Tiggy finished primary school a couple of days ago. She wasn’t prepared for it. We knew it was coming obviously, and we had talked about it. We’d asked lots of questions. How would she feel about leaving her school and her friends? How was she feeling about secondary school? The answer to everything was (as it often is) “fine”, accompanied by a nonchalant shrug and a desire to return to the iPad or whatever had her attention in the moment. She’s quite a resilient, happy-go-lucky kind of gal and in many ways she was ready to leave , so I shrugged too and assumed she was alright.
My husband had warned me. “She’s not ok with it all. She just doesn’t really know it’s coming”.
“But we’ve been talking about it“, I protested. His turn to shrug.
Turns out he was right.
Although her school had made an effort to reintroduce activities to mark the end of the year, Tiggy and her classmates had missed all the usual lead up to this seminal occasion. Yes, there’d been a play – but bubbles meant that they were limited to year groups, so they didn’t experience that whole school performance where they were finally at the top of the tree. The same for sports day. No leavers’ disco or expedition week.
The build-up was missing. All the events they’d looked forward to, not just this year, but since they’d started in nursery or reception all those years ago just couldn’t take place. Similarly, there was no transition day with her new school to reinforce the idea that life was changing and she was growing up moving on.
So although intellectually she knew she was leaving, she didn’t really know until the special prize-giving they put on for year 6s, when it all finally struck home.
I found her in the kitchen pouring a drink, and noticed her eyes were full. She admitted to feeling sad. We ordered pizza and had a cuddle as I wondered how on earth I’d not prepared her properly.
Beating myself up, I grappled around in my brain to figure out how to help. I realised there was still stuff we could do to help. The important thing was not to dismiss those feelings. We can’t focus on the future until we acknowledge the past. So we started to talk about all of the things that she had enjoyed about her school. What were her favourite memories of year 6 ? Of her time at the school? What had been tough? Favourite teachers? School trips? What wouldn’t she miss? We listed the worst lunches and celebrated that she’d never again need to do the long jump. Together we wrote them all down and put them in her memory box before settling down to watch a movie (her choice – Marvel yet again…) and allow the reality of this ending to start to sink in.
This Summer we will do a mixture of things. There will be plenty of hang outs with her friends before they all start to move on and we will start to look forward and get excited for her new school. She’s the only one from her primary going to this secondary, so the nerves will undoubtedly be high, but we will manage. We’ve already started talk about her hopes and fears. What is she looking forward to? The answers are not necessarily what I’d been expecting – the independence of taking the bus, the freedom to have packed lunches rather than school dinners, the option to wear trousers instead of a skirt. She’s also getting her ears pierced – another ritual to mark her coming of age. Together we are starting to look forward, whilst still allowing her to grieve the past and negotiate this time of transition.
Because change is messy and we live in a world of paradox. It’s quite possible to be sad, happy and excited all at the same time. We can grieve the past and feel nervous about letting go of the familiar, whilst simultaneously looking forward to the future with anticipation. And emotions take time to percolate through our system – it can take months to really let go of how things have been and to feel settled in our new world.
And of course we’ll be playing some of our tracks. Last year we made a selection of pandemic specific audios to deal with precisely this situation, although at the time I had no idea that we would still be using them a year on. So our Uncertain Future audio will be on repeat as will our Coping with Change track and together we’ll manage this transition in these uncertain times (with a few extra pizza orders to assist).