Geneva will soon be covered in all the golden hues of autumn and today is a lovely crispy must-make-the-most-of-summer day! In fact a picture perfect day on taking my soon-to-be two-year old toddler to the park. Instead I steer around the many parks en route to the big white building with a rainbow painted on the front saying ’L’ Arc en Ciel’ (rainbow in the sky). As I am getting closer, I can literally feel my heart beating and I am hoping that it does not somehow vibrate its way from my hands, to the pram handle to him! I am talking all sorts of nonsense trying to distract us both from the one big fact. It’s the beginning of our baba’s first playschool. It’s the beginning of the end of our constant cocooning since his birth.
As we enter the building, I see an endless amount of butterflies hung sporadically on the ceiling, thankfully grasping our baba’s attention – that is for a few seconds until he starts to cry. He wants to be out, running on the grassy slopes and doing his ‘up and down’s on steps and resting on a swing or slide. I do not blame him, it being such a nice day out, and we being inside with many a soothing parent with many a babies and toddlers around! But this is for his own good. I gather some courage and take him wailing inside our classroom that happens to be right at the end of the long corridor. It seems to take forever to get to. I notice that I am late and most little ones seem to have been settled, if not for a small wimp or cry. I cannot help but feel all parents’ and carers’ eyes on me as my precious is wailing and wailing big, showing the door, saying ‘out’ and ‘park‘! It’s as if he knows that this is the place I will leave him. I struggle to keep him within the four walls of our room. It’s divided into small compartments of play areas, a drawing-room, a toy car park with lots of cars and motorways, handicraft corner and a toy kitchen with all sorts of delights that I know baba would love, if only he could see through all his tears!
Alas we survived two hours together! A standard in this ‘adaptation’ period. My back is aching trying hold him down. He has mostly cried the whole time except for some brief moments where a toy iron and a pushchair got his attention. I am exhausted as I am sure he! I crave to get out and breathe some air and to let him do whatever his cried-out heart wants. His usual smiles have returned as I mention park and saying bye to all. His mood does an immediate somersault! He is all high, saying good-bye to all, loving the new word that he just heard and repeating it again and again to all – ‘à demain’ (see you tomorrow)! Really? Has he really got the meaning? I am emotionally and physically drained. Tomorrow can wait!
But yes, tomorrow does come. And I am full of dread. Thankfully my ever-so-ready to compete but thoughtful hubby is ready to give us a helping hand! I am just glad for the helping hand literally to carry some weight and not so much thinking on who has more effect on our son. As we enter the premises, I wait for the howling to start but apart from a little struggle to get baba out of the pram, we are inside the room without a cry! Miracle! And miracle of miracles, he runs to the iron and starts his ironing as hubby gives me ‘it’s all me’ kind of triumphant smile! Well, my thoughts are getting formed. Day one, Baba thought I was going to leave him. Day two, he has got the message that I will not leave. That it’s a place for both of us to play together and leave together. Wrong message but right at this stage, as the carer explains, first you have to eliminate the abandoning fear for him to start enjoying and getting to know the place and people. Then in a few days, as he gains his confidence to do snippets of ‘separation’ starting from 10 minutes to orchestrate my constant return to him.
The following days are good. We enjoy play schooling together. Baba in fact walks himself to the classroom and starts his activities, all within a radius of me that I am supposed to be enlarging! Such complicated science! At the end of 2 hours, comes his all-time high byes running around with his ‘â demain’s and ‘au revoir’s! He fondly calls his carers by Aunty so and so and knows some of the kids by name. He is confidant. Poor soul, he thinks this is it!
Then comes the day where one of these Aunts comes to me and says that it’s time to do a ‘separation’. I am so not prepared. I have not lost a night of sleep in anticipation! I nod and with a trembling heart says I am popping to the toilet. I can hear his cry, with ‘Mama coming‘, ‘Mama coming‘. I walk with no look back. The look I am yearning to but not allowed to give! It’s been a whole 20 minutes just on the other side of the closed-door and I hear his words as I am told to re-enter the room, with ‘Mama coming‘. I am told he played in-between these utterances. We keep 20 minutes for a couple of days. Then the following days see gradual progress with 20 minutes stretching to half hour, then hour, then one and a half with ever-changing stories to explain my absence to keep him warm whilst I am away. He remembers these stories and tells them to hubby. So I am conscious I need to keep them real and believable. I am told it’s a thumbs up behaviour with no crying.
Of course there are some ripple effects of his start to playschool. He says more of ‘hold mama’s hand’ and ‘mama carry’ at home. At day he has ‘very tired, very tired…lots of games’ claims. At night, at times, he is restless and anxious. And he waits to poop at home! One day I assume he really wanted to go but was holding on for so long that by the time I came, he was in tears shaking and saying ‘Mama kakka’ (conveniently means poo in both French and Sinhala). Poor soul. Of course! How was he supposed to know unless I tell him? I bring him home where he gets squatting to do his business! That day I kept explaining to him that aunties at school have lots of new nappies and that they will wash him if he ever wants to do a poop! So to relax… There onwards every morning he gives aunties a job to do! I am relieved that he is relaxed, yet another sign the carers say that he’s used to the school.
After three weeks, his adaptation period was officially declared over. And today, in the fourth week, with his pram in the store-room, baba was quite literally running to school with a bag hanging on him. Of course he was ‘smelling the roses on the way‘, pressing the lift button, looking out for birds under the big willow tree, pressing the ‘red man green man light’, counting the cars, climbing the stairs, opening the doors and giving ‘bonjour’s and ‘ça va’s to one and all and looking at me with smiles and giving me a high-five to go!
I know there is no definite happy ending to this memoir, that there will be the good days and the bad but looking at these four weeks, I cannot help but be proud. I know with the bigger picture in today’s world these might be considered trivial small steps but indeed in my baba’s world they are gigantic and the most important. This is his first taste of the world without his Mama and Papa, in a whirlpool of unfamiliar emotions with new skills to nail, learning to defend his ground and be a person on his own! As I look at all those sparkled butterflies hanging and seeing the little ones in their rooms I get it. They are all caterpillars going through chrysalis, the transformation stage where the tissues are broken down and the adult insect’s structures are formed before they cocoon out to be the butterflies of tomorrow. And I truly hope tomorrow’s skies will be bright for them or in rain, they will be joyous creatures whose eyes can always picture a rainbow!
Some top tips that really worked for me:
1. Warm up: explain to the child about school, prior to start date and during the first few weeks.
2. Take slow: have an adaptation period as much as possible, taking things slow.
3. Gain trust: give him varying stories of your absence and give proof where possible to gain his trust! (E.g. going to shop for eggs, then give eggs for lunch!)
4. ‘Family’ arise: talk fondly of the caregivers at school, letting him know he can count on them.
5. Blow off steam: At the end of the day, ask his account of the school day
6. Praise the good, Embrace the bad: Praise him also telling his other loved ones about it at the end of the day in front of him. If not so good, do not be tempted to create any drama. There will be bad days!