First Year Wobbles

Tanya Cupitt’s son takes some time to settle in to school.

Daniel, my firstborn son, was completely normal from the word go. I had a normal pregnancy, and he was a normal weight, length and breadth at birth. A regular baby, toddler and child. He did everything according to the childcare books. They could have been written using him as the prime example. So when the uniform-shop lady at primary school said he was abnormal, alarm bells rang. She said he was the only child she had seen who not only had no interest in starting school, but who wholeheartedly hated the idea. I tried to fit a hat on him for size, only for him to run away. The shirt was a guess, as were the shorts.

Teachers tell me that it’s normal for children to feel unsure of themselves in the first few weeks of school, but that was the understatement of the year for Daniel in February at the start of the year. He cried, he screamed, he hung onto my leg for weeks. One day as I leaned down to give him a very quick kiss before bolting out of the school grounds, he locked both his arms around my neck and hung on for dear life as his teacher pulled him off me. It was traumatic, to say the least, for all of us.

Over the next few weeks things didn’t get any better. We tried sticker charts, rewards, naughty corners and bribery. Nothing worked.

My other problem was my younger son Matthew, who was missing Daniel so much that he was making life a misery at home. Matthew was now bored and lonely and just content to stare at the TV. He didn’t want to play any games or have anything to do with me. While before they used to have swimming lessons together quite happily, Matthew howled and screamed his way through two lessons before I finally caved in and booked him into after-school lessons with his big brother. It felt like I was separating Siamese twins. I never imagined they would miss each other so much.

We rode out ‘Cyclone Daniel’ and he eventually settled down when he made his first friend. I was secretly grateful to that little girl, and she still holds a special place in my heart. Matthew found his voice too, without his big brother, and he hasn’t been quiet since. He’s learnt to make friends on his own and no longer relies solely on Daniel for entertainment.

Daniel ended up enjoying school and making friends, which was a great relief. And he’s excited about returning to school this year, thanks to some terrific teachers and other lovely children. I feel that Matthew will have no problems when he starts his second year, as he now knows the routine of school. There’ll be no clinging to my leg and no strangling me. I’m sure he’ll run straight in and be ready and eager.

When I was going through the stress of those difficult beginnings, I thought it was never going to end. But it did, and now school is enjoyed by all of us.

Illustration by Natasja van Vlimmeren