“I’m too puffed”
When Victor uttered these words as we hurried towards his classroom in the pouring rain I knew trouble was brewing.
He was lying – he wasn’t puffed. He was using that as an excuse to stop, even though the bell had rung and we were running late for the second day in a row. He wasn’t puffed.
The week had started off well. Despite being a routine kid and often anxious about change, LV handled drop-off on his first day at school with remarkable aplomb – and so did I. There were no tears from either party, he was happy and excited so that made it easy for me to be happy and excited.
At pick up he was eager to tell us how it all went. When prompted he said they did “lots of stuff,” then he informed us “school is really fun.”
The next day we walked to school holding hands but as we rounded a building onto the central grounds of the school he shook my hand free. “What’s with that?” I whispered, “I’m a big boy mum” he shot back, like a dagger to my bleeding heart. He was taking this school thing seriously – so cool, calm and collected. I really had no reason to worry.
Or so I thought.
Wednesday ran much the same as the previous two days. An excited drop-off, a tired but happy pick up. But that night, as we were doing a homework activity together, Vic turned to me and his little face was riddled with anxiety.
“Mum I can’t do my bag properly. I can’t do the zip up”
My heart sank. We’d bought him a really nice new bag for school, it had a chunky gold coloured zipper that was apparently more about style than it was about function. I had stitched up my kid from day one.
“Oh honey…” I began, but he wasn’t done.
“And my lunchbox, I can’t close it mum”
“Yes you can!” I enthused, “I’ve seen you close it lots of times”
His face fell further and tears started rolling down his cheeks, “I can’t mum, I can’t close it properly”
And then came the words I dread from him “it isn’t perfect enough.”
LV is a perfectionist. He always has been. Getting him to take an interest in drawing and writing has been a long process because if he doesn’t get it right first time, then he’ll beat himself up out of frustration and want to move on to something else. Colouring outside of the lines is not an option – if his crayon strays he’ll break down. Of course I’ll reassure him that it looks great but he’ll explain through tears that “it isn’t perfect enough.”
I must’ve told him a thousand times things don’t have to be perfect; that by practicing we get better, that enjoying ourselves and giving things a go is what counts. None of that matters to Vic because he wants perfect.
Knowing that he had been struggling for days with his bag and his lunchbox, two really freakin’ huge parts of starting school, was like a punch in the stomach. I’m guessing he didn’t say anything to us because he was worried he’d let us down somehow. I suppose on the Wednesday it got the better of him and he pleaded with us to let him stay home the next day because he didn’t want to face the torment again.
That night Joel went to the Warehouse to pick up a cheap bag and lunchbox. Nothing fancy, but LV can open and close both of them with ease. He woke up last Thursday morning stoked with his new gear and ready to tackle another school day. I felt bad that he’d been suffering in silence for those first few days at school, but we’d problem-solved and I was confident he’d now be fine.
And he was, for Thursday at least.
Come Friday it was raining, really raining. Post-breakfast the kids were plonked in front of the TV while we scrambled to get everything ready for drop off. It had been wet the day before as well and LV’s running shoes were still damp so I suggested he put on his gumboots – just for the walk from the car to class. No. He didn’t want to.
I encouraged him to at least try, so he tried. He put one foot half way in, but his reaction to the feeling of his foot going into that boot was like mine when I eat a brussel sprout. No, he did NOT want to wear gumboots. NO.
Besides, he wasn’t ready to go, he was still watching Diego.
Oh for fuc…
“Come on Vic, put on your gumboots, you’re going to be late”
The more insistent we got, the more anxious he became. His little body started shaking and his hands balled into fists. NO.
He curled up on the floor and started wailing. His face was red and wet with tears. He covered his ears when we tried to negotiate with him. He pounded the floor with his fists when we said things he didn’t want to hear.
Joel had a meeting at nine and was supposed to be dropping LV off on the way; I was to take the twins to daycare. Everyone’s stress levels were climbing by the minute, causing a sort of feeding frenzy of frayed nerves. In the end Vic’s meltdown meant Joel had to take over twin duty in order to make his meeting and I was left trying to coax my little bundle of tears out the door.
I don’t know how I managed to convince him to get into the car, but a few minutes later we found ourselves trudging up the path to school. I walked briskly and encouraged Victor to do the same. The bell rang. I walked faster, my son didn’t.
“Come on Vic! We’re late now! See what happens when you faff around? We’ve missed the bell,” I couldn’t hide my frustration. We’d already been late the day before and I didn’t want to be that mum who can’t get her shit together twice in the first week. Plus, honestly, I was just pissed at how the last hour had played out and the realisation that treading mornings on a knife edge has different consequences now LV’s at school.
Most mornings are fine but and it doesn’t take much to derail us – today it was the suggestion of gumboots. With daycare it didn’t matter, we could take our time dealing with the situ and turn up whenever, but with school there’s a bell, and mat time, and the stares of other kids. There are gates that get locked and a teacher who relies on children being on time to do her job properly.
As I hurried along I could tell LV was falling further behind. I turned to hustle him again but my words evaporated as I saw him at a standstill, a tiny defeated figure clutching a dinosaur umbrella with tears rolling down his cheeks.
“I’m too puffed”
In that moment I knew I hadn’t won the battle, I knew there was more to come. I crouched to his level and softened my tone.
“It’s okay darling, we can go slow” and he took my hand.
We managed to get another twenty metres closer to the classroom before whatever was helping him hold the last remnants of his shit together upped and offed. His little damp feet were suddenly one with the asphalt. He pulled on my arm, desperately begging to go home.
We stood there in the pouring rain, me pleading, him pleading. Kids gawked out of classroom windows as Vic cried and yelled and I tried to soothe him. I had no idea what to do. No clue. I could feel tears of my own threatening and at a total loss I summoned his teacher who tried to talk him around. Nothing doing. Needing to return to class she called for the assistant principal who in turn called for the SENCO teacher. By now I also had tears streaming down my face because, gah, so many bloody emotions.
It was a full fifteen minutes in the rain before the decision was made to rip off the band aid, so to speak. I kissed the top of Vic’s head, prised his fingers from my hand and started walking away. The SENCO teacher immediately picked him up and carried him in the other direction.
After a few seconds I looked back. They disappeared around a corner with Victor still crying and reaching for me. My heart fucking broke. How did we go from an amazingly happy first day at school to him being carted away sobbing within less than a week?
I spent the next half an hour in the assistant principal’s office as we talked things through and made a plan for the rest of the day and the following week. I cried nearly the whole time because my spirit was just totally broken and I had no reserves. I felt like a dick. Even as I sat there I knew there were parents who dealt with much harder stuff every damn day than a kid who refused to go to school in his first week. What would they think of me, all emo in a senior staff member’s office, making a big deal out of my son having a standard kid meltdown?
The thing is, even if everything else in life is hunky dory, knowing your kid is in ribbons and feeling totally helpless then seeing them taken away from you in that state is shit.
Now knowing Vic was quietly stressing about school has helped us manage things at home more mindfully to give him the best chance of getting to class without shot nerves. We’re focussing on allowing him enough time to have breakfast, get ready and play in the mornings without feeling pressured to hurry up. We’re making sure he gets early nights and and no matter how crazy the kids are in the morning we don’t turn on the TV before school. We’re trying to exercise a lot more patience with him, because let’s face it he’s still little and all this is A LOT.
Of course this is all stuff we should’ve been doing from his very first day at school, but because he initially handled it like such a pro, I guess we just relaxed into everything without properly considering how mammoth the change was for our little mate. We just carried on as usual but with school instead of daycare, and Vic really needed us to not carry on as usual, but to give him extra time, space and patience so he could process everything in his own way.
I’m happy to report that things have been much better this week. He tried the sore tummy card one morning, and when that didn’t work he switched to itchy eczema, but the promise of a fluffy and a cupcake after school was enough to get him to class without incident.
So I guess this is a head’s up of sorts to other parents about to send their tiny babies out into the wide world of school. Even if they seem to be totally chill, you gotta know that this change is a massive one for them. Like, truly monumental. It can really mess with their tiny emotions and as mums and dads it’s our job to be one step ahead so we can do our best by them to help them navigate these crazy new waters.
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