Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Dear Primary parents

Dear first-time Primary parents,

This is a big week for you, isn’t it? The first day of school is creeping up. You’re probably alternating between thrilled — pinning healthy lunch ideas and painting a chalkboard for them to proudly hold during those first-day-of-school pictures — and completely terrified that your baby is leaving you for seven long hours.

I know, because that was me last year. I surprised myself by not crying at the bus stop — mostly because I was so focused on being really, really excited so my son didn’t get nervous — but then I walked back home and had mild panic attacks all day. What was he doing? Was he having fun? Was he scared? Before it was time to pick him up at the bus stop, I’d volunteered for a weekly gig at the school because I was so desperate to get inside that big building that had stolen my baby.

Several of my friends have little ones going off to Primary for the first time in a couple of weeks, so I have thought a lot about what to tell you during these emotional few weeks.

The first thing (and the most important thing) is that your life might feel totally overwhelming until October. I was exhausted, my son was exhausted, and it took that full first month for all of us to get the hang of this elementary school thing. A few mornings of a week of preschool is nothing compared to the day-in, day-out tedium of getting a small person to and from school five days a week. It’s like the bone-deep tiredness you feel when you start a new job. Everything is different and it takes time to adjust.

For us, the biggest thing was getting everyone to bed earlier -- myself included. I’d thought 7:30 p.m. was a good bedtime for a five-year-old, but it wasn’t early enough to combat his exhaustion from a long day at school. We scaled it back to 7 p.m., and often put him to bed as early as 6:30 p.m. if he seemed tired. I forced myself to start going to bed by 9:30 p.m. so it wasn’t as painful to get up in the morning, and it helped.

There is a lot of new stuff flying at you when your oldest goes off to Primary. There’s a flurry of paper coming home -- calendars, reminders, permission slips, agendas to sign -- and it kicks your butt to get organized. You need to remember which days they have to wear gym clothes and which day to send back the library books. Don’t get me started on all of the “theme” days that ask them to dress in pink or as a superhero or as their favourite piece of abstract expressionist art.

Don’t worry -- you’ll come up with a system. A bulletin board, a chalkboard, a calendar. You’ll start waking up on Wednesday and Thursdays and automatically think “Gym day.” You’ll flip the right page in the agenda and scrawl your name on the pen you keep by the backpack specifically for that purpose.

And yes, making lunches is just as much of a pain as you’ve feared. I’m here to assure you, though, that it does get a lot easier. Your standards drop, too, which helps. I was such a keener in September, but trust me that teachers are not going to admire your carefully-prepared bento box and take note of your spectacular parenting. They probably won’t even see it -- and if they do, they’ll laugh and take bets on how long you keep it up.

By May, I was throwing a single-serve package of croutons into his lunch bag as “filler” and I’d stopped caring if the teacher judged me for packing chewy fruit snacks every day. You figure out how much food they’ll actually at school -- for us, that’s a main, two snacks and a bottle of milk with a shot of Quik syrup -- and packing lunches gets less daunting.

If you have an entree-loving kid like mine, go back and read my piece on “lunch pucks” so you can have frozen servings of pasta ready at all times. (My kid is thoroughly looking forward to daily thermoses of hot spaghetti after a summer of lazy lunches. “Here’s some cheese and a piece of bread and ... a piece of leftover chicken?”)

As you settle into life as a Primary parent, you’ll pick up little tricks that make school easier on your family. For me, that’s setting three different alarms on my phone -- one to wake up, one to make sure we’re all dressed/brushed/combed and downstairs, and one to leave for the bus stop. My kids are like Pavlov’s dogs when they hear that specific trilling noise: they drop their dishes on the counter and run for the closet to put on their shoes. They’re usually waiting for me on the porch while I fill a travel mug with tea and slap on some blush.

(I started the year in full makeup and real clothes for the bus stop, and by about December it had dwindled to PJs under my coat and sunglasses to hide my squinty morning eyes.)

You’ll miss them terribly at first, but your heart will adjust to watching them zoom away on the bus every morning. You’ll learn to ask the right questions to find out what they did for those seven long hours (“I’m not sure”) and you’ll marvel as they come home suddenly able to READ AND WRITE ACTUAL WORDS. You’ll burst with pride over report cards and clap until your hands hurt as they sing off-key in the holiday concert.

They’re going to do great, and so will you.

Sincerely yours, A first-time Grade 1 parent

P.S. I'm going to round up all of the Primary-related posts I can find here on the ol' blog, in case you're in the mood for a little related reading ... 

Lunch pucks for school thermoses

When school kicks your butt and you're exhausted


Why you should date your child

A letter to my son's Primary teacher

When your kid learns to read (and it blows your mind)

Lunch hacks for busy parents

Talking about your day (a.k.a. interrogation)

When you JUST NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED during every moment of their day: A Nosy Parent's Guide

DIY family command centre

And now, something to amuse and terrify you for the Grade 2 days down the road ...

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