Dad's World with Jonathan deBurca Butler

Our boy, our first born son, is starting school today. Has he really been here that long?

AS I walked out the front door, I thanked the god (that I don’t believe in) for such a wonderful day.

The night before had blown itself out. It was a strange combination for Ireland — a warm, sticky night and a noisy, blustery breeze.

Fionn hadn’t slept well. From midnight, he gave out the odd, concerned yelp, as he tossed and turned under his heavy duvet. I lay there, listening to him, wondering whether to go in or let him settle.

I got a little concerned. He had been sleeping well lately, and he needed to keep that going. He was just eight hours away from a very big day. Eight hours away from meeting a bunch of people with whom he is about to spend the next seven years. 

This night, of all nights, he needed to sleep and to sleep well. I wanted him to bounce out of bed like Albert Einstein and get his school life off to a positive start.

As it turned out, we all slept through without any major interruptions. When I went to wake him in the morning, he was out for the count. 

Classes in his new school start at 8.20am, so getting him up at seven was a shock to the system, and not just to his.

Up he got, unaware of the fuss, concern, and inner hand-wringing that his parents were going through.

Our boy, our first born son, is starting school today. Has he really been here that long?

At one point, as I slalomed around the house, stepping over toys, washing dishes, putting on shoes and doing whatever else needed to be done, I wondered what, exactly, it was that made parents so concerned about their child’s first day at school.

Was it really concern for their child? 

Is the difference between creche and school really that big?

Or was it more about us, the parents, and the inevitable journey away from our own futures and into our children’s?

Having done my bit, and having got over my own (probably selfish, but unstoppable) musings, I knelt down beside Fionn. His mother took a photo of us at the front door; he had his over-sized Avengers bag on his back and I had an expression of anxiety and quasi-authority. I hugged him and walked out the door.

When I had woken, some 90 minutes earlier, the early morning had revealed dirty, scattered puddles in the driveway and beyond, but the cool, blue morning sky had, by now, sucked the pavements and pathways dry. 

All evidence of the previous night’s breezy fight with itself had disappeared and it was a damn fine day.

“He might remember this day as a good day,” I thought to myself, as I walked towards work.

“The sun is shining and the sky is bright. He will go to school in a good mood. The likelihood of mingling, and a convivial atmosphere, will help him feel comfortable. He will start his school life positively.”

Later that morning, I got a text from Ciara.

‘All great,’ it read. ‘Lovely atmosphere.’

Beside the text, she attached a photo.

There he was, with the over-sized bag on his back. In the background, I could see the heads, shoulders, and backs of other parents, mingling outside the school. 

Fionn was oblivious to them, looking towards the sky, in the manner he does when he’s rambling on.

All told, he seemed fine, but for one, tiny little detail.

With his left hand, he fiddled with the zip on his top. 

He was nervous, but, as he would tell me later on that day, “just a little”.


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