Sunday, January 27, 2013

the school series : the mamas talk.........

cherished moments with che, captured by tim 

This week is the last of the school holidays and come Monday I'll be a school mum. The transition has been on my mind for the past year but it was only yesterday, as I immersed myself in housework, that I realised......this is the beginning of a twenty year journey. And it's true; for the next two decades I will wash uniforms, pack lunches and demand a kiss and a cuddle before my children close the door behind them. 

Come 2014 I may be able to write a post about Kindergarten - how to prepare and what to expect. In five years time I'm sure I'll have enough inspiration and experience to compile a book. But for now I'm happy to bring you the stories of other mamas; those who have experienced the enormity of school life - the wonder, the routine and the exhaustion.

Ruth (aka Gourmet Girlfriend) is a mama to five boys and this year she'll have two in high-school,  two in primary and one in pre-school. When I asked her to share some advice she replied with a passionate email about slowing down, taking time and walking with your children.

"I call the first year of school 'the year of tears'. It's not uncommon to see regressions in behaviour as they learn to navigate the emotional and social roads of school. Be forgiving, they really are so very little!

Years ago, at a talk about raising boys, I listened to a man who truly believed in the importance of an ongoing conversation with your growing children. He said that maintaining an open and trusting conversation is the key to a healthy and enduring parent/child relationship. Most children, as they grow, will shy away from a face-to-face conversation and so he advised us to 'walk with our children'. It's about being side-by-side - equal. Whilst walking to and from school is a rarity my advice is to really make the time to walk with your children. The conversations and stories that naturally spill from your child are special and you will be able to listen, unhurried. I never ask questions that can be answered with 'yes' or 'no'. Some things I might ask:
  • Tell me something that happened in the playground that was really great.
  • Tell me something that was hard or upsetting about today.
  • Did you do anything for the very first time today?
  • What was your favourite thing about today?
One of the most treasured times of my day is when we all come together in the afternoon to talk, joke or to simply just sit. We set the table, enjoy a snack and a special drink and we make time to value each other, to value family. 

I hope my children will always come back to my table and share their lives with me, long after they have grown and left home."

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Last year Jay sent her first-born, Poe, off to school. She wholeheartedly believes in the importance of a gentle and quiet rhythm around school times.

"Five days in a row is a long time to be doing anything so to be navigating social situations, learning new and exciting things and paying attention to a teacher is positively exhausting. There really is so much going on at school and I found that Poe really craved (and loved!) the downtime of home. Having this space also gave him the freedom to discuss any issues he may have been having, often after 'acting out' first. 

After the first few weeks and perhaps even the first term it's not uncommon for your child to be grumpy and unreasonable. I found that Poe needed extra understanding, patience and nurturing from Scott and I. In retrospect it really is so amazing to see how your little one grows and develops throughout the year. It's just so beautiful and so much fun."

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Kate has three girls and this year her youngest, Pepper, starts school. The mere thought of Pepper in a blue checkered dress and black shoes is enough to have Kate short of breath and teary. Here's her sound advice:

1. New schoolies use the words 'everybody else' often. Everybody else has packets of chips and store-bought cookies in their lunchbox. Everybody else is allowed to wear their swimmers under their school clothes. Everybody else does ballet and has playdates after school. Everybody else.........

2. New schoolies will tell you stories that will make you so proud. They will grow up so much - academically, socially, physically -  between the time you drop them off and the time you pick them up.

3. New schoolies sometimes find their brand new world a bit difficult to interpret. I've always found it super helpful to volunteer in the classroom, to deliver extra bits of lunch at playtime and to go along to scheduled parent/teacher interviews.

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I'm so grateful for Nikki's advice. Instead of talking about the school child, she told me about what it's like for the school mum. She highly recommends reading Sarah Napthali's Buddhism for Mothers of School Children and counts it as an invaluable source for the first year. 

" I was unprepared for how overwhelmed I felt when finding my place with the other mums. I felt like I was back in high-school with the cool group, the arty group, the sporty group and so on. There I was, almost 40-years-old, and feeling like an awkward school girl! Halfway through the year I confessed to the other mums how I was feeling and it turns out I wasn't alone. And so, as I tell my children, the best way to make friends is to be one. At the end of the year I organised a morning tea to celebrate our first year, and it was wonderful.

Even though school life can easily become busy, it's more important than ever for mamas to maintain a practice for themselves - yoga, swimming, walking - something active to increase energy and create mental clarity. I also believe in pacing yourself, going slow. Don't feel pressured to say yes to every extra curricular activity and social event. Becoming part of a school community can lead to a busy life but it is possible to find balance and avoid total exhaustion for the whole family."

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Finally, I want to send you over to Rachael. She is an absolutely brilliant writer and her post "Fly, Little Chickie" is, in my opinion, one of her best. Take your tissues......

the school series:

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