“It only seems like the other day she started primary school...”

EMMA CONNOLLY talks to three Cork mums who have mixed emotions as their children prepare to start pre-school, primary and secondary school
“It only seems like the other day she started primary school...”
Caoimhe Lehane Connolly pictured with her mother Grainne in Crosshaven. Picture: Howard Crowdy

STARTING SECONDARY SCHOOL

“IT’S going to be a bit like saying goodbye to my little girl as she moves on to the next chapter in her life.”

That’s how Grainne Lehane Connolly is feeling ahead of her daughter Caoimhe, aged 13, starting secondary school in Colaiste Muire, Crosshaven.

“I know that it’s huge, fantastic and exciting, but it really seems like it was only the other day that she was starting primary school. I’m wondering how has this happened?!” she said.

Grainne is also mum to 17-year-old David, who is starting 5th year in the same school.

“I didn’t feel as emotional when David was starting second level as I felt that I still had Caoimhe, so this is very different.

“I feel it’s a real turning point as a mother and I think that in the blink of an eye she’ll be in Junior Cert and then doing her leaving cert.

“When they’re still in primary, you think you’ve ages still with them, but now hormones start flying, they start spending more time with friends and it’s a whole different ball game.”

Caoimhe Lehane Connolly who will be going into 1st Year at Colaiste Muire in Crosshaven. Picture: Howard Crowdy
Caoimhe Lehane Connolly who will be going into 1st Year at Colaiste Muire in Crosshaven. Picture: Howard Crowdy

Grainne’s husband, Chris, tragically died seven years ago from cancer and she says it’s both ‘different and difficult’ being her kids’ only parent.

Caoimhe is dyslexic and Grainne, who admits to being a worrier at the best of times, says that’s an additional cause of concern for them both.

“There’ll be boys in the class now for the first time which will take some getting used to, and there’s so much going through my mind like will she be too anxious to ask questions if she needs to, will she have a pal in the class, that kind of thing.”

Grainne says it will be ‘coffee, coffee and more coffee’ for her that first morning as she tries to keep busy.

“But I know, deep down, that once she’s over her first morning we’ll both be absolutely fine. When she comes out and I see her face, I’ll know straight away how it went.

“I’m really lucky that David is in the school and he’s very supportive to her. The staff there are also amazing and I know that if there’s any issue at all it will be resolved and that the staff are all very interested in each child achieving their full potential.”

Grainne admits that it can be hard standing at the school gate as a sole parent.

“It’s not always easy but I’m very lucky that I have naturally good kids.

“They’re not perfect but I do feel very blessed with them.

“I’m friends with my kids as well as being their mother and I really want to keep that going as I think it’s so important they have someone to talk to, even if you say nothing but just listen. They think ‘OK, Mom is behaving like an adult now and not just being Mom’ so they’ll feel like they can talk to me again.”

Caoimhe was only five when her dad passed away and Grainne said they’ve all missed out on so much.

“But I know he’ll be with us on her first morning and he’ll help her along every step of the way,” she said.

John and Jennifer Duggan with their daughter Zara and son Scott.
John and Jennifer Duggan with their daughter Zara and son Scott.

STARTING PRE-SCHOOL AND PRIMARY

JENNIFER Duggan is preparing for two major milestones this September when her son starts primary school, and her daughter begins in pre-school.

And while she admits both occasions will be emotional ones, she also says, matter of factly, that she’s excited for her children to return to some sort of normality.

“I think it’s going to be a good thing that we all get some sort of routine back to our day after the past few months and that they get back to their friends which is very important,” she said.

Living in Carrigaline with husband John, they’re parents to Scott, nearly aged five, and Zara, who turns three shortly.

Jennifer says there’ll definitely be tears, from her, on the first day — and possibly from Zara!

“It will be emotional for me for sure — it’s the start of a whole new chapter for us. I think Scott will be fine, he’s very excited about it all and is a great mixer so I’m not worried about him at all, but we’re not overdoing it or talking about it too much.

“Zara might be a bit trickier. Because we’ve spent so much time together over the past few months she’s got a little clingier so I’m not sure how the first drop off will go, to be honest!

“And of course drop-offs will be very different now so we’ll have to see how that goes but I’m sure she’ll be fine after a few days.”

Jennifer also remarks that she feels her kids spending time apart, even if it is only for a few hours, is going to be a good thing.

“They’re absolutely the best of friends but I think there is such a thing as too much of a good thing and after so much time together since lockdown, a little break will do them good,” she said.

Jennifer, who works two days a week in Stryker, won’t get to enjoy too much time off yet though, despite both children in school.

“Scott will be in class in the morning and Zara in the afternoon. She starts at 1pm and he needs to be collected at 1.30pm so I’ve around 20 minutes to myself. I’ll have to wait until next year to enjoy a cup of tea in peace!”

Aoibhe Drake pictured with her mother Aisling and brother Joe prior to entering Junior Infants Class in the Carrigaline Gaelscoil at the end of the month. Picture: Howard Crowdy
Aoibhe Drake pictured with her mother Aisling and brother Joe prior to entering Junior Infants Class in the Carrigaline Gaelscoil at the end of the month. Picture: Howard Crowdy

STARING PRIMARY SCHOOL

THERE’S a fine line between preparing children for school and making them anxious about it.

That’s what Aisling Fitzgerald is reminding herself as her eldest child Aoibhe (who turns five in September) gets ready to start primary school later this month.

A primary school teacher herself, Aisling says she should be well prepared for her daughter starting school — but says it’s very different on the other side.

“I really hope that I’ve learned from the mistakes I made when Aoibhe started Naíonra. I remember her Open Day vividly. She was the only child who cried... and by cried I mean she bawled — even though my husband Daithi and I were in the room with her. She wouldn’t mix with anyone and we ended up leaving after 10 minutes. Afterwards, Daithi remarked how he was disappointed for me as he knew the day was a big deal for me. I realised then that I had set us up for failure by building up the day too much for Aoibhe, so I’m trying hard to keep my mouth closed about big school (as much as I can!).”

Aoibhe Drake. Picture: Howard Crowdy
Aoibhe Drake. Picture: Howard Crowdy

The family live in Carrigaline and when Aoibhe was born, her parents enrolled her in Gaelscoil Carraig Uí Leighin and also in the school where Aisling teaches.

“I had decided to bring her to my school for convenience but this year a few things made me reconsider. Firstly, she made fabulous friends in Naíonra, the majority of whom were going on to the Gaelscoil. Secondly, Aoibhe is a worrier and a perfectionist.

“I was starting to think that maybe she would be better off finding her feet away from me when she announced that even if I was teaching in a different classroom she would ‘run out of her classroom and find me’. The Gaelscoil it was!

“When Naíonra ended so suddenly, I was delighted that we had made that decision. Moving to primary school with her peers was definitely the best option.”

When the class teachers were announced, Aoibhe’s two best friends were together in another class.

“Being a teacher, I know that it really doesn’t matter in the long run. Friendships are made and old ones forgotten in the space of a day. Being a mother, however, I was distraught and got in touch with a few mums whose daughters are in Aoibhe’s class. Both girls were the third children in their families so their mums were much more relaxed than I was. They reassured me that it didn’t matter and indulged me by meeting up for a few playground dates, just to make the 27th of August a small bit easier for everyone (mainly me).”

Aoibhe Drake having fun in the Carrigaline Playground. Picture: Howard Crowdy
Aoibhe Drake having fun in the Carrigaline Playground. Picture: Howard Crowdy

Aisling admits that September is tough in their house, starting again after two months at home together, but that this year will be the ultimate upheaval.

“However, the saving grace is that I think that there will be the same upheaval in all school-going households this September. I am both more than ready for it (it’s been a long five months) and absolutely dreading it. The pods, the extra sanitising and all that shouldn’t faze us in the slightest. After all, our children won’t know any different. Children are much better at following the rules than us adults are.

“My main concerns are illness and issues with childcare. Last January and February Aoibhe caught virus after virus in pre-school. She missed quite a few days, which our childminder kindly took her for. I can imagine the same happening once the schools are back and children are mixing again but every time we will worry that it is Covid.

“I think it will be a very disrupted and very disruptive term. I can’t bring myself to think that the whole year may be disrupted.

“I worry about things like visiting my parents when Aoibhe has been in school (and when I have too, to be honest). I job share and I have arranged to be off on the day Aoibhe is due to start school so I hope that she does start on that day. I couldn’t miss her first day. After that, I’m happy for her Daddy to bring her as she won’t act up for him!

“She absolutely loves learning so I think she will thrive in school. I’ll be sad to leave her but after five months at home, part of me is so relieved to have a break from ‘OK, pretend we’re princesses and it’s my birthday and I have chicken pox’. I can only hope there is another birthday-loving, chicken poxed prince or princess in her class, a kindred spirit.”

WoW! has a special Back to School supplement today, Wednesday August 26. Pick up a copy instore.

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