SO – 2 weeks ago, Axl started pre-school for the first time and as much as my family and friends warned me, nothing could quite prepare me for the emotions that ensued over the last two weeks. From exhaustion to not knowing what to do, to questioning everything that I thought I knew about parenting – this has been one of the hardest two weeks of being a parent.
It started off okay. The first day there were some tears and when we fetched him from school, he was too exhausted to speak that he fell asleep almost instantly – this soon became a habit; fetching him, saying hello and watching him fall asleep before we even got home. The second day was tougher and by the third day, it was nearly impossible to get him ready. He would beg, cry, tantrum, kick and scream not to go. This sounds like a normal 2-year-old, right? But it isn’t normal for my child.
My child has been one of the easiest children to raise – he goes to sleep when he has to, he sleeps through, he eats well, he enjoys activities, he loves learning, he socializes well, when I have left him for media trips, he didn’t even notice my absence, he is a content kid… BUT he just wasn’t enjoying school. At first, I thought this is exactly what my friends had warned me about, but then on the 4th day, my mommy-bells went off and I knew there was something wrong.
Every morning, we’d walk into the school where he’d nearly have a screaming attack, we’d hand him to his teacher and then we were encouraged to leave as quick as possible, not to prolong the tantrum. At first, this made sense. I guess. Sort of. Maybe not. I don’t, actually, know. But on the 4th day, he was calm.
He fought the idea of getting ready for school, he even tried hiding his school bag, he begged that we didn’t go into the car, he cried at the gate – and then, there was a strange calm. We walked into his class and then it happened… he saw his teacher and the look on his face told me that something wasn’t right. Something was causing a problem here.
Rewind to when we first took a tour of the school:
The school is lovely – it is run by a lady that reminds me very much of my granny. We were told that Axl’s class only took 10 people for his age-group, so we were to hurry back with the application as it was already the end of November and spaces were filling up quickly. The next day, we returned with the application and fee, ready to be handed in. All was good.
On our first day, Darren and I both noticed something weird. Axl was in a class with babies: the 1-2-year-olds. There was nobody his age, they were all sucking dummies and bottles, and carried comfy blankets while calling and crying for their moms. None of them spoke and my mind just couldn’t figure out how the teacher was going to do age-appropriate activities with him, to prepare him for school. Keep in mind that Darren and I work from home in the evenings, so we didn’t send Axl off to school for babysitting, we did it because we wanted him to learn and socialize.
Each day, Darren and I would return to this dilemma, not able to make sense of how it would work. The school had 1 other girl in his age group, but she was Afrikaans and his teacher was Afrikaans too. So, was Axl going to school and being spoken to and taught in a language that he doesn’t understand? It is very possible. The days didn’t seem structured; one day they had nap time at 12 and the next at 11, he didn’t come home with any crafts or exciting things to show for his day, other than a few scraps of paper with scribbles on and before long, it started to feel a lot like a babysitting group and not anything like school. And then I started thinking about the fact that they were meant to start potty training – how are they going to do it at school, when there were no other boys that he could relate to and learn from.
Axl changed. He became angry, withdrawn, emotional, clingy and something just didn’t sit right. We’d fetch him and he’d be crying, his cheeks stained with tears and he’d immediately fall into a deep sleep from the exhaustion of all the crying. The school would say he only cried for 10 minutes, or he only just started crying – but his sob, this sob, was nothing like I’d ever seen from him before. He had even stopped wetting his nappy while at school and would get home to go through 8-10 nappies.
And then it happened; he lied. He has never lied, and I know it’s a sign of intelligence and blah, blah, blah but his lie was about something serious. He told me he was sick. He did seem off, so I agreed that he should stay at home. Not even an hour after he realized he didn’t need to go to school, was he jumping from the walls, singing, dancing, playing with his dog and having a jolly ol’ time. The next day, the same thing happened; I started getting him ready for school and when he realized, he said that his arms were sore and he needed to stay at home.
Guys, I can’t tell you how much my heart broke in the last two weeks. It has been unlike anything I have ever experienced before. I know that parenting comes with tough decisions, believe me – enrolling him into school was almost easy because I kept telling myself that this is what everyone else does, this is how things work, he will be okay. But no one prepares you for the inner war that happens when you have the feeling that this school could be wrong, that maybe this wasn’t best, that maybe he isn’t okay.
So, Thursday was Axl’s last day. Darren and I went to Mambos and bought every puzzle and educational toy set, and we’ve agreed to do daily activities with Axl to prepare him for next year, where he will go to Darren’s old pre-school. It is much bigger, it has structure and he will be with other kids his age. Darren and I are fortunate to have the jobs that we do, it means that we can go on and make this decision without one of us having to consider quitting our jobs.
We have also discovered that something happened on Axl’s last day at school, where they played with water. From being a kid who loves swimming in the pool and who will gladly jump in, he has become scared and will hide from having his costume put on. He won’t even sit on the side of the pool to dangle his feet in and he won’t play with any of his favorite pool toys – I have such regrets for sending him back on that final day because I honestly feel like I have broken my kid and destroyed one of his favorite activities.