The start of a new school year signaled the beginning of a new phase for one mama and her son.
It was the first day of voorschool. I had been looking forward to this time for almost a year – imagining new freedoms for myself, and new experiences for my son. And so we set off, though it was just for an hour and I had to stay there with him. My son behaved at his worse: he didn’t want to do anything the teacher asked – didn’t sit in the circle with other children, and shouted at the teacher when she spoke to him. I was beyond embarrassed, and very upset. His first impression on the teacher was of a child with ‘behaviour problems’. I came home feeling like a failure.
For two and a half years I’ve done nothing but care for my son, and today it felt like I had failed miserably. I resented the school and the teacher, and wondered if I should have chosen a different school. The teacher had asked me if he had ever gone to a crèche before – a simple question, but to me it seemed like a judgement. I assumed that children who enrolled in daycare from an early age were better behaved and disciplined. I cried that evening in front of my husband, who was supportive and optimistic. But I couldn’t share the same high hopes.
On the second day, he was supposed to be at school without me for an hour. I explained to him that he shouldn’t shout or cry, and should listen to the teacher. And, if he managed it, I promised to take him wherever he wanted to go afterwards. I woke up early, with butterflies in my stomach. I woke my son up, reminding him that it was a new school day and to behave nicely. He was a bit sad at first but cheered up at the thought of the park afterwards. However, he was happy to be at school. As soon as we arrived, he remembered to take off his jacket. We went inside and selected an activity. After spending ten minutes doing different puzzles, it was time for opruimen – tidying up followed by circle time – and he happily joined in. The teacher patted his head for being so good. It was time for the parents to leave, but I didn’t know how. I was so scared that he would start crying as soon as I mentioned leaving. So, I used a trick that usually works for him. “I am just going to the toilet and will be back soon. You sit here and be a good boy, OK. And when I come back I will take you to the park.” He nodded, and I left.
Though I had a strong urge to stand outside and secretly watch him through the window, I thought it would be best to just leave the school premises. I went to the café opposite the school, sat with a latte macchiato and a newspaper, all to myself. These kind of moments don’t occur very often in my life. After an hour, I went back to the school to pick him up. He was sitting in his chair, like a good boy. The teachers gave me a thumbs up and said it went perfectly. My son jumped when he saw me, proud of himself for behaving well, and reminded me of my promise to go to the park. I kept my promise, and took him to the park where we both played happily. I told him how happy I was, and he looked quite pleased.
Since then it has been a smooth sailing. He loves going to school, his teacher is all praises for him, and I no longer regret my choice of school. This experience, however, has made me realise how I have started evaluating myself based on my son’s behaviour – feeling successful at his accomplishments, and a failure at his struggles. I thought about all the challenges that await us – basisschool, middelbare, college, university. How will we do at all these milestones in life? Time will tell, I guess. For now, I can start concentrating on the free hours I will have in a week, and plan all the wonderful things I can do in that time – drink coffee, go to the gym, work, or just sit quietly doing nothing at all.
Amal Shakeb is a freelancer and former Content Manager for Amsterdam Mamas, along with being a mother to a spirited young boy.