The intervention of real life

The first day of school; the first day of reality. The boys have been counting down the days, desperate to get properly stuck in and meet some new kids. We’ve spent time in the school grounds, blazing around the BMX bike track, swimming in the school pool, roaming the adventure playground and huge resurfaced field and relishing all that country-school space.

This morning they’re both nervous, subdued and unusually cooperative as we try out our school routines for the first time in the new house. Firstborn announces he has butterflies in his stomach; Number Two Son says he wants to chunder.

Fittingly, the weather takes a marked turn too, chucking down quantities of rare Otago rain that runs straight off the parched earth and forms impromptu ponds.

We all go as a family in the car for this first day, deferring the start of the school-bus regime for now. From tomorrow the boys will be picked up at 8am from the end of the neighbouring street and driven a 45-minute circuit around the district – at least until Firstborn works out this is an inefficient use of his discretionary time compared with the 5-minute car journey.

We leave them serious-faced and big-eyed in their new classrooms, surrounded by strangers and the foreign rituals and conventions of an unfamiliar institution. I have my first real spasm of guilt at these two small brave people gamely bearing the brunt of our adult adventure.

Number Two Son has recently had all his shaggy 70s hair buzzed off in a crew cut, which leaves him looking both tougher and more vulnerable. All summer he’s been anxiously following us around the house demanding a detailed minute-by-minute itinerary of our projected movements and extracting solemn promises from us to stay in one pre-agreed place before he’ll commit to sitting on the toilet.

His most-used phrase for months has been ‘Where will you be?’, but today he hasn’t asked because he knows it won’t be anywhere he can find us. I look back at his small, tense face as we leave and my throat swells and my eyes swim: a first for me, dry-eyed on their first-ever days at school.

We get back to a silent house, and for me, a void to fill. I’ve anticipated this moment and am determined not to squander it. Housework and errands are strictly out of bounds, at least until early afternoon. Hapless disappears into the bedroom to work and I’m a free woman.

In the interests of implementing good writing habits, I spend the first 90 minutes writing this, though I’m not allowed to be sidetracked by navel-gazing blog posts more than once or twice a week either.

Then I have my first flutter of nerves. Now what?

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