People who know me think I’m joking when I say that ‘firsts’ aren’t something I enjoy. I’m an extrovert, I’m confident, I find it easy to talk to new people and make friends, but ‘firsts’? They terrify me. I was reminded of this all over again on my son’s first day of kindy. And he wasn’t even having a hard time.
Let me explain. Going into any unknown situation or any room where others already know each other fills me with dread. I flashback to myself as a five-year-old at the birthday party of a sweet Indian classmate. All my friends were there – that wasn’t the problem. But it was my first time trying Indian food, and as a fussy eater, I absolutely did not like it. I became so upset my parents had to come collect me, and as a result, I was temporarily excluded from that circle of friends. Moving house at the age of 14 and my first day at university triggered similar feelings of overwhelming anxiety.
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People usually outgrow this sort of thing, but my fear of firsts followed me right through my 20s and feelings of insecurity still creep up on me to this day. My firstborn, Jude, has certainly provided me with plenty of firsts!
Jude made his arrival three weeks early and after holding him in my arms for a brief moment, he was taken to the NICU for six hours. At the time, I was feeling too sick to really know what was going on, but when this tiny babe came back to me, I couldn’t stop staring at him. If I’m honest, I didn’t think he was much of a cute or good-looking baby – he was squished, swollen and also the mirror image of my 65-year-old dad – which was slightly unnerving. But I loved this fragile, vulnerable little boy more than anyone or anything I’d ever set my eyes upon. He wasn’t a straightforward baby – he screamed non-stop the first six months with silent reflux and then developed eczema and food allergies. Settling him became like an army drill and if I deflected from it, it was game over. Sleep? What was that? He was more into the nocturnal world.
His first birthday approached, and I was ready to go back to work – in fact I was looking forward to it. I was familiar with the day care we would send Jude to as my nephews and niece had all gone there and loved it. I felt confident we’d made the right choice, but I wasn’t exactly looking forward to handing over my precious cargo to strangers.
And so there I was, at orientation with Jude, in the Pipi Room. Never before had a group of babies and toddlers looked so intimidating. What would these infants do to my son? What if they excluded him from the sandpit or told him they didn’t like him? Admittedly, they couldn’t speak actual words yet but I’m sure they could somehow communicate it.
I slowly felt water creep into my eyes. Embarrassed by the tears and infuriated at myself, I escaped to the darkness of the Sleep Room to give myself a talking to. “Mary, these are babies! Jude is one. He is going to be fine. You are not the one going to day care, Jude is and these are not his issues, they are yours. Pull yourself together!” After orientation, I proceeded to sit in my car at the local Countdown car park and cry. I called my sister in the UK, sister-in-law here and husband and cried. Let’s just say a whole lot of crying happened in that car park that day.
The first day loomed. I thought it would be best if I was as organised as possible and give Jude’s teachers as much information as I could about him and how to look after him. Yes, they look after children every day and yes, they have done it for years, but no, they had not looked after my child before.
And surely everyone gives their childcare providers instructions in size 10 font covering two sheets of A4 paper, explaining their child’s routine, right? How else could they possibly know, “He gets super thirsty and drinks heaps of water”? Or that, “He’s obsessed with clocks and showing him one will immediately stop tears,” or, “When he’s stressed out or tired, he starts scratching the back of his neck”? Did I mention I also started the instructions with, “I’m not super militant with this but…”? A year and a half on, a mere glimpse of that document makes me cringe. I remember handing the stapled pieces of paper to Jude’s teacher and her fairly surprised look as she kindly humoured me without comment.
Unsurprisingly, Jude’s first day went without a hitch. I received a phone call while I was at work letting me know that he was doing okay, and you know what? I felt okay too. I think I had left my anxiety and tears in that Countdown car park.
Since then, he’s been upset at times during the morning goodbye, but every single day I’ve been told, “He’s had a great day.” The Pipi Room teachers became like angels to our family – in fact, they felt like family. They loved Jude, cared for him, nurtured him. They knew him – they didn’t actually need my ‘Jude manual’ (even though it was still stuck on the inside of the door a year later). While writing this piece, I stopped to ask my husband if I sounded like a fruit loop and he said yes, I probably did. I see now that I went slightly over-the-top in my ‘how to look after Jude manual’. But ‘my Jude’ had been my everything, 24-7, for a whole year leading up to that day.
Going to day care was his first ‘proper first’. His first major line drawn in the sand, his first prominent marker on the map and I wanted to make sure he had everything he needed to equip him to be the best, do the best and learn as much as he could in this new stage of life. As his one and only mum, it’s my job to continue trying to do the best I possibly can for him in all the many ‘firsts’ that lie ahead for him and for me.
There’s one sentence in that cringe-worthy document that makes my self-righteous cheeks blush – “I generally don’t give him refined sugar.” And as Jude gleefully eats from his ice cream cone using a lollipop as a spoon right now, I think he’s particularly pleased that with all these firsts, I too am most definitely learning along the way.
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