Seán Moncrieff: Daughter Number Four starts school in the teeth of a pandemic

The world cannot be fixed. All we can do is hope

‘Will it affect her education? Will she or her teachers be safe? Might it be better to keep the schools closed?’ File photo.

‘Will it affect her education? Will she or her teachers be safe? Might it be better to keep the schools closed?’ File photo.

 

It’s been a big week for Daughter Number Four. Not that she knew it; or not entirely. She knew she was starting big school, but without appreciating that she would never return to creche, or that, because we moved house last year, she wouldn’t be seeing many of her old pals in her new classroom.

Nor did she realise that hers is the first generation to start their formal education in the teeth of pandemic uncertainty. Will it affect her education? Will she or her teachers be safe? Might it be better to keep the schools closed?

She’d already grown used to Covid strangeness since her creche reopened: no longer could we enter the classroom together, or say hello to the other kids and the teachers. The need for sterility produced a social sterility too. We had to queue for the door, while two metres apart from the other children, and disinfect her hands and shoes. Invariably, there was the occasional refusenik who declined to enter. Everyone would have to wait until they could be lured inside. Creche teachers have mammoth patience.

Big school is at the end of our street, so it has always been a vibrant aural presence. Footsteps, shouts, laughter. The sounds of play. But because of staggered entrance times, her first days have been oddly quiet. There are different coloured routes into the school, where the child can be accompanied by only one parent. There’s far less of a sense of all the other children.

That day marks the end of babyhood

As we walked up on the first day, Daughter Number Four informed us that you can have happy tears, and then asked where seagulls come from. Herself brought her in to the designated entrance. When she returned she was, naturally, in bits.

I was grand, of course.

It’s almost a cliche of parenting that the first day of school is a happy-sad event; far more for the parents than the child. Cute as a button in their never-to-be-this-clean-again uniform, that day marks the end of babyhood. It’s the start of their journey into school life and away from dependence on their parents, where friends and the outside world will become increasingly important. It’s when many parents first realise that they only have their kids on loan.

Every parent feels this loss, or some version of it, and every parent worries about the sort of world their child will grow up in.

Because, apart from the pandemic basket of concerns, there’s all the other stuff: climate change, famines, wars. A politics so divided that we’re finding it increasingly difficult to agree on basic truth.

Two weeks ago, 45 people drowned in the Mediterranean: refugees attempting to flee Libya. It was mentioned in the media, but not nearly as much as it might have been this time last year. There’s been no rush of compassion, no charity drive or political outrage. The rest of the world is too distracted and scared.

There's hope that when she grows up, Daughter Number Four will be like her mammy

Prior to the first school day, Herself thought about those deaths a lot. She’s an impulse-donator. Any human tragedy, anywhere in the world and she’s looking for the relevant charity to give to. When she watches Channel 4 News, I have to hide her credit cards.

But when she learned about those refugee deaths, she didn’t react in her usual manner. She was overcome with a sense that giving money makes hardly any difference, and that she was only doing it to maintain some semblance of agency for herself in a world that often seems to have lost its mind.

It’s disquieting and not a little depressing to realise once again that there’s only so much we can do to make the world a better place for Daughter Number Four; and the impact of what we can do is tiny. For now, the world cannot be fixed. But there’s always hope: hope that when she grows up, Daughter Number Four will be like her mammy. That’s something to aim for.

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