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Great Expectations: Honouring The Pre-School Years And Looking To The Future

You’re off to great places, today is your day, your mountain is waiting, so get on your way.

– Dr Seuss

It is a time of transition. You can feel it in the air. The swallows are starting to pack up and look for warmer climes. The air is cooling and blackberries are out. Thoughts are less about the sun, and more about what to do about that drafty window that needs fixing and the fact that despite throwing nothing out, you have absolutely no idea what you wore before the summer kicked in.

The transition is all over the news. There are hearts breaking over Leaving Cert results, and dreams being made. There’s a whole raft of seventeen and eighteen-year-olds just jettisoned from a system they’ve been in for the last fourteen years and waking up bleary-eyed to a whole new world of possibilities, and hopefully some of the best days of their lives. There are those just beginning on a teenage odyssey and an induction into secondary school with parents braced for turbulence, hormones and bittersweet letting goes.

The last days of August, even when your school era started and finished in the last century, are always about this time of transition. And this year marks a new phase for me. I am transitioning with another, as my eldest daughter this week leaves the pre-school years behind before the reality of the official school system wakes us all up from our childcare daze.

I wanted to mark it somehow and realised that we are very much lacking in this department. There was a pre-school graduation at the beginning of summer, but nothing in reality changed in our world as we kept going to creche as normal. I hadn’t also expected to feel so emotional about it either and I realised, that even if my daughter was ready to get more serious and ‘graduate’ (that remains to be seen), I am not sure if I am.

The truth is, the fluidity and freedom that the pre-school years offer are behind us, and I am sad about that. It’s definitely partly for selfish reasons. I have no desire to have to be rigidly at a school gate at 8.40am, particularly if your other child is still in nappies and can throw the whole morning out with a well-timed delivery that takes 48 wipes and a new change of clothes to deal with. One of my dreaded parenting duties is haranguing everyone to get out of the house.

There has been the easy come, easy go of taking holidays when you want, or when the Ryanair fares really plummet. Of childcare being there five days a week, except for national holidays, somehow comforting even if you didn’t always avail of it. There has been the support of being able to talk to another about your child, someone who spends as much time with them as you do, and with almost the same parent-child ratio. There has been the comfort in the knowledge that even if your kid was in a crappy mood going in, they would soon be painting with their feet, making guitars from toilet rolls and celebrating someone’s birthday (seriously, by my reckoning there were 215 birthdays celebrated in one year in our creche alone).

The pre-school years cover so many of the big moments, it’s amazing we don’t honour them more. The transition from only really knowing your family to trusting someone new, to being with strangers, to walking, talking, to first-time friends, to sharing and the occasional bit of team work, to the one-on-one time you only get when you are that small. There is no competition, no tests, grades, workbooks, or nearly as many unrealistic expectations. There are no markers or levels to hit. There are no packed lunches (can’t wait for that) or food envy, just endless dressing up and a lot of dinosaurs to colour in.

And there are all the incredible women who make that world, and who helped my daughter and I get to this point. I owe them my sanity, her safety, and a whole lot more. I would almost have another baby, just to keep them in my life. Almost. Theirs is a pretty thankless job, roundly and grossly undervalued, but they have been my lifeline.

When I think of school I already have my anxieties defined, I worry about my son getting a punch in the nose, I worry about my daughter getting knocked in the heart. But whatever resilience and strength she has accumulated, it will be at least in no small part owed to her pre-school years, and the time given to get the measure of herself even just a little bit, before having to meet an external standard set in an unrelated place. And who knows, maybe school will put manners on us all.

Either that or we will end up in the principal’s office, a lot.

Photo by Gabby Orcutt on Unsplash

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