Yesterday, my eldest child started school.
I’ve been counting down for five years until this moment. I thought I would skip off merrily after dropping him on the first day, and with a big sigh of relief have myself a mid-morning cocktail and a rest. I was sure I wouldn’t cry.
But there I was on Sunday, alone in my house while the kids are with their dad, balling my eyes out.
And there I was on Monday, in the school kitchen, listening to some other Prep parents chat about how drop off hasn’t affected them, watching my daughter and ex-husband eat slice and weeping into my tea.
I was crying not because I’ll miss him being around during the day, although I will. Not because I’m proud of him, although I am. Not because he wasn’t ready or seemed too little, because he was raring to go.
I’m upset because it means the hardest five years of my life are over. There is a sense of achievement, and yet this celebration is bittersweet because I still feel like a failure.
Firstly, my identity as a mother of two preschool aged children shifts again and I am one step closer to the reality of what I will do with my time when both of my children are at school. In the next two years, I will need to ensure that my chosen line of work reaps enough financial rewards to fund my life – and meet my children’s needs – and I’m terrified because it probably won’t.
Being a mother of two children at home is really tough, but it’s still a luxury because my life is funded (to the bare minimum, don’t get me wrong) by the government. Thanks to that, I’ve been able to be more artistically prolific than ever in the past five years. Looming on the horizon is the day I am no longer eligible for Parenting Payment and my efforts in making a living from making theatre and writing will be tested.
Secondly is the fact that the family I thought I was bringing this child into no longer exists. While we were able to wave goodbye and wish him luck at the classroom door together, the nuclear family portrait only has a passing resemblance to our dreams and plans of five years ago. After we drop off our son, I will take my daughter home and their father will go his separate way until the next co-parenting event.
This moment of shared parental joy will forever be underscored by our failure as a couple. I think I did more to nurture and prepare him for school, and I resent that burden of the uneven load enforced by our separation. I’m sure his father feels like he has missed out on moments of his childhood and resents that too.
So in my moment of pride, I am distracted by worry – not that our son will be bullied or find the work difficult or have separation anxiety – but that our failure will mark him somehow.
Buddhism says that if you are sad, you are living in the past, and if you are anxious you are living in the future. I find really hard not to follow these thought paths – one into the past and one into the future – at pivotal moments like this. It’s hard to just concentrate on how proud my son is of his new uniform or excited he is at the new books and pencils waiting for him at his desk when my head is a whirl of future worries and past regrets.
So I am starting school too. I’m committing one evening per week to attend drop-in meditation classes. They start tonight at the Ballarat Mechanics Institute. Unfortunately I will have to wait until next week as I have another event on tonight! But as of next week, I will invest more in my own mental well-being, and hope to break this habit of following negative thought patterns. I’ve found reading about Buddhism to be helpful so far, and now I’m keen to learn about actually practicing it. I hope that my learning means that I can fully appreciate the moments in my life for what they are – full of joy, pride and love.