Lil A started at a new school two weeks ago. It’s a big pre-primary. She’ll be there until she goes to Grade R. It’s a much more structured place than where she was last year, and I worried that she’d struggle to adjust to the stricter routine and the focus on actual skills (her previous school was very sweet, and small, but as far as I could tell, all she did there was sing songs and run around in the playground, chasing the chickens). I wasn’t sure she’d be too happy to stay at school until 3pm either – eating lunch at school, sleeping at school, being away from home for such a long stretch.
But every day when I pick her up, she’s got paint under her fingernails, bed hair and a huge grin on her face. “I sleeped at school!” she tells me. She shows me to her bag, gets her shoes from her locker (they are big believers in Bare Feet at this school), kisses her aftercare teacher goodbye and jumps her way to the car with me. And it’s been like that from day one.
Pick-up time is, as any parent of a preschooler knows, absolute chaos, so I didn’t get to speak to her teacher at length until the parents’ evening a week after school had started. I figured that if they weren’t having to peel her off her father in the mornings (he’s got the short end of the stick, having to do the drop-off), and if he could see that she wasn’t crying when he left her there, it must all be okay. But still. I worried. It was a new place and a new kind of place – a structured classroom, with things like a reading corner, a puzzles table and a separate art room. And she’s only two – how much newness could she handle at once?
At the parents’ evening, I waited for a chance to ask her teacher how she was doing, to get more than “she was fine today!”. Of course, everyone else wanted the same thing. “Is he using the potty or the toilet when he’s here?”; “Is she eating at lunchtime?”; “How do you get her to sleep in the afternoon because we never manage at home!” – I found out a lot about the kids in my daughter’s class that night. There was so much I wanted to know about how Lil A behaves when she’s at school – is she as chatty as she is at home? Does she make up songs and play elaborate games of make-believe with the dolls and tease the teachers by calling them by other people’s names? But there was no time, and part of me didn’t want to be That Parent. So as we were leaving, I asked her teacher quickly, “Is she really okay? She always seems fine and happy, but what is she like during the day?”
Her teacher looked at me and blinked. “Ava’s fine!” She said. “She’s a very calm, easy-going child. You’ll never have to worry about her. She does what she’s supposed to do, and just gets on with things. You’re lucky.”
And I am.
But her brave face, her poise, her eagerness to please and her confidence in doing what she knows will help her to fit in and not be any trouble – it kills me. I crumble in the face of it. My child will never be the one who is noticed first in a class, I’m starting to realise. She’ll be the one that is so calm and easy-going that it will take a while for her teachers and maybe even her peers to notice her, to know her. And I’m thinking, maybe, sometimes, it must be nice to have the child who kicks up a fuss, makes himself known, even if it is as the class hooligan. And then I see her from behind when I pick her up – she’s sitting alone at a little table, playing with her hat, watching the more boisterous kids in the sandpit, twirling her hair, and oh, how I love her.