“This is it, kiddo! The very last morning at nursery! How do you feel?”
“Are we having cake?”
Right. Good. She’s not bothered. Fine. I’m turning off the main road onto the driveway we’ve been navigating for the last two and a half years, vast 4x4s clipping my wing mirrors, my daughter oblivious, too busy trying to spot squirrels in the trees on her side.
I won’t miss those bloody 4x4s, I thought as we pulled up outside the little playground full of trikes and hopscotch and guinea pigs.
My daughter jumped out of the car and dragged me to the gate. As she ran off with her friends I took her bag into the classroom, empty but for the woman I decided to entrust with the care of my precious girl when she was just two years old and I was a quivering wreck. She smiled warmly, as she always did, and came over to give me a hug. And then something really weird happened. I burst into tears. Within seconds I was sobbing hard, snot, tears, THE LOT. I couldn’t even speak. I cried like that for a good five minutes, and when she finally let go of me I realised she was crying too. BLOODY HELL! I apologised and left swiftly, still ugly-crying as I crossed the playground and hurried to my car, then for the entire 15 minute car ride home and another hour at home. I cried and cried and cried some more, and then did some crying.
I really wasn’t expecting to feel like that. I was so ready for a summer of fewer early starts, not to mention less of the germ-sharing and emails about lost property. It was also weird considering how reluctant I’d been to leave her on that first day. You’re focused on the bonding process for so long that then being told to leave your kid, sometimes crying, with strangers and other kids (always my least favourite bit of parenting to be honest) felt so wrong. One minute it’s ‘Bond with her, skin-to-skin, YOU MUST BOND, be there all the time, don’t miss a second,’ and suddenly it’s ‘OK, you can go now’. But she loved it. There were downsides, of course – the kid that started each session by smashing a toy over her head everyday for 3 weeks, the time nobody noticed she was running a fever, the odd wobble at drop off in the early days – and still, she loved it. She thrived there. She loved the teachers and the kids, and she learned so much about how to deal with other kids, about empathy and kindness. I got more time to work and rediscover that part of my life. It did us all the world of good.
I still felt crap a lot of the time. There were times when I almost relished a cold as we’d get to stay home and hunker down together. Of course I’d curse the school holidays (for both of our sakes’) but I also loved having her around more, and often wondered – is nursery really the best thing for both of us? Or just for me and my career?
Then the last day came around and I realised this teacher had become a part of our family. This place had become somewhere our daughter felt confident, loved and supported. It was familiar, safe and comfortable. I was crying because I’d miss this place and these caring people, and the relationships our daughter had formed with them. And because I was nervous about what would come next for her at primary school. But also because it was a whole phase that was passing by. It was like a book-end to her early years, she wasn’t a baby or toddler anymore, she was a school child, a pupil. I could feel her slipping through my fingers suddenly.
I’m alright now, a week later. And although I’m fairly sure she’ll miss nursery if school gets tough early on – we all have these safe places that tug on the heart strings when we feel vulnerable, after all – our daughter genuinely does seem fine, which is great. I’m just feeling lucky that we found a great nursery that prepared her so well for the next chapter in her life, that gave her such good friends and let’s face it, took such good care of me when I was right on the edge.