Saturday 21 April 2018

Kathy Donaghy pens a letter to her son as he starts school

'I felt I was losing you as you took your first steps away from me'

Bittersweet: Kathy with her son Dallan, who bravely faced up to 'big school' this week
Bittersweet: Kathy with her son Dallan, who bravely faced up to 'big school' this week

Kathy Donaghy

It feels like we have been preparing for this week for a long time now. There was the day we got your new shoes and matching Iron Man schoolbag and pencil case. There was the day we picked your uniform, my sister doing the practical stuff like checking it for size as I just cried at the sight of you in it. We ticked off all the items on the list the school gave us. We got your hair cut.

You measured the countdown to your first day at school in the number of sleeps left. "Just one more sleep?" you asked me last Sunday night.

I watched the last of the summer evenings ebb away and felt the chill of autumn creep in. September, the month of your birth and mine, a month I welcome as the beginning of our own personal New Years' was upon us and with it your first day at school. For the first time ever, I wanted it still to be August. My heart felt as fragile as an egg.

Monday's milestone day arrived with glorious September sunshine. It shone brightly as we took photographs of you in the garden with your shiny new uniform on.

You smiled brightly too. You were looking forward to getting to school. I felt I was losing you a little bit, that this was the first of many steps that would take you away from me.

On our short drive to Scoil Naomh Fionán, overlooking Lough Foyle, I remembered a card someone gave us when you were born.

It said something like "Good parents give their children roots and wings". I tried to take comfort from the wisdom contained in those words. They didn't help much.

And then it was time to let go of your hand. I told you that you were ready for this and you gave me a hug.

At that you were gone, your bright blue jacket disappearing into the sea of little people. You looked small compared to the bigger boys and girls. Your little brother was heartbroken. "Where's Dallan?" he kept repeating.

Your Dad, ever sensible, tells me you are well up for this, that you want to do things for yourself that you are ready to be a 'big boy' now. You keep reminding us of that by refusing to let us do things for you now.

At home time, we are there to pick you up with all the other parents of the junior infants. There you are coming back to me dragging your brand new jacket on the ground behind you. I have searched your face all week for signs of how it's all going.

You're not saying much but you seem happy to be in 'big school'. You tell me who you're sitting beside and playing with at break time. When you come home we do the same things we usually do, things like going to the shore and making sandcastles.

You and your brother throw stones in the water and we play pirates. At bedtime you ask me if you are going to school again in the morning.

Over these past few days I've looked for signs of little changes in you. Silly really. You are only gone for a few hours each day. You look older to me in your school uniform but you still seem happy to greet me with a hug and hold my hand. That will change, I'm assured. Soon I will be an embarrassing mother but you're still too young to feel like that. But for now we'll deal with one thing at a time.

I am glad you haven't been looking back at me as you walk through the school gates. I am proud that even though I knew you were scared, you kept walking once you said goodbye to me. I remind myself that there will be many firsts in your life and I will have to smile and send you off on your journey even though my heart is breaking.

At times this week it has all felt surreal, dropping you at the school gates and then going back to pick you up. How did we get here so fast, I ask myself. I keep remembering you as a new-born baby as we danced to Declan O'Rourke's 'Love is the Way'. How many times in the last week have I wondered where have the years gone?

It feels like yesterday since you came into this world, just shy of seven pounds, punching the air like a boxer. I had never seen anything so beautiful, your dark eyes blinking at me. I called you my little bird. I still do sometimes. Now you're at school and our days and our lives have taken on a different rhythm. It's your time now to start to do things without me. So go and discover this world and embrace this new phase of your life.

Fly, my little bird.

Irish Independent

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