and pack your bag? Honey, always ask for help if and when you need it, but learn independence and organisation and along the way, responsibility too, I hope!
Thirdly, while there are some things you’ll take with you in a bag, you’ll also need to bring what you’ve learned so far. Don’t for one minute think you know all that you need to – there are none of us on this planet who know everything. We are all learning each and every day. And, while you’ll enjoy some of those lessons more than others and find some easier than others, it doesn’t mean that the less enjoyable/more difficult aren’t worthwhile or worth pursuing. Just because you may feel that what you are being asked to do is pointless or silly or never going to be of any use to you, like, ever (channelling my inner moody teenager there!), don’t be so sure. You might have thoughts about the future and what you’d like to do, but honestly, you have no idea what you may actually choose to do or where life may lead you so, while you have the opportunity to learn and discover and have a whole new world of information handed to you on a plate, take it. Will you enjoy it all? Probably not. Will you remember everything? It’s unlikely. Will you need it all? Maybe not. But think of your education as an all you can eat buffet – fill your plate and enjoy the feast!
Fourth, you’re growing and there’s a lot more for you to do and there’s going to be more expected of you. You’ll be working from a timetable now and needing a lot more books. But you won’t need them all everyday. While it’s good to be prepared, for the sake of your spine, you won’t want to be carrying the things you don’t need for that day – that wouldn’t be good for your physical health. Well, as you already know, things will happen in life that you don’t like/ upset you/ wish you could change and while, I wish I could tell you how to alter all those occasions, sadly, I can’t. But, what I will tell you is this: choose carefully the things that you hold on to. We cannot get through life without upsets of some sort or other but, don’t hold on to everything, no matter how much you think you might want to. You see, just as carrying around a bag that is too heavy would be bad for your physical health, so carrying around too much mental baggage is bad for you as well. Don’t be afraid to let go of things that hurt and upset you. Learn from them, by all means, but don’t let them steal your joy or dull your sparkle – and don’t carry around anything, whether physical or mental, that will hurt you in the long run.
Fifth and final, in this game of growing up and preparation for life, there is a 7 letter word that I believe is one of the most important you will ever learn: – cue my inner Aretha Franklin -( Google it if I’ve lost ya ;o) ) – R E S P E C T. Here’s the long and short of it love: in this life you will meet people you get along with like a house on fire, those you click with, maybe even those who seem to have a list of thoughts/ opinions/ values that are a carbon copy of your own. But, it won’t always be that way. You will meet people who are different to you. People who have different ways of thinking, different beliefs, different outlooks on life. But here’s the thing – that doesn’t mean you have to change to suit them, anymore than it means they should change to suit you. But sweetheart, please, please, always show respect. We have, I hope, brought you up this far to realise that on this earth we are all created equally, all with a need that no human touch alone can meet and you must never look on yourself as any better than anyone else. Whether the people you encounter are older, younger, the same age, just like you in innumerable ways or seeing things from a totally different angle to you, don’t forget that each and every individual is precious and loved and is here for a purpose, one designed before they even came to be – just like you. Show respect to everyone you meet – even if you don’t agree with everything they think or say. What is it they say, ‘to get respect, give respect’? Hold on to that and treat others just how you would want them to treat you. Act in love and, as far as possible, be the friend to others you want them to be to you. It won’t always be easy but, take it from one who has a heck of a lot more experience at messing up than you, it’s always better to walk away knowing that you acted with love and respect, than that you got the last word.
I’m no genius and I certainly don’t have it all worked out and understood, but I am here for you. Embrace this new stage, live it to the full and use your time wisely but, I have to warn you, when I first heard ‘Slipping through my fingers’ on Mamma Mia (pause for moment to think of Colin Firth in said film ;o) ) and thought of the tiny baby that was put into my arms almost eleven years ago, I shed a wee tear as I thought of the very first day you would ever go to school and just because this isn’t a four year old you, don’t expect that I won’t shed a wee tear once more. I’ll always want to ‘freeze the picture and save it from the funny tricks of time’ but, even though I can’t, you’ll always be my little girl, who loved and cherished, delighted in and prayed for every day, and that’s something that no new school or amount of time can change.