I had expected to feel very emotional about Kitty starting school. In the days and weeks running up to the big day I’d look at her again and again, one moment seeing my tall confident daughter, and the next, the tiny baby that used to fit into the crook of one arm, or the toddler that would bumble across the room to me with arms outstretched, all enormous cheeks, bright eyes and wonky pigtails, and wonder how we got here, how five years has passed in the blink of an eye. I even packed a hankie in my bag on Sunday night, in between making up the batter for a celebratory Mickey Mouse waffle breakfast, and laying out her school uniform and her bag and twitching at it to make sure it was perfectly straight and orderly, as if the way her uniform sat overnight would somehow guarantee its tidyness over the next seven years.
But when we woke up on a bright sunny Monday morning there was nothing but excitement in the air. Kitty was up and dressed in a flash, and was ready so early that we actually ran down to the village shops for a couple of bits and pieces we needed, just to stop her climbing the walls. On the way, and on the way back we bumped into friends who congratulated her on her first day and told her how wonderful it was going to be, and waved to other children in uniform and smiled to the parents that we don’t yet know. We’re part of the club now and it felt like the very start of our whole family becoming even more enmeshed in the fabric of our village life, not just a new adventure for Kitty.
And then to school itself. Kitty ran in quite the thing, found her peg (she has a butterfly as her picture, a wonderful coincidence that felt like a good omen), and ran into her classroom. We stayed for a few minutes, during which time she entirely ignored us in favour of making a marble run with her teacher and a couple of classmates and when Elma ran over to hug her goodbye and we waved and blew kisses she looked at us as if to say “oh, you’re still here?”
And that was that. Walking home both H and I found we were whipping round, looking for her, trying to count two to make three; after a summer where we were only very rarely not together as a five, it did feel very strange to be only four. Strange, but never sad, and I wasn’t biting my lip or blinking back the tears, just happy.
I think first days can be like that though; the emotion is in the anticipation, and when it comes to the day itself, excitement and novelty wins through. And so the week cantered on, and we got used to the early walks in the sunshine, the quieter mornings, chatting to the other parents at the gate, piecing together our children’s days from all the little snippets of conversation from the previous afternoon, the moment when they burst out of the classroom door, scanning faces looking for the right ones, and the walk home with happy detours to the play park with her friends.
Kitty ran out to me on Friday, hair escaping from her ponytail, shirt half in, half out, and before I could so much as give her a hug she’d flung her bag down on the floor and was diving into it.
“Mummy! I made you a card!” she said brandishing it at me. “It says ‘I like cuddles’ I think!”
It does on the front, more or less, neatly embellished with two paw print hole punches.
And then I turned it over:
I luv yo”
and her name down the bottom.
I was sunk. Completely and utterly unable to do more than just pull her in for a tight tight hug and wait for the lump in my throat and the prickling behind my eyes to fade.
It’s not just that it’s the first piece of writing that she’s done at school, and it’s not just that it’s probably the first time she’s written “I love you” either at all or without having an adult write it down first so she can copy, although those are both huge things. It’s that she chose to write it to me.
Because I think when you’re the stay at home parent you’re the constant, the one who is always there, who doesn’t have much novelty value and who, because she’s also running the house, cooks meals, does the laundry, cleans the house and has this really annoying habit of suggesting that the toys might like to hop back in the box at the end of the day. I’ve always thought that, from Kitty’s perspective, I supply her needs, but that it’s Daddy who supplies her wants. It’s Daddy who can push her higher and higher on the swings, or will take her off to paint in the studio for a couple of hours, or take her to the shop for milk and butter and come back with more contraband of a chocolatey nature than Mummy would ever ever allow.
And it’s not that I don’t want her to adore her Daddy, or that I doubt that she loves me or something daft like that, I know that she does and I wouldn’t change her relationship with H for the wide world. It’s simply that in writing to me it felt like she was telling me that she gets it, she can see what I do, and it matters.
It is and will always be one of my most treasured possessions.
I love you too my darling girl.