First Day of School

 

Some people feel the call to parenting early, recognising within themselves the selflessness, patience and nurturing instincts required to raise children. They choose their destiny, hook up with a like-minded soul, and head down the road together, fingers and toes crossed.

 

Others – me included – don’t.

 

I never consciously wanted to be a father. Yep, loved my nieces and nephew; was fond of my mates’ kids. But, to be honest, kids were often in the way of a good time.

 

When Linda was pregnant, I was spilling over with anxiety. I feared I would be a distant, selfish, disengaged dad. Surly and resentful for the loss of independence. A source of eternal mystery and disappointment to his offspring.

 

I felt guilty and worried for our unborn child.

 

But then Eloise was born and everything I had held important to that moment moved quietly and happily aside. And I was bloody relieved.

 

The protective walls I had built around myself were broken down by this tiny, red and blue creature at 4.57am a few days after ANZAC Day in a freezing operating theatre. Outside, a new day was dawning over Melbourne with the lights from the office building across the road glaring and twitching at me like yellow eyes.

 

For a few days, Linda and I floated in a fog of exhaustion and delirium with a constant stream of well wishers. Things couldn’t have been better.

 

But then Eloise became ill. Something about inflammation on the brain. For a few hours it looked serious. Back in theatre, hospital staff huddled and whispered over her. They rolled Eloise into a ball and tried to inject a needle into her spine. The first doctor got the shakes and missed. She shook her head and her colleague took over.

 

Linda and I were told not to watch, but naively, helplessly, and because we didn’t know what else to do, we insisted. Eloise squealed; we sobbed and sobbed.

 

At that moment, I understood the vulnerability, love, and stress of parenting.

 

This little human, who I had met only a few days before, was now controlling my every emotion.

 

I understood why decent men – my dad, my mates, their dads – dedicated their lives to their children.

 

And most importantly, I learnt something about myself: I could let someone in. I had no choice.

 

As someone once said to me, children teach men to love. Well, men like me.

 

Next day, with Eloise on the mend, I had a cry on the phone when telling a mate about it. The father of two girls, he had been through it all and had a knowing laugh at my expense.

 

In parenting, every first is a milestone. The first gurgle, smile, laugh, roll over. First time Eloise hugged me, crawled, spoke, stood, walked.

 

Wednesday 31st of January was her first day at school. The biggest day of her life; the proudest of ours.

 

Linda turned Eloise out beautifully. Long blonde hair pulled back in tight plaits, held together by a blue ribbon. Blue and white checked dress falling to her ankles and sloping off her tiny shoulders. White socks up her calves, black shoes, wide-brimmed summer hat that if the breeze got up would have lifted her off the ground. And of course, ridiculously big backpack that pulled her backwards.

 

My heart skipped a beat. It honestly did.

 

The entourage had gathered. Nanny had caught the train from Warrnambool; Nonna flew in from Canberra. We had photos in the backyard, Eloise grinning excitedly. A classic extrovert, she had been waiting for this day forever.

 

Conflicting emotions bounced around my head. Yes, there was pride and happiness, but also sadness and trepidation. Eloise was no longer a baby, she was out in the real world. Well, as far as the little Catholic school at the end of the street. To sum it up, one phase of her life had ended and another was beginning.

 

I was losing a bit of control of her.

 

We held hands and walked the two blocks and waited nervously in the playground with the other families. The bell sounded and we were hustled inside to the welcoming and colourfully decorated Prep class. And suddenly she was gone, swallowed in the swirl of legs, children and laughter. Parents and grandparents were ushered away for coffee.

 

At the end of the half-day, Eloise emerged from the classroom tired but happy. She looked a bit older. Later, during a celebratory dinner at a local restaurant, on the back of her toilet monitor role, she announced her candidacy for the school captaincy position in six years’ time. Now, a month or so down, the politicking and ally gathering have begun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Beautifully said, Starkers.
    Can really feel your emotion.
    Parenting does not come with a manual. It is really a case of learning on the job.
    My only advice to you: enjoy every minute for it goes so quickly.

  2. Yvette Wroby says:

    Beautifully experienced, written and shared Andrew. It’s a wonderful shock to the system and little beings teach us humanness all over again .

  3. Neil Anderson says:

    You captured the pride and love of your daughter as she started school so well Andrew.
    It doesn’t feel like it, but it was a long time ago when we experienced our daughter’s first day of school. A few initial problems socializing for her, but overall she adapted to the new environment pretty well. A common love with classmates for ABBA when they first landed in Australia helped. Thank you Molly.
    And then it was plain sailing…for us parents. Always first to arrive at parent-teacher nights because we knew she was doing well academically. So she really did go from crayons to perfume in what seemed like an instant. From appearing in the school-musical in Grade 5 to now an opera-singer and music-teacher.
    You might have guessed how proud we were. Now if only I could have interested her in the Bulldogs, she would have been the perfect daughter.

  4. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Starkers,
    This is just beautiful mate.
    You’ve obviously grown into the role being a father. Despite the best advice, the only road map is experience as it comes and keeping an open mind and heart as much as you can.
    Pride, happiness, sadness, trepidation … hope.
    May Eloise’s journey be a long, healthy and happy one that makes her family proud.

  5. E.regnans says:

    A Starkie,
    You express self-doubt.
    And you notice your daughter.
    I think you’re already ahead,
    All the best to you and your family; navigating, poking, prodding, being.
    Thank you.

  6. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Our youngest of three started Uni this week Andrew. Cherish every day.

  7. Starks – very poignant. Before you know it she will be driving to university! What a journey lies ahead of you. Take in every moment because we lose a little bit more of our children as every day passes. And we gain some too.

  8. mickey randall says:

    Thanks Andrew. I really enjoyed this. Like you I love the milestones. And they keep coming.

    At cricket a few weeks ago my wife and another mum were talking about childbirth and how they both had emergency caesarean sections. She noted that a hundred years back neither they nor the kids would likely have survived. We’re lucky to live where and when we do!

    Great story.

  9. DBalassone says:

    It’s a huge moment that first day. I thought I’d be a wreck for my girls, but somehow I got through (and more importantly, so did my girls!). Beautiful stuff mate, Eloise is in good hands.

  10. John Butler says:

    Lovely, Starkers.

  11. Peter_B says:

    She is lucky to have found you. You are luck to have found her. You are lucky to have found you. Great stuff. Go well.

  12. Thanks Andrew.

    Time-honoured.

  13. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says:

    This is just about the perfect personal essay to me. It’s only problem is that I wanted it to go on. And yet its economy is its shining star.

    There really is nothing like the incomprehensible twinning of pride and sadness that goes with our children’s touchpoints. I often don’t know what to do with mine at all. A long walk to wear it out usually. What else can we do but feel it?

    I look forward to instalments, Andrew. Thank you.

  14. Peter Fuller says:

    Andrew,
    Warm congratulations on this beautiful piece of writing, which obviously resonates for so many of us as reflected in the many thoughtful comments you have inspired. I might add my congratulations to Eloise also, as she has gracefully managed her first few days at school; as well she has chosen her parents wisely, the first principle of a successful life. That’s revealed by her beautiful name as well as by your perceptive and humble observations.
    My own direct experience of those first faltering steps of the parent of a school starter is in the distant past – back when Carlton and North had football teams. Our next generation, (eldest grandchild) also had his first day 31st January. May they both enjoy a life full of hope and challenge, and may they approach life fearlessly.

  15. Luke Reynolds says:

    Beautifully written Andrew. Had the same worries as you before my first child was born. He’s just turned 10. That decade flew by.
    Parenting is so rewarding. All the best to you, Linda and Eloise. Enjoy the journey.

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