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13 June 2012updated 08 Jul 2021 10:27am

We were all utterly ready for my youngest to finish school – so why am I blinking back tears?

By Tracey Thorn

That’s it, school’s out, and not just for summer, but like the song says, forever. No more pencils, no more books, no more uniform or name tags, or term dates or parents’ evenings, or sick notes or permission slips, or volunteering on day trips, or forms about allergies and vaccinations. No more prizes or detentions, school plays or sports days; no more carol concerts, or lunches, or summer fetes or sponsored walks, or bake sales or coffee mornings. No more homework or testing or revision, or anything at all – because the youngest has sat his final A-level and all that’s left is to wait for the results in August. Then it ends, nearly 20 years of being a school parent, all finished and done.

At a leavers’ do the other night, one of the teachers asked me, “So how are you feeling? Sad that it’s all over?” and I brushed it off with a laugh, “No, no it feels right,” I said. “He’s ready to leave, we’re all ready to move on,” and I meant it. Yet still as I write this I am blinking back tears.

It’s such a big part of your children’s lives, such a big part of parenting. When they started school I made friends at the same time as they did. There are mums I met on Day One who I still meet up with now, mostly for tea and sympathy.

Back then, we thought we had it all mapped out, all under control. We were going to do a good job: help them with their reading, volunteer to go to museums, sit through concerts, supervise piano practice, nag them to revise while also providing nourishing snacks, get them to bed at a good hour, limit their screen time, stress the importance of breakfast, and it was all going to turn out fine, just fine. We had GOT this.

Then life started happening, and time kept passing. And all those malleable little kids turned out to have not-so-malleable personalities, and likes and dislikes, and problems that seemed to come out of nowhere – until we felt it slipping out of our grasp, and realised that much of the time we were winging it, that the best we could do was do our best.

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The regimentation of the school years creates a sense of being in control. Now when I meet with other parents, we talk about nature vs nurture, and how our thoughts on that topic have changed, since we were disabused of our illusions about the extent of our influence.

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I know everything you do as a parent has an effect, and that no act of kindness is ever wasted, but we’re all astonished at how unpredictable our kids turned out to be; how once we set the motor running, the car just seemed to set off at a ridiculous pace, and our hands were never fully on the steering wheel.

Well, it’s mostly turned out OK. There have been bumps and scrapes, even a few proper crashes, but we’re all still here, still doing our best. A little less cocky now, more self-deprecating about our role, sometimes regretful, sometimes apologetic. And the end of school feels like an acknowledgement that from here on, they’re in the same part of the world as us, the adult world, for good and bad.

They’ll have more freedom, but more responsibilities too, more tricky decisions. I said to that teacher that I was ready to move on, and it’s mostly true. I don’t mind not having to read another school report that struggles to find something to say about a child who is average at geography. I won’t miss listening to other people’s children play the bassoon. I won’t miss exams.

But I will miss those fresh, innocent days at the start of it all. Those huge uniforms, an outline of the child you’d grow into. Those art projects, all glitter and glue, all toilet rolls and pâpier maché. The look on your face when you’d see me at home time.

And I’ll miss something of the routine. My day will be more formless now. I’ll have to make an effort to give it some shape, maintain some discipline.

Or maybe I won’t! Maybe this is MY moment to rebel – roll my skirt up, light a fag, smudge on some eyeliner, tear up my homework and stick two fingers up at the whole shebang. School’s been blown to pieces! 

This article appears in the 19 Jun 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Bad news