No 4 on her first day at school
First day back 2006, no 4 starting school
Back when no 1 started, we didn't even have no 4, and the first term was a blur of putting tights on small children (I remember that bit with grim horror), struggling out of the door in time, loading two small children in the double buggy and speed walking as fast as poor no 1's little four year old legs could take her, while envying other less encumbered mothers then I. It also rained constantly that term, and I remember just keeping my head down and holding out for things to improve. Which they did. Namely in the form of new friends, some of whom are now very dear old friends, who have supported me through thick and thin over the last few years.
And by the summer term, when I had ditched the double buggy, with no 2 and no1 squabbling over the buggy board, life did seem to be getting a bit easier. Then I got pregnant again, and for the next few years the school run was an awful lot of hard work. And it was back to the double buggy again. A friend dubbed me the Monkey Mother once, when he saw me pushing said buggy, with no 2 perched on the handlebars and her arms wrapped round my neck, and no 1 trotting dutifully by my side. My buggies had such a hard life, none of them survived long, and I probably got through three or four doubles plus numerous singles before I finally consigned the last buggy to the dustbin.
By that time eldest two oldest two were well capable of strolling the mile to school but were bored with it. So we used to play traffic lights to and fro from school (green for go, orange for slow down, red for stop), which worked a treat. We had also got into numerous after school activities (when no 1 started it was straight home after school), so I frequently struggled to tennis or swimming lessons weighed down with extra bags. And of course on sunny days, when they came out of school I'd be dumped with coats, jumpers, bags, you name it. To the point at which I started to refer to myself as packhorse mummy...
I had one year when no4 went to nursery full time round the corner from the others' school, which necessitated a longer walking route, plus THREE lots of newsletters, info, sports days, Christmas fairs etc, and then one year when they were all in the same location (though the two little ones were in the infants and oldest in the juniors), and then it was as though things were going backwards.
Six years ago, no 1 started secondary school. Protesting much more loudly about it then her youngest sister it had to be said. A trauma I still haven't quite recovered from. But I still had three on the school run. Life didn't feel like it had changed that much. Two years later, she was followed by no 2. Half and half. And then no 3 left and suddenly I was down to one on the school run, and I was one of the unencumbered mums I'd envied so much that first year.
Over the last year, there's been a slow withdrawal as no 4 has wanted more independence and started to walk home on her own. So I've gradually got used to not being at the school gate every day (a bonus, no school yard gossip, which I always hated, but also I barely see friends anymore) I had expected tears on her last day, but because we had to rush off to get a plane, and because suddenly it dawned on me how much freer I was going to be, I didn't actually shed a tear, though I had a lump in my throat. The school run has been part of my life for so long now, I'm not quite sure how I'm going to manage without it.
My children are growing up and doing what children do, preparing to leave me. (No 1 horribly soon now). I shall miss the chats we had, and the funny stories they told me on the way home from school, but I've grown up too. I'm no longer a young mum with babies and toddlers, I'm a (shall we say mature?) mum with 3 gorgeous teens and one pre teen, who provide me with much entertainment about the doings of their school day round the dinner table. It's time for all of us to move on. And scarily, time for me to find myself again, after seventeen years of being wrapped up in their lives (I am still wrapped up in them, but increasingly less so.)
And as for no 4, she is thrilled to pieces. After years of listening to stories about big school, she's finally joined her sisters there. She has the kudos of knowing people in the sixth form, Year 11 and Year 9 (unlike my big sisters who didn't acknowledge me at school, hers seem quite happy to), and she made a promise to her big sister today which should stand her in good stead. "It's all right," she said. "I won't behave like a Year 7. My skirt's rolled up, I don't have a back pack, and I won't go round in packs."
I think she'll be just fine.