He was sitting in the trolley and wanted to hold the toothpaste tubes so I let him. Then when we almost reached the till I asked where Ellie was and he said he didn't know. I frantically asked everyone if they'd seen Ellie and they said they hadn't. Some were genuinely concerned until they asked what she looked like and I described a small fluffy orange square with a trunk on one corner that was all chewed and smelly. The concern on their faces was palpably reduced when they realised it was a comforter that I was looking for and not my missing daughter. I'm not being too dramatic when I say I was distraught. I looked at my son and with tears filling my eyes I said. "I'm sorry we can't find Ellie. He looked at me and said, "It's ok Mummy, we have a new Ellie at home." He wasn't wrong. I had bought spares just in case of this eventuality. He styled it out with his seeming indifference to the loss of his most adored toy, but he never loved the 'new Ellie' the same as the original. So you can see why I thought my boy might have some experience in dealing with loss.
Today was my boy's first day at school. He's in the nursery, but it's in a school with uniform and book bags and all sorts of formalities that help get the children used to going to 'real' school. He finished at his old nursery at the end of July and we've been talking to him about the new school and what to expect. We have noticed he was getting a bit upset at times, like when we went uniform shopping or when anyone asked about 'big school' so we stopped calling it that and said, 'new nursery' instead. In preparation he had a haircut last week and every morning this week he has woken up asking, "Am I going to school today Mummy ?" In the last few days cracks started to appear, though, as he said, "Mummy I don't like my hair, I won't go to school until I get a new haircut." or, "I'm not feeling well, I can't go to school." I started to see signs of his fear and worry about the big new change.
Then today arrived and he bounded in to our bedroom asking, "Am I going to school today ?" and we said, "Yes, let's get ready." He had a wash, brushed his hair and then put on his uniform - causing his hair to get all messed up - so he brushed it again and admired himself in the mirror. We all got ready to go and he part walked and part scooted to the school. When we arrived he went straight in and started to play with some other children. When we called out to him he gave us a cursory, "yeah, yeah, whatever I'm busy." wave and we smiled and left the school. I didn't cry, but I did feel a bit choked and hoped he'd be ok. He hadn't eaten much breakfast and I know how ratty he gets when he's hungry so I wondered how he'd make it to morning break time without a meltdown.
When we went to pick him up this afternoon he was sitting nicely on the carpet and when he got up to come to the door I noticed he seemed a bit tired and down. He mithered all the way home, wanting to be carried and I assured him that he'd get used to walking - we both have to ! He wasn't too keen to talk about what he'd done or who he'd played with or in fact anything about his first day. Then we took him out for dinner as a special 'first day at school' treat. He was a bit moody and I put it down to tiredness, but he managed to wolf down a big milkshake and got a balloon from the lovely owner of his favourite diner so he cheered up a little bit.
After a bit of a fuss at bedtime. I went to his room for our usual end of day chat and calmly asked him, "Have you had a good day ?" He said no. Then he burst into tears. I mean massive wracking sobs that made his little - still damp from the shower - body shake. I held him close and kept saying, "It's ok. It's ok baby. It's ok." He cried and cried. I felt terrible - I wanted to cry too. This wasn't tiredness, this was something else. He eventually said, "I don't want to go to new nursery any more. I want to go to my old nursery." I held him close and said, "New things are a bit scary and it's sad when we have to leave somewhere we like, but you will like this nursery too." I asked him what he missed about the old nursery and he said, " My toys..." pause, " and my friends.' More tears. I held him closer and kissed his still wet head. He kept saying he just wanted to go to the old nursery and pleaded with me not to take him to new nursery again.
I felt my chest constrict and my throat tighten. We had spent time talking about the fun new things he'd be doing, but we had neglected to prepare him to leave things behind. Because he can count and and he is very funny and fluent in his speech we think he has a maturity that isn't really possible in someone who will only be 4 at the end of the month. I thought that because he was putting on a brave face he was dealing with this big change in his life. Up until now I've been sewing in labels, getting photos taken and dealing with the 'cosmetic' part of moving on. Now, the real work begins in helping my boy to let go of the past and move on to the future. To help him learn to have faith that things will get better. That this transition from knowing everyone and being well versed in what goes on to everything being new and unknown will only be temporary. The teachers will no longer be strangers and he will make new friends.
You see when I look at my boy I don't just see someone who can dress himself and who plays tricks on me and Hubbie to a make us laugh. I see the tiny newborn who I held close and kissed on the head. I see the smudgy scan that me and Hubbie gave thanks for. I remember the bump that we used to sing to and who I whispered to that I'd love and protect for as long as he'd let me.
If I can't let go of the past just like that it's hardly fair to expect my boy to is it ? It's going to take time.