Sunday, September 25, 2016

He Started School - The End of an Era

My little boy started school last week, and like any parent sending their youngest off in uniform for the first time, I have been awash with a jumble of emotions. The overwhelming feeling has been one of pride for my son, who has come so far and achieved so much after a difficult start in life, and who walked happily and confidently into his new classroom on the first day. But there is also an undeniable sense of loss on my part (and maybe his) for the end of a magical, transformative time, which seems to have ended too soon. He only became my little boy two years ago through adoption, and for all of that time we have been immersed in the business of bonding, nurturing, healing, developing and adventuring together. We made the decision to defer his entry into reception, as he had only been with us a year by the time he was due to go last year, was only just four, and wasn’t ready emotionally or developmentally. I knew he needed more of me, and more time just to be a free spirit, so I put my office career on hold and officially made parenting my day-to-day business. I wrote this post at the time, about becoming a full time parent, after deciding not to return to work when my adoption leave came to an end. It was a big leap, but having seen the incredible progress of my child during that time, I have no regrets. I know I will at some point be able to drop back into the world of paid employment, but children are only tiny once, and he needed me. And it has been so worth it.


Deferring Summer Born Children

During the process of applying for permission to defer our boy from school, we were challenged by certain parties about our motivations, and told that we’d be “holding him back” by keeping him out of school for another year. Then, as now, I maintained that it was more about helping him get ahead than slowing his progress. However wonderful and progressive a school, it can never provide the same level of nurture and care as the one-to-one attention of a loving parent. And this above all was the greatest need of my child at the time. Far from holding up his education, every day that we have spent together has been filled with opportunities for enrichment and learning. There are so many things he can do now that he couldn’t 12 months ago, which I know will help his transition into formal education. Just a few that come to mind…
  • Hold a pen and make identifiable shapes with it
  • Hold and use a pair of scissors
  • Recount events and tell made up stories
  • Play make-believe/role-play games and use his imagination
  • Build simple Lego vehicles
  • Play turn-taking games
  • Ride a balance bike
  • Swing himself on the swings
  • Make meaningful friendships and play happily with other kids
  • Recognise all the letters of the alphabet and a handful of sight words
  • Count to ten
  • Cut up food with a knife and fork
  • Go to the toilet independently and have very few accidents
  • Speak in sentences longer than four or five words
  • Be confident in new situations and when meeting new people
  • Tell you all about medieval history, especially the Battle of Hastings

These may seem like run-of-the-mill achievements for an average five year old, but behind each of these accomplishments are fundamental executive and motor skills that will underpin my son’s school life, and allow him to make progress without the need for any major intervention or support. Had he gone to school a year ago, he would still have needed to acquire many of these, as well as coping with the demands of everyday school life. I am glad to see the option to defer summer born children becoming more straightforward for parents, and would encourage anyone (especially adoptive families) in doubt as to what is right for their child to embrace the opportunity to spend more time together.  Even though it hasn’t always been straightforward or easy, I feel truly blessed to have had the chance to invest in my son wholeheartedly for an extra 12 months, and I would happily do it all over again. 


What Next?

Coming home after dropping him at school, the house feels hollow and eerily quiet. I miss his little footsteps padding about the place, his many questions (to which I try and respond with more questions) and irresistible requests to “play with me mummy?”. I already miss the beat of our little routines - his hand in mind walking round the corner to playgroup, the games we’d play to make supermarket shopping fun, exploring castles, woods and beaches together. Without him here to entertain, I find myself a little lost. “What will you do with yourself now?” is the question on everyone’s lips, and right now I don’t feel I can answer it. Parenthood - for all its ups and downs - has changed me, sent me down paths I had not considered before, and I am not sure I can go backwards from here. Certainly I am not rushing to sit behind a desk again. So for now I am taking a breath, a well-earned break, while I figure out what comes next. 
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