Sean Moncrieff: This year feels like starting school all over again

‘What she’s missed are the intangible lessons from going to school ... the ebb and flow of friendships’

She does have some sense that things are going back to how they should be, mostly because the cinemas have opened up again. File photograph: Getty

She does have some sense that things are going back to how they should be, mostly because the cinemas have opened up again. File photograph: Getty

 

Daughter Number Four isn’t still entirely across the concept of time. Any event in the future has to be explained in days rather than weeks or months: and even that involves holding up a number of fingers for her to count out. One hand is relatively soon. Two hands is too far away, so she starts negotiating: as if – God bless her – Daddy has the power to bend space and time. Many fingers from now, she’ll realise just how limited Daddy’s powers are.

There has been much counting in the last fortnight in advance of the return to school, about which, thankfully, she is tremendously excited. Then again, she’s always tremendously excited. She asks a lot of questions, then answers those questions. Then she jumps around for a bit, then gets distracted by a toy. Then announces that “Daddy, I have something to tell you” and spends five minutes trying to decide what that something is. The other week I was having a bit of a rant here about climate change, but it strikes me now that if there was some way to plug the country’s five-year-olds into the national grid, we’d have free energy for eternity.

We’re excited too, for all the obvious reasons: the return to a routine, the relief of not having to keep her entertained so much with playdates or trips to the park. But this year, particularly, it feels like more than that.

School years are like a succession of second chances. Each September, armed with new pens and pencils and pristine notebooks, you can vow to pay more attention, be more organised, make more friends, be better behaved, be nicer to people. Adult life rarely affords such opportunities to reset.

Educationally, she’s probably a little behind where she should be

It feels like she’s getting the chance to start school all over again: to experience a normal year without it being interrupted by extended stays at home and the head-melting frustrations of being “taught” by her parents. (Words I never want to say again: Seesaw App. Words I will never tire of repeating: you can’t pay teachers enough money).

Educationally, she’s probably a little behind where she should be and in the last year she’s certainly got too much screen time and treats: knowing what she was missing prompted a lot of parental guilt; which was somehow made worse by the fact that she was oblivious to what her “normal” should have been. When she turned five, everything was shut, so there was no party or play centres or cinema. Instead – at her request – we went to Tesco.

But she didn’t know what she was missing, and only had a sense that any of this was unusual because the adults in her life were telling her so. She’s yet to experience complete normality, and (assuming we reach that point), it’ll be interesting to see how she finds it. Or, in years to come, if she remembers what it was like during these surreal years.

She’ll catch up and adapt quickly to the new what-should-be-normal normal

She does have some sense that things are going back to how they should be, mostly because the cinemas have opened up again. (Quick review of the Paw Patrol movie: Paw Patrol moves to Adventure City to overturn the result of a democratic election. Chase develops PTSD. Ryder claims their lavish lifestyle is funded by selling T-shirts). The other day, we brought her for lunch in a restaurant: something she claimed that we had never done before. We have, but it was so long ago she can’t remember.

But she’s young. She’ll catch up and adapt quickly to the new what-should-be-normal normal. What she’s missed are all the intangible lessons from going to school, from being out in the world with little people her own age. Learning the ebb and flow of friendships, of playground politics, of success and failure and about the reality that an uninterrupted school year will be, for her, an unimaginably long period of time. There won’t be enough fingers for that.

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