a slow and difficult start to the year

I guess this is a bit of a rant, or maybe just a vent. Everyone talks about how hard 2016 and 2017 were but on balance, 2018 has been super difficult for me so far. Let me contextualise:

  1. Daycare closed on 15 December, and that’s when full time parenting kicked in for me. My husband was working pretty much straight through, with breaks on public holidays and 6 days off in the middle of January.
  2. Because of that mid-Jan break, we decided not to send the toddler back to daycare, because it would mean paying for a full month and he’d only be there for about 7 actual days (between their holiday and ours).
  3. His new school only started on 22 January, and because of their ‘staggered start’ system, he only went back on 30 January. January was a long, long month, but we got through it. We even had fun!
  4. During this whole six week period while I was also supposed to be on holiday, I was trying to squeeze work into many of his naps, and every spare hour I could find. Such is the life of a freelancer.
  5. And then school started, and we expected the pressure to ease off. MAN, WERE WE WRONG.

That’s when the shit hit the fan.

A New School

So, my boy is two and a half (he’ll be three in May), and we felt that he wasn’t getting as much stimulation from his old daycare towards the end of last year. We looked around, and found a lovely school much closer to home (his old daycare was closer to my old office, but a 45 minute round trip from home. And I work from home.) After putting his name down, we were offered a place for him last October which we had to turn down due to the volume of my work commitments (they ask parents to be available for early pick ups for at least the first week, and I just didn’t have that kind of time. We’d also already planned a holiday, which would throw another spanner into October.)

Fast forward a few months, and he got a place for January. Hooray!! We thought the transition period would be a bit tough, but man, it has been harder than we expected.

Brand New Everything

For us, it was just exchanging one thing for another – daycare switched with school – it’s basically the same thing with different people. I spent a lot of time talking about it in the holidays, preparing him for the new people, new things, new kids, he was excited to start and we thought he was ready.

The first week was difficult. Drop offs in the morning were clinging and teary, to the point where I asked my husband to take over, in case that improved things. It did, somewhat. But then they asked me to fetch him after just an hour on the second day. AN HOUR. I hadn’t had more than an hour at a stretch the whole holidays to work, and now school had finally started and I had to fetch him after ONE HOUR?! I was beyond frustrated. I didn’t understand what the problem was. Surely if we just started the way we meant to go on, he’d adjust more quickly? The third day, it was 2 hours, and by the end of the week the full school day – 12.15. Woohoo.

By the second week, I thought he’d be settled in. I fetched him early (to my mind) at 3pm, to give him a little extra time to adjust. But because I had to work, there were a few days that week that I fetched him later, closer to 5pm. At the welcome picnic that Friday, the teacher suggested that he was super unhappy with staying for aftercare (anything after 12.15). I was gobsmacked. He’s been at daycare since he was literally 4 months old! How is this any different?

Some Context From the Teacher

Well, then he came down with a bad cold and had to stay home for a few days (fevers and the like). So it was only this week (the fourth week of term for him) that I had a chance to speak to his teacher again. And I think I understand a bit better.

All along, it had been a simple switch in my mind. He had been happily hugging the teachers and teachers assistants goodbye in the afternoons, but mornings had been getting increasingly difficult. Lots of tears before leaving the house, more at school even with dad doing the drop offs, and an almost pitiful happiness to see me when I fetched him in the afternoon. Things weren’t going the way I expected them to, and I was frustrated.

After talking to his teacher yesterday, I realised something: whereas for me it was a simple switch, for him his whole world had changed.

He had been at daycare his whole life, he didn’t remember a time when he wasn’t at daycare. Now, we had taken that reassuring presence from his life and replaced it with new teachers, new activities, a new environment, new children, even new extra-murals, which he’d never done before. His days were never predictable, so he never knew what was coming, and he’s a boy who relies heavily on routine.

Also, he’s older than most of the kids in his class. There are two other boys his age, but he is new and they’ve been friends for a while, so he’s a bit of an outsider. The rest of the kids are little, not-quite-two or only-just-two, and are a bit boring for him. Without a single friend for reassurance, he felt all alone in this sea of newness.

He stopped eating, he stopped napping, he started chewing on his nails, his sleep deteriorated (and it was always pretty bad). His immune system even gave in, and he got sick in the third week of school. He was basically shutting down in the face of overwhelming newness.

So, What Now?

Well, after our chat yesterday, we’ve decided to cancel his extra murals for this term, to let him get used to school before we throw something extra at him.

I’ve agreed that I will fetch him early 3 days a week, and arrange my work so that he only stays late for a maximum of 2 days per week.

We’re going to try to bring more Montessori activities home, to give him the control he seems to crave, so that he can start eating again. We tried that yesterday afternoon, and it seemed to work.

Now that I understand it better from his perspective, I can plan. I can work around what he needs. After all, that is why I quite my full time office job, so that I was able to be there when he needed me.

(I’m also going to offer to rewrite their new parent guidebook, so that future new parents are less confused and frustrated when this happens to them. The lack of communication was a huge contributor to my frustration and the lack of understanding on my part was difficult for him.)

I feel bad for not seeing it sooner. Of course I do, there’s nothing like a bit of mom guilt to drag you over the coals. But I also feel like a lot of confusion could have been avoided if the school had been a bit more communicative. This is my first experience with a more formal school environment, with Montessori, with changing schools – I had no idea he’d find it this difficult. They knew. They knew, and they hinted at it, but it was only yesterday that I finally got a straight answer and explanation of it. So I’m going to pack my mom-guilt away and work with what I’ve got.

It feels to me like no sooner do you understand something, as a parent, that it changes again. There’s nothing familiar but change itself.

So that’s how we’ve been this year. I’m hoping things will turn around soon, and either return to normal or we’ll get used to this new normal. We’re all exhausted with the sheer volume of decisions we need to make each day. And I’m reminded that change is huge. It’s huge whether you’re a little boy or a grown-ass woman. Change is huge and hard, and we all need a little extra grace to adjust to it.

So, my little boy, I’ll see you at 12.15 then. As long as you need me to be there, I’ll be there.

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