DECIDING at what age to send my daughter to national school nearly turned me into a mad woman. I’m not joking!
There was a time when people were almost afraid to make eye contact with me in case I’d corner them for their take on whether to start aged four or five. Supermarket aisles, the person next to me in spinning class, someone stuck in traffic — I was forever seeking opinions. If I knew how to make spread sheets I would have, that’s how seriously I was taking it.
Of course, when Rosie was born in March, 2016, I was still blissfully unaware of the conundrum that lay ahead — one that only parents of kids born at the start of the year grapple with.
Unlike in the UK where you must start school in the September after your fourth birthday, here you can enrol between the ages of four and six, which means there can be vast age differences between kids in the same class.
A few well-meaning people started flagging up the dilemma of being a March baby when she was around three, but sure, then it all still seemed very far away. And suddenly it wasn’t anymore and it was decision time. That’s when the fun started.
Growing up (I’m a child of the 1970s) the practice was to boot us out the door as soon as possible — mainly because there were lots of younger siblings to care for at home already!
My sister was aged three for a short time in National School (imagine!) and did her Leaving Cert when she was 16. Different times obviously, but… 16? What was our hurry?
This was pre the era of gap years, but the feeling was that it was better to have time to play around with at the other end of your education, especially if you needed to repeat the Leaving Cert. We were a serious bunch!
I’ll admit to being a bit old school and was leaning towards sending Rosie when she was four and a half, even if that would have made her one of the youngest in the class.
And after seeking advice from just about everyone, I was more confused than ever.
‘Send her! She’s well able,’ said some.
‘She’s well able but don’t dream of sending her. She might be OK now, but wait until she’s in second level. When there’s boys involved. And alcohol. And worse, things we don’t even know about yet. Don’t do it to her,’ declared others.
Another cohort were even more foreboding, saying: ‘Absolutely don’t send her. It will be the biggest regret of your life… but of course you’re her mother and know best yourself.’ Did I?
I’ve only one child so it’s not like I could experiment on this one and get it right next time. I had one shot only at getting this right (or ruining her life!).
And then the pandemic hit and the saga of ‘to send, or not to send’ went from being the only thing my husband and I spoke about (well. that I spoke about and he nodded along to) to something almost entirely forgotten; from being top of the list, to not even making the list.
At some point in May, 2020, when we were so bewildered from working from home and adjusting to the ‘new normal’, one of us said: ‘Era will we just wait until next year altogether to send her?’; the other nodded and, just like that, it was agreed. Easy peasy.
To be honest, I think either decision would have been the right one but I’m really happy now that she’s absolutely ready to take this step.
She’s picked out a new school bag covered in emojis, the biggest and fluffiest pencil case I’ve ever seen, and runners with flashing soles that absolutely don’t match her school tracksuit. They’re all the complete opposite to what I’d have chosen, but I love them because she loves them.
We’ve name tags for her uniform, more stickers for her books, around 300 Twistables at the last count, a lunch box (for the lunch I’m sure she won’t eat) and she’s practicing how to write her name morning, noon and night. I even had to hide her new school books as, typical girl, she wanted to get a head start.
So yes, she’s definitely ready, and so am I, even if I’m aware that once you start in the system, the years will fly by. Juniors today, six class in a flash.
But at a time when so many children don’t have access to quality education, it would be ungrateful and childish of me not to see this as a completely positive and happy occasion.
And I’ll admit the practical (that’s different to selfish!) side of me is very much looking forward to the uninterrupted work I can get done while she’s at school.
Having said that, I will be glad of the face mask on the first day in case of any wobbly lips — mine!