Now that the dust has settled, I’m able to consider how Little Chick starting school has affected us all.
First, I need to say how proud I am of this wee boy. Starting school is a major challenge for any child, but there are added complications for children who struggle with change. Of course, there has been fallout but he has coped admirably. And, in the grand scheme of things, he has been heroic.
Frustratingly, our biggest challenge could (should?) have been foreseen. I failed to spot the correlation between transitioning from nursery to school and leaving his foster family to join us. I didn’t make the connection between the transition activities for adoption and those for starting school. Logically, Little Chick assumed that going to school meant leaving us, despite our protests. His experience is that visits, stories, and books mean leaving his safe place and people he loves. It’s no wonder he was so afraid.
The lead up to starting school was painful, literally. The violence increased and we all started school battered and bruised. We all started with a deficit of sleep after weeks of co-sleeping and restless nights. Fortunately, the first week included a couple of INSET days; a full week may have broken us. As soon as Little Chick started school something changed. His body seemed lighter, looser somehow. It was like flicking a switch. The difference was instant and obvious. The two-month interval since the transition days must have felt like an eternity to him and he surely questioned whether it would happen. I think knowing that something – even if it wasn’t necessarily something he wanted – was happening was a reassurance of sorts.
Of course, this was compliance on his part. We expected this ‘honeymoon period’. We expected it to last more than three days. Though, again, Little Chick’s logic was flawless. He had been brilliantly behaved at school for three days, had slept better (not well, but better), and there was no violence. When he realised he had to return on Monday, he was not happy. After tracing four letters he was ‘done’ with writing: after three days he was ‘done’ with school. The compliant boy of the first week vanished as quickly as he appeared, melting into a pool of hysterical tears when it was time for us to leave him.
Every morning of the second week he cried. He felt rotten. We felt rotten. It sucked. He increasingly showed more signs of disjointed attachment. We increasingly showed more signs of helplessness. The Other Mrs Reed Warbler had maximised her flexi working hours to help with drop off and collection in the first two weeks. Since our long-term plan is to utilise breakfast club in the morning and for me to walk him home after school, we began this routine sooner than anticipated. We had held off the early start and extra exercise to conserve his energy but something had to give. The first morning he was dropped off at breakfast club he never looked back. The choice of cereals was far more exciting and enticing. And we haven’t had tears since. We’ve experienced resistance, but nothing to cause us concern.
Our main tasks are to get him to school on time, collect him when the bell rings, and clothe him appropriately. We’re progressing with the first two but washing?! Oh, the washing. I naively believed we would do less washing than when he was at nursery and at home. Even with enough uniform for each day (and spares) we have found ourselves putting on a half load at stupid o clock. Most days he is returning home in the change of uniform we leave at school. We anticipated that he would have toileting accidents, having regressed over the holiday and faced with new stresses. My champion has not had a single toileting accident! I am overwhelmed at how he has managed this. However, his penchant for painting, water, and generally messy play has (thankfully) been encouraged. His hair has been especially pretty colours, sometimes several colours at once. The constant washing is frustrating but it’s a small price to pay when I know how happy it makes him.
As a teacher and learning mentor I spent (too) much of my working day chasing homework and it frustrated me. So, I feel for Little Chick’s teachers. He has a very fixed idea of what happens at school and what happens at home. He will happily look at books for hours but if I try to show him one for his book bag, I’m in trouble. He shuts down. To paraphrase Kipling, School is school and home is home and never the twain shall meet. Currently, school are happy with this but I doubt it will be tolerated indefinitely.
Saying that, I have been extremely impressed with the staff so far. His headteacher is wonderful. She genuinely seems to get it and speaks with an awareness of attachment and trauma without sounding like its rehearsed or forced. Our conversations about Pupil Premium Plus spending have been candid but encouraging. Obviously, it’s early days but we have been greatly encouraged by what has been said and done so far. They genuinely seem to like Little Chick and want him to meet his potential, in all aspects. There are plans for a nurture group next term and he is already receiving 1:1 time. He was thrilled to play in the woods with the TA who helps at breakfast club (he actually told us about something he did at school!).
I attended a Stay and Play session last week, spending an hour in Little Chick’s class. This was further confirmation that he struggles when home and school collide: I experienced similar behaviour when I accompanied him on a nursery trip last Christmas. We have already agreed that grandparents will be drafted in when volunteers are required within his classroom. We had already been told that he plays alongside other children rather than with them, which was no surprise to us. However, seeing it up close was heart-breaking. He was so awkward and out of place with his peers. Not knowing how to play with others, he ultimately ruined their games, causing tears and tantrums from the other children (though I was impressed with how well the teacher diffused the situation, which is lucky as I suspect this might be a common occurrence this term). A few of his classmates engaged with me and have since said hello at home time.
Most people think I am friendly and chatty and I certainly try to be. But I suffer terribly with social anxiety and small talk can absolute drain me. Polite chit chat at the school gates takes everything I have. And I was dreading it. I’m still not comfortable with it but it’s not as bad I thought. I’m tied to these parents for the next seven years (probably longer with secondary school) and that terrifies me. I don’t want to make a fool of myself now and have it haunt me (and Little Chick) for the rest of his education. I’ve enjoyed the adult company over the past few weeks but I’m painfully aware that I have nothing to say. It feels a little like university freshers’ week where you talk to everyone but ask and answer all the same questions. Instead of ‘What A levels did you study?’ it’s ‘When’s your child’s birthday?’ or ‘Do they have any siblings?’ I’ve already been involved in several childbirth conversations, blissfully ignorant on the periphery of the conversation. I’m keen to help and be involved – with conversations and events – but I think it will take me time. I’ve offered to bake for the school disco (why?! I can’t bake! But it was preferable to making small talk) and volunteered to listen to readers (I’m fine with children). That’s enough for now.
We’ve faced several challenges so far and I know more will present themselves soon. Of course, the first topic they will ‘study’ is about us and people who help us, difficult conversations for adoptees of any age. We’ve never been secretive of the fact Little Chick is adopted but equally it is not always our information to share. As a same-sex couple people are wondering which of us is his ‘real’ mum (I’ve heard whispers). Little Chick will not be able to take a photo of himself as a newborn, or even as a baby. The youngest photo we have was taken weeks before his second birthday. The teacher I spoke to didn’t think this would be a problem but it just highlights Little Chick’s difference. Maybe I’m overthinking it. But I need to be his champion at school and I want to be proactive rather than reactive. If I can spare him any hurt or discomfort then I will.
Since I spent some time in the classroom with him, Little Chick seems more confident with his peers at home time. He’s not making friends yet but you can see that he’s trying to be friendly. Like the class tortoise, he’s coming out of his shell. And I need to do the same. Starting school is a brilliant opportunity for the whole family to become part of the community, something we have wanted for a long time.