The difference a day makes

27th September 1996 at 01:00
Reva Klein sees her son transformed on starting secondary school.

The trepidation is dissipated, the butterflies in the tummy have flown away. The new Year 7s are beginning to settle into their new schools, into new ways of organising their lives, into new levels of expectation.

My son's first day was no doubt replicated by thousands around the country. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, his excitement was most articulately expressed at breakfast. Not verbally, but by the quantity he consumed, or rather, didn't. Food intake has always been a fairly accurate barometer of emotional activity in our household. So when his usually no-holds-barred early morning appetite was suddenly able to handle no more than three cornflakes, I knew that something was definitely up.

Sure, he was nervous as hell. But he managed great chirpiness despite it. Leaving the house, he slung his new bag on his shoulder, kissed me and shouted "bye, Mum" as he hurried down the road, a few inches - I swear it - above the pavement, looking back at me to wave every few seconds until we lost sight of each other.

He seemed so little to be embarking on this enormous rite of passage and I was moved by the optimism shining through his terror. This was the beginning of a new life. The end of his learning in a small, cosy school community where teachers knew his family, his obsessions, his strengths and, yes, his weaknesses, where he would be cajoled into rewriting a messy paper or acting in a play for assembly with a smile and a pat on the back. Secondary school is about independence, taking responsibility, working on your own initiative. I sweated, profusely.

Six and a half hours later, the doorbell rang to the rhythm of a football cheer and I came to the door with uplifted heart and pre-puckered lips to greet my intrepid scholar. I wasn't altogether surprised to find someone who looked like him but acted like a 16-year-old. In a voice at least 20 octaves lower than it had been that morning, he repulsed my kiss. "Don't kiss me, muvver," he muttered only half-jokingly in his new baritone persona. "I'm a secondary school boy now."

Since that first day, it seems an eternity has passed. Homework has been hastily completed, playground atrocities dutifully reported, new teachers' peculiarities hilariously related, new buddies' inflated pocket money accounts self-pityingly detailed. But when I try to extract information on the day's work from him, things usually descend into something along these lines.

Me: "So, what did you do at school today?" Him: "Why do you have to be so nosey? Nobody else's mum has to know everything the way you do."

Me: "Well, if you don't want to talk, can I look at what you've written?" Him: "No."

The subsequent exchange is best glossed over.

But if his communication with me has degenerated, it is clear that his energy levels at school are something else altogether. In fact, that may be why. It's that old, familiar syndrome that I have known since my children were infants: the better they are at the childminder's-creche-nursery school, the more ornery they are at home.

But through the clenched teeth and exasperation, I can sense the enormous reserves of good will that he holds for his new school, new potential friends, new teachers. He wants to belong to this new institution, to be seen to be associated with it.

My hope is that for all the irritations, wind-ups and confusions of the next few weeks, Year 7 teachers remember that these kids are still only 11, that they're insecure but desperately trying to find their feet.

Parents know that teachers have their problems, but please remember that so do these new kids on the block. That their good will is acknowledged and respected by their new teachers is all any parent - let alone a really nosey, horrible one like me - could wish for.

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