With an empty house for the first time in 17 years, Jen Hogan finds acclimatising to the school routine is full of mixed blessings.
When I get my head around the child-free mornings, there will be the prospect of a better work-life balance.
“You won’t know yourself,” I was told many times over the summer as I lamented the change that was coming my way. Back to school this year wouldn’t just be a return to normal or even a welcome break from the noisy squabbles that had increased over the last few weeks — back to school this year marked a series of milestones.
Child 1 would enter her last year ever at school, Child 3 his last year at primary school, Child 6 was to begin primary school and Child 7 would venture into the playdoh-filled world of Montessori.
But the biggest milestone of all was the one that awaited me — for the first time in 17 years, there would be no children at home in the morning and I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it.
“Sure you deserve it after all this time” came the kind words of a mum who had become used to the morning quiet herself. “You’ll be able to write at a civilised hour” consoled a friend who recognised that distraction was the best technique. “Trust me — you’ll need the headspace,” said a mother whose daughter had completed her final year.
“When you have a child in the house doing the Leaving Cert — everyone’s doing the Leaving Cert!”
After painstakingly individually labelling 108 Twistables, countless pencils, parers, glue sticks and rulers and having many times cursed the clear covering that stuck to the wrong place on the endless supply of books that adorned my kitchen table, D- day finally arrived and I was calmer than I expected.
Child 7 had provided adequate distraction by walloping Child 6 with the new toy hammer he had received for his birthday just two days earlier. Child 6 was consequently sporting a shiner that would feature prominently in his “first day of school” photo. Sentimentality had slipped further down my list of priorities.
Organised chaos took over that first morning with children due in different locations all at the same time. There was no margin of error allowable if this feat was to be achieved.
Himself took a half day from work and with orders issued on loop, military precision planning saw us miraculously
manage to get everyone to where they needed to be, on time. We pushed the thoughts of how we’d manage the next day to the back of our minds.
And every child smiled (well except the sixth year — because you know, the Leaving and all) and there were no tears from my new starters. We have cracked it, I thought, and I had been composed and in control. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, I let myself believe.
“Ha, ha” sniggered Sod’s Law in the background as I carefully laid out six uniforms and a set of toddler clothes the night before day 2. As I considered the hour I’d need to rise to ensure seven children and I were dressed, fed and out the door on time again I wondered if sleeping was really necessary anyway.
“I hate Montessori,” my newly minted three-year-old declared as I roused him from his sleep.
“I am not going today,” he added in case I was unclear of his intentions. “This shirt feels weird,” wailed another child, “and the top button is choking me.”
“Well if you leave it open, the principal will see,” my just-started junior infants child warned his older brother. “She has cameras everywhere — and you’ll have to go to her office!”
The three-year-old objected all the way to Montessori and the floodgates wavered at the drop-off Sensing what was about to happen and ensuring the imminent arrival of my tears didn’t occur in front of their entire preschool class, the Montessori teachers sent me packing.
Back home after much snots and tears (all mine) I decided to take advantage of the child-free house and get some work done.
The silence was unfamiliar, a little uncomfortable and completely distracting. I turned on the TV for company — it was half an hour later before I copped that Peppa Pig had been my subconscious work colleague of choice. Old habits and all that.
The best thing about back to school has been the return of a reasonable bedtime for my littles.
School manages to tire them out in a way that no amount of summer trampolining could. It’s like a circle of benefit, because without enough sleep I’d have a house of contrary Marys and Johnnys on my hands.
And when I get my head around the child-free mornings, there’ll be the prospect of striking a better work-life balance. I’ll have to come to terms with homework-filled evenings again though, which is definitely the part I dread the most.
Week two is off to a good start — we’ve been relatively civil over breakfast and on time every morning and although the three-year-old is still protesting and my junior infant is convinced he may be in line for detention having run in the classroom, the troops are content enough.
So it’s just up to me to settle into our new pattern. I had better get a move on. There’s only 38 school-days left until midterm!