Emma started kindergarten this school year. At the end of August, when the summer holidays in Mexico come to an end, my three-and-a-half-year-old entered the world of formal education.
For readers who are unfamiliar with the Mexican education system (I'm guessing that's probably most of you!), Kindergarten here lasts three years, from approximately three to six years old, although some children start a bit younger, the ones who are only just turning three in the autumn term. It's only compulsory to go to school from the age of four, though. Then they start primary school, usually at the age of six.
This may sound a bit self-centred to be writing about MY emotions and how I feel, when Emma is the one directly going through the experience of starting school. What about HER emotions and how SHE feels?
Well, I could try that. The trouble is that when I ask Emma about school I get minimal information at the most. There's not really much to go on, and the range of emotions she can recognise and name is obviously much smaller. So I thought it better to stick to what I know and tell the story from my own point of view.
This is how I felt in the run up to the first day of school - making sure we had all the papers the school needed, Emma's clothes and belongings marked with her name, lunch things, etc. This involved many things being left to the last minute, of course, like trying to find somewhere to get her name embroidered on her school sweater the day before.
I was also nervous about how she would get on on her first day. I had a knot in my stomach all morning that day. Since I work as a teacher in a different school - I start work earlier I'm the morning and finish later in the afternoon - and Emma's first day also coincided with my class's first day back, I couldn't take time off to be there to take her to school or pick her up after.
Later that morning my husband sent me some photos of Emma in her uniform, all ready for school, and another taken at school at home time. I felt so proud of my little girl.
When I spoke to my husband at midday after he'd picked Emma up from kindergarten he reported that she'd been fine; she hadn't cried and the teachers said that she'd been happy. What a relief!
The first day was a Wednesday and for the rest of that week she was happy every day, no problems with going to school. Of course, I tried to get as much information as I could out of her about what she'd done, who she'd played with, etc. She told me she'd played with play-doh, she could tell me her teachers' names and the names of a few of her classmates and that's about all the information I got. Oh and one day she told me she'd been playing with blocks and one boy took all the blocks (that always happens, right?). According to Emma, she said to the boy, "They're not yours, they're the teachers'"! But in Spanish.
The next Monday she was fine, too, but then on Tuesday...
Apparently, something happened with the slide. There is a long slide that the teacher was trying to persuade her to go down and Emma didn't want to (she's not very brave with slides) and she started crying. So the next day, she didn't want to go to school and made a huge fuss in the morning. Then every day after that, too. I really don't know if the slide incident had anything to do with that at all, or if it was just that the reality of going to school was sinking in and she was beginning to realise that she would be going to school every day.
So I did feel a little disappointed (that sounds selfish of me!) that my little girl wasn't adapting to the new phase in her life as perfectly as she'd first seemed to.
But mostly I began to feel anxious. One day she cried so much at school that she threw up. That sounds like throwing a tantrum . When I asked her what she'd done at school, sometimes she would say she she'd done nothing, she'd just waited and waited. Other days she would sing me a new song she'd learnt, so I thought she couldn't be having such a bad time and she was probably settling down a bit more once she was actually at school. It was harder on my husband and mother-in-law, though, as they were the ones having to deal with the tears in the mornings and the trauma of the school drop off.
Inevitably, about two weeks into her new school life, she came down with a bug - basically a cold, with temperatures, sneezing and a runny nose - so she was off school for quite a few days. That didn't help with the process of adaptation, but not much we could do about that. She went back to school for another week or so and then got sick again with another cold-type virus.
When we took her to the doctor he said that she would probably be getting sick about once or twice a month to begin with (my heart sank when I heard this). Since she had never been exposed to a school, nursery or daycare environment before her system is having to get used to this sudden contact with all those microbes. Great. But, like I said, it's inevitable.
It makes me sad to see Emma sad. Even though I know her three-and-a-half-year-old emotions are vastly exaggerating a very normal situation and turning it into a melodrama, that's how she's living the experience. I wish I could make it easier for her. Sometimes I wish I could be there to take her to school in the mornings, although that probably wouldn't help her much.
When she went back to school after the first time she was sick, she did seem to be calming down a bit. Although every evening she would start whining, "But I don't want to go to school" over and over again and she was still making a bit of a fuss in the mornings, the teachers reported that she had been content during the day. Which was a pleasant surprise.
I can never really know what happens at school, what she's doing or how she's feeling, obviously, because I'm not there. And not being there in the mornings to take her to school or at midday to pick her up makes me feel even more distanced from what's happening.
Talking to Emma about school - trying to glean scraps of information about what she's been doing or how she feels is frustrating at times. From time to time she mentions something that happened at school or names of classmates and teachers. Sometimes she plays at being the teacher, and uses phrases she's heard her teachers use. But, of course, when I ask her about things she's done at school she doesn't go into much detail, and more often than not will just say she doesn't know.
More frustrating at the moment is all the absences she's had from illness - three times so far, several days each time. That keeps setting her back in her process of adaptation. Just when I think she's starting to settle in, she tells me that today she cried at school and I find out that she cried so much she threw up. The teachers have told us that once she's at school, she's fine during the day and interacts normally with the other children. The problem is in the mornings at drop off time; the not wanting to go to school and crying are becoming a habit which we have to somehow find a way to break or just wait till Emma gets over it.
Back in October there was an event for the mums to come into school and take part in a PE- type activity with their children. They call it a "Matrogimnasia". I got permission to leave work early to go and although I had told Emma I would be there, she looked surprised and delighted to see me there. It only lasted about half an hour and consisted of some simple activities for the mothers and children to do in pairs, but it was fun to spend that time together. Afterwards I took her home - which I don't usually get to do - and we stopped off at the park on the way. She still mentions the "matrogimnasia" and asks when I'm going to go to her school again.
There's about a month left until the Christmas holidays so I'm hoping she'll stay healthy and become more settled at school. I know that going back to school after the holidays will be like starting all over again, but there's not much we can do to avoid that.
Those have been our experiences and my feelings so far about my daughter's first term in kindergarten. Have you had any similar experiences and feelings about your children starting school or has it been very different? I would welcome any advice and suggestions in the comments below!