About eight years ago, I wrotethis piece about Kramstable, then known as Juniordwarf, getting ready to start kindergarten and how nervous I was that everything was about to change. I actually didn’t write that much because Sarah MacDonald from the ABC had just written a post on the same thing and she had written everything I was thinking so perfectly that I couldn’t have written a better post, so I copied it into my post (with permission, of course).
It is now just under eight years later. Kramstable has been at the same school all this time, moving from three days a week Kinder to full-time Prep and through the grades up to where he is now, Grade 6. During that time he, and I, have changed a lot and I am getting ready to say goodbye to the primary school where he has spent two-thirds of his life.
I don’t feel ready! I don’t feel like I should be the mother of a 12-year-old who will be starting high school in just under two months time. A near-teenager. Just like I didn’t feel ready to give up my four-year-old to the formal education system way back in 2011.
Primary school has been something that’s been constant. It’s formed part of my identity. My kid goes to that school. I’m a part of that school community (though I never was any good at participating in bake days and when I got raffle books I ended up buying all of the tickets myself). It’s something steady that has almost always been in my life and that, until this year, I had never given much thought to as being something that would one day end.
Yet it will, and that day is two days away.
I have been so incredibly lucky to have been able to participate in Kramstable’s school life in many ways. When he was little, I used to take him to his classroom and read books with him until the bell went. I used to take turns at parent help in his classroom, helping kids with their reading and other things I don’t actually remember. (It was a long time ago . . . ) I do remember leaving after these 90-minute sessions feeling happy to have been able to do it but so exhausted at having spent that much time working with a large group of four/five/six-year-olds. I was always in awe of the teachers not only doing this for six hours a day but for coming back day after day to do it again and again.
I went on excursions and never managed to lose a child, so I think I did pretty well there. I went to places I didn’t even know existed. I swung on ropes, I patted a shark (well I didn’t, but I could have), I went bushwalking, and I learned about sustainable buildings and Tasmanian Aboriginal culture. I really felt part of it, which was great, because Kramstable is one of those kids who gives away very little about what he does at school during the day. So one of my most treasured experiences was to sit in on his class waiting for an excursion to start and actually see the class in action.
As he got older, he didn’t want me to stay any more but I would still take him in most days. Some days I’d stay and talk to his teacher or chat to some of the other parents and I’d pick him up from outside his classroom. At the end of Grade 4, he said he didn’t want me to come in with him any more and that I could walk him to the school gate. The school gate quickly became the end of the street and, eventually, I hardly even saw the school in the mornings. No more chats with the teacher or catching up with other parents. That was it. I wrote about it here.
We used to catch the bus in together a couple of days a week and it got to the point earlier this year when he didn’t want me to go on the same bus with him. It wasn’t enough to leave him at the bus stop when we got off, he didn’t even want me to get on!
In the end, it worked out well because it meant I could go in earlier to work. I’d initially been reluctant because it was another thing to let go of, but there was no reason not to let him go by himself. He knew the way and was confident catching buses and it shifted into being the new normal rather quickly. One day I said to him that sometimes I might have to catch the bus with him and he said, “no mum, that’s old”. According to him, I couldn’t even catch the same bus as him, even if I wasn’t with him. He said he wouldn’t get on it if I was getting on; he’d wait for the next one. I did have the idea to leave earlier and walk to the next bus stop and get on there, after he was already on, so he’d have to be on the same bus as me but I never did it.
Now, one day a week, he’s stopped going to after school care and he comes home from school on the bus by himself. That was a big step too, though I’m home by the time he gets here so he isn’t coming home to an empty house.
In conjunction with all of the travel changes have been the new opportunities he’s had as he’s moved through the school.
In Grade 4 he joined the choir, which performed at the annual Combined Primary Schools Band and Choir concert at the Derwent Entertainment Centre, an event that has been running for over 40 years and is a wonderful celebration of primary school music. In Grade 5 he started playing the clarinet for the Year 5 band in the same event and this year he asked to take on the bass clarinet. His teacher had been concerned that he might have been too small to play this instrument but offered to let him have it at home over the holidays to practise and see if he could do it. Watching him find something he wanted to do and then devote himself to learning how to do it, and to work around his potential limitations, was something I will treasure always. And it was such a joy to go to the concert in November and to see the result of all the hard work the kids and the teachers had put in over the year.
He participated in Tournament of Minds, his team winning honours at the state final last year and winning the competition this year, which enabled them to go to Darwin for the international final, where they were awarded honours. I loved watching how well he worked with the others, how committed he was to the project and how beautifully he performed.
He applied to go to a leadership conference earlier in the year, which he was accepted for. He put himself out there as a candidate for house captain and had to make a speech to the school about why they should vote for him. Even though he didn’t win, I was so proud of him for nominating himself. It couldn’t have been an easy thing to do. He and some of his classmates auditioned for a TV show and, while they didn’t get selected, Kramstable and another classmate were invited to take part in one of the episodes. That was very exciting!
Even though I haven’t been as closely involved at school this year, it’s been an amazing final year of primary school and I’m grateful that his school gives the students so many opportunities to stretch themselves. Watching him find things he loves and go out and do them has been wonderful and so rewarding for me as a parent.
Now I have to face the reality that his time at primary school is almost over and this will all be gone in two days time. We’ve been to the high school orientation day and it’s huge, with more kids in Year 7 than there are at his entire primary school. I asked him if he’s excited and he said no, he was “interested”.
Every time I think about this stage ending, I can feel the tears well up and I know that come tomorrow, when they have the leavers’ assembly, I will be a complete mess. It feels like such a big ending, the end of everything I’ve known for the past eight years. As I said at the start, primary school has been a constant, something that has always been there. I feel really sad that it’s ending. I’ve felt like it all year, knowing that this is the last time we will do this thing, or it’s his final something else. Last sports carnival. Last Book Week costume. Last swimming carnival. Last band performance. On Friday I waited for him for the last time at the spot where we meet on Fridays after school and yesterday we caught the bus home together for the last time. Today I got the last school newsletter and he caught the bus home for the last time. Next year he’ll walk.
It’s all been such a big part of his life, and mine by extension, for the last eight years and I think it’s okay to feel like this. I feel the way I feel and I’m not going to try and squash that.
But I also remind myself that, while this stage is coming to an end, he is moving into a new stage and he will have new opportunities when he gets to high school. When he’s there he will face new challenges and he will have new experiences to explore, new things to learn and new ways to grow – and those are goals I have for my own life. To constantly explore, learn, challenge myself, and grow. What he’s about to do is exactly what I aspire to and I want that for him just as much as I want it for myself. So, while the ending is sad, this stage has to end for the next stage to begin.
Thank you Kramstable’s primary school for all of the opportunities you have given him, for getting him ready to move into the next stage of his life and for giving me so many chances to be involved and to learn new things. Thank you to all his teachers and his principal for challenging him, encouraging him to grow and for supporting him when he needed it. Or, as he put it in a note to his principal, thank you for helping him evolve. I am proud to have been part of your community and to have watched my son go through the first eight years of his formal education within your walls. I will look back on this time with great fondness. I will have beautiful memories and he will go on to high school and make new ones.