They come spilling out, bright and chattering – ‘Mummy! Year 6 started crying at BREAK time!’ enthuses my daughter. ‘Yes!’ chips in her friend, ‘even Jamie is crying’. They are both agog at the rite of passage happening in their midst – years away for them, still being little year 3s – and stunned by the fact that my son, her brother, mister-sports-captain-too-cool-for-school is, finally, affected – crying no less!
And here they come – year 6 – end of the primary trainline – eyes red rimmed and glistening, wiping runny noses and hugging and cuddling in threes and fours, t-shirts covered in smudgy felt tip kisses and goodbyes. I get a quick grubby grin from mine and the usual clutch of nylon bags shoved my way.
Me? How am I feeling? Luckily, I’ve got a mum friend standing close (we met at the school gates on that first day 7 years ago) who now promises Prosecco and a night of boozy catch up to stop any tears pricking, instead of the early years quick coffee after drop off. I wipe a watery eye with the back of his grimy Arsenal lunch box (must have been that gritty playground dust).
Yep, it’s arrived: the last day of primary. A day that seemed so far off – The First Day – when my shy boy peeked round the corner clutching his Fireman Sam figure – quickly relaxing as the teacher grabbed his little mitt and pointed out the fire engine they’d put aside for him. And he’s been hurtling through the weeks and years ever since – fire engines got replaced with life boats, life boats with Star Wars then football – the nightmare ‘Match Attack’ years both collecting cards and then the You-tubers doing their reveal packs – through to Minecraft, fidget spinners, skipping Pokemon Go, thankfully, but got hit badly by the dreaded bottle flipping. Books and school work kept pace – stick pictures transitioning into quite eloquent essays – and smart first day shiny shoes and pristine t-shirts dropped for achingly cool Adidas and Huaraches. That sticky grin? Now a cheeky wink. The warm hand holding and spontaneous cuddles traded up for hard edged iPad time negotiations.
And so on to the grand finale – the Leavers assembly. It’s not a crammed in the scratched parquet floored school hall but outside and the sun is ‘kind of’ shining. Hot enough that my summer dress is ‘SO embarrassing Mu-um.’
We parents take our seats – and they come on to the stage with gusto, busy-ness, excitement and no hint of trepidation, relishing their year 6 kudos. The headmaster starts to introduce the event but is drowned out by an overhead helicopter. We all gaze up expecting a tuxedoed year sixer to be landed in the playground – it IS Islington after all! At ease parents – something is going on at the nearby Emirates stadium. A microphone is found to compete against the noise and the show goes on. They take to it with ease – sharing their favourite memories: the farm trip to Treginnis, Chessington Adventures (where my son couldn’t believe the parent helper wasn’t prepared to jog between rides and had the audacity to want to sit down to eat their picnic lunch and not chobble it down in a queue), the Kingswood adventure centre weeks residential, the PROM, quiz night, their end of year comedy production… and it’s clear they are all SO ready for the next phase – cracking jokes, taking it on the chin when the memory involved one of them ‘sicking up on the farm trip’ or ‘being scared of the goats’. Reticent reception smiles swapped for impromptu asides and ribbing the staff.
Us in the audience think back to the fund raising behind it all that made it possible and bonded us tightly: many a morning sat on the dusty hall floor tagging raffle prizes, or sifting through bags of suspiciously marked second hand toys, coffee runs for those hanging up fairy lights and material to suspend disbelief that this is really a proper Prom palace…….late night emails asking what the flippin heck are you going to rustle up for a costume – and was it just my kid who only told me last night?!
My friend Heidi hit the nail on the head: The kids almost seem more ready by the end of it than us parents. If only there was a similar dedicated set brief for us and our school-gates friendships! Whilst anyone who has gone through play dates and birthday invites, fall outs and sports days has to admit the parental dynamic can be a pain in the you-know-where, I’ve definitely made mum (and dad) friends for life – and given the word is parent involvement at secondary is unheard of – I feel duly thankful for that.
Another mum, Jo, remarked:
‘The school have definitely been very adept at steering them toward and over the important transition, marking it with lots of special events, all evidently firmly stored in their young memory banks. It’s the end of their real childhood and our role as parents to younger children’.
She’s right, and, deep breath, it’s actually all OK.