I'm a bewildered and emotional mess as my son starts preschool and daughter starts secondary school

As her pre-teen starts secondary school and her youngest begins pre-school, WENDY GOOD reflects on her own school days and how she’s feeling about adventures new ahead
I'm a bewildered and emotional mess as my son starts preschool and daughter starts secondary school
Wendy Good's daughter Zoe Noonan and son Dale O'Neill Good. Zoe started secondary school while Dale starts his first ECCE pre-school year.

HAVING a curious threenager and a hormotional pre-teen means that most days I can’t remember what I ate for lunch, but I remember well the terrifying first days of school.

Playschool at two-and-a-half? I clung to my mother’s leg but then they showed me that there was an indoor slide and I thought it was Christmas.

Primary at four? Teacher wore a green cord A-line skirt and red leather knee-high boots (it was 1980) and told us we would learn to read. Smartypants here informed her that I could already read; well, my name on a coat hook anyway.

My first day at secondary was memorable, not only for the holy terror of it all but because I forgot a book, went to my locker to get it, got lost, and was late for English. My punishment was to stand on a desk and tell all my new classmates why women were better than men. Said slightly eccentric, feminist English teacher went on to be my inspiration and taught me to love words.

Now I find myself as a mum to two beauties about to start school — Dale is three and off to his first ECCE year at pre-school and Zoe, aged 12, is starting secondary — and I’m an absolutely bewildered, emotional mess from it all.

Practically, there is relief that childcare costs will come down, but it will be a massive change for us all.

I feel that pre-school and primary are more of a big deal to parents, rather than the child — as they are generally mad to grow up. But secondary is a nervous time for most kids, going from being top dog at primary to being the babies in a much bigger place.

Wendy Good and her daughter Zoe Noonan, who has just started secondary school.
Wendy Good and her daughter Zoe Noonan, who has just started secondary school.

Modern families eh? It is peculiar to have that age gap; to have one starting his school career and another heading into her final run. I’ll be tracing handwriting dots with him one minute and supervising Junior Cert projects with her the next. He’ll be singing nursery rhymes, while she goes on geography field trips. They will never be in the same school, never have the same holidays, and the age gap will seem colossal in the coming years. I know, my brother was a decade younger!

Long-time readers of Women On Wednesday will remember Zoe as the original WOW! baby, as my pregnancy, birth and early years experiences were plundered for my Good Life column. It’s seven years since that column ended and I am still stopped in the street with people asking after baby ‘Neenoo’, as the bump was nicknamed. Well, Neenoo is now my height, with a wicked sense of humour, an innate sense of justice and, like her peers, a burning desire to first save the planet and then change the world.

I know she must grow up but I hope she doesn’t change too much. I’m told they disappear from the snuggles and the chats at 12 and reappear a few years later with caterpillar eyebrows and dodgy fake tan. I hope she knows that those snuggles will always be here. I am slightly petrified by the thought of first discos, mountains of sports kit and the inevitable ‘what are you wearing?’ debates.

I want her to make wise subject choices; try what interests her, surprise herself. I hope she knows that her parents don’t give a fig about grades, once she has tried her best. Don’t let the jealous, insecure bullies in, Zoe, for they will always try to quench a bright flame. Same goes for cyber-bullying, it’s a plague. I work with social media and still fear I can’t keep up, but I’ve always believed that it’s better to embrace technology than avoid it — teach our kids how to use it, respect it, and when to ditch it. The next few years will prove whether that was a wise move or not.

But should I ever need to understand tech, I can just ask the small boy — are they born knowing how to swipe? I can’t wait for my social bunny to start his school journey; all that energetic curiosity needs to be channeled. Zoe was a shy child who needed pre-school to be comfortable around her peers. Dale is an extrovert, fascinated by people and mad for the craic, so I have no fear of him.

Being honest, having a second chance of motherhood in your 40s is an amazing blessing but comes with the added fear of everything being cognitively alright. My small man shows no signs of any difficulties but school will soon show up any and I really want to know if everything is OK with his learning abilities — even if people might think we are his grandparents at the school gate in years to come.

It’s going to be an interesting few weeks as we adjust to new routines, washing loads, early starts and bus drop-offs. I suspect it will be tiring and a tad overwhelming for us all, but the kids will adapt much faster than their addled old mum...

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