An emotional goodbye to the pre-school years

Family life

Those of you who’ve been reading Cardiff Mummy since the beginning will know what an emotional mess I was when my daughter, my eldest child, started full-time school back in September 2014. I had my children in just over four years, and the days when I had my little gang all at home with me were some of my favourite parenting moments. Although she thrived at school, I missed her so much it hurt.

It wasn’t any easier second time around when my middle child joined his sister at school two years later.

So you can imagine how I am feeling right now with child number three due to start reception in September. When the schools start back for the new academic year I’ll have no children at home with me during the day for the first time since I became a mum. It’s a strange feeling.

Our last day of school is Tuesday, so the littlest and I have two final days of pre-school life together just the two of us before the summer holidays. Well, two mornings really because he goes to nursery pre-school in the afternoons.

Anyone who knows me in the real world will tell you I’m an overly emotional person at the best of times. And I’m finding this transition difficult.

I have spent the last few weeks bursting into tears as we do things for the last time. I was the same with my other two children but this time as well as being his last, it’s my last. Our last preschool gymnastics. Our last coffee shop date with his friends and their mums. Our last Techniquest Toddler Day. Our last term-time day-time trip to the parks we like to visit, always so much quieter without the weekend and school holiday crowds. Our last day at Cylch Meithrin (Welsh playgroup). Our last annual Cylch trip to the beach at Barry Island. Our last nursery school sports day. You get the picture.

When my littlest starts reception in September, I will have been a baby/toddler/pre-school mum for eight and three-quarter years. It’s a long time! I turned 40 a month ago and it struck me that my entire thirties have been about pregnancy, babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers.

I’m lucky that being self-employed means I’ve been able to structure my work around my children in order to spend as much time as possible with them while they were young. It’s not been easy – working late at night or with a sleeping toddler in the car hoping he doesn’t wake; replying to urgent emails at soft play or when they’re distracted playing. Turning down amazing opportunities because I can’t make it work with school runs and childcare. Working part-time meant our family finances took a real hit, and we sacrificed a lot. But it’s been totally worth it to get to spend so much of their formative years with them.

It’s the end of an era for me and I can’t quite get my head around all the things I won’t be doing anymore. Some of my friends have told me they are “done” with the preschool days – but I feel so sad that this chapter of my life is coming to an end. I work from home too so being out and about with my children has been a real social lifeline for me. As my youngest settles into school, I’ll have to work out my own new routines too.

I’m excited for my youngest to take his first steps at school – all the wonderful things he will learn, the exciting experiences he will have, the things he will achieve, and the friends he will make. As one of my friends told me through my tears when our eldest children started school, “We are the lucky ones because our children get to take the next steps; not all of them do.”

And I know she’s right. I’m so lucky. Some days, juggling three young children was so hard – but for the most part it was wonderful. And I’m going to miss all of this so, so much. I’m going to miss him so much. When he was born I felt so guilty that as the youngest of three he had to fit in with his big brother and sister and didn’t get any time on his own. But he’s had me to himself during term time for the last two years. And I’m really going to miss him; just as I do the other two.

As he and I walked around the park last week, I saw a group of four mums all pushing their prams around. They looked to me like first time mums, with shiny new buggies and coordinating change bags. That was me once upon a time, I thought, as my NCT friends and I got to grips with being new parents together.

And then in the supermarket – shopping on my own whiIe my youngest was in pre-school – I stopped in my tracks when I saw a mum with a baby in a car seat in the trolley and two toddlers in the seat. It was like looking back at myself four years ago, doing the weekly shop with three children aged four and under in tow because I’d not had a spare moment to do an online order and the cupboards were bare. I suddenly realised how crazy it must have looked and how much easier grocery shopping is these days.

Everywhere I go, I see these mums of babies; of babies and toddlers; of babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers. As they navigate the demands of younger and/or multiple children I wonder what they think when they look at me with my one four year old. Are they internally rolling their eyes at me thinking “you have no idea”?

“I used to be you,” I want to tell them. In fact sometimes I offer to help because I remember how much it meant to me when someone held my baby so I could change my toddler’s nappy; or entertained the big two while I fed the baby; or looked after all three so I could go to the loo on my own. Seeing these mums reminds me of just what a journey the last eight and a half years have been. You’ve got it all to come, I think. And I mean that in a positive way. Yes, there will be stressful times but you will be part of so many heart-warming, special moments too.

It’s time now for me to take the next step in this wonderful journey of parenthood. I’m moving up a level to the world of ‘mum of all primary school-aged children’. And for all the lasts I am sad to be leaving behind, there are so many firsts I am excited that I will be experiencing too. I’ve already seen it with my older two – performing in school shows; reading a new book; an amazing school report; getting a medal at sports day; representing their school at an event; the teacher calling me to one side at the end of the day to tell me they did something exceptional. There are new challenges with school-aged children. In fact, I hadn’t realised quite how demanding it would be. But there are also so many new and wonderful moments that make me burst with pride too.

I remember when I graduated from university and wasn’t sure how I would cope in the real world, living miles away from the friends I lived with who had become like sisters to me. It was the words of Take That’s Never Forget – always the last song of the night in our students’ union bar – which powered me through and which I always think of in times of change. “We’ve come a long way. But we’re not too sure where we’ve been. We’ve had success, we’ve had good times. But remember this,” they sang. And then that unforgettable chorus.  “Never forget where you’ve come here from. Never pretend that it’s all real. Someday soon this will all be someone else’s dream. This will be someone else’s dream.”

Indeed. It will be someone else’s dream. Enjoy it, those of you just embarking upon it. It really does fly by.

Do you have a little one starting school in September? How are you feeling? Let me know in the comments below, on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page, or by tweeting me on @cardiffmummy 

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