Firstborn started nursery this week.
I drop her off on the first day, feeling oddly emotional; very odd considering that I've been eagerly anticipating this gift of two-and-a-half hours a day five days per week of relative peace and quiet. I watch as she races off to mix it up with the seething hordes. I watch jealously as another child sobs desperately, clinging to his mother's knees in terror, and has to be carried into the classroom kicking and screaming. Firstborn didn't even throw me the crumb of a backward glance! What have I been doing wrong to merit such callous treatment from my child?
A tear wells up in the maternal eye. I peer through the glass doors hoping that Firstborn will suddenly realise that Mummy is being pathetic and rush over to give me a sympathy hug. No such luck, she's already knee deep in Playdough, grinning madly and tussling with a child twice her size.
I trudge home, dejected and rejected. The Small(er)One is delighted to find herself with no competition and so rebels against her habitual afternoon nap, then promptly goes into sleep-deprived meltdown. I spend two hours jumping about like an idiot and talking in a silly voice to Cat-Cat (the Small(er)One's love object) in a vain attempt to stop her banging her head on the floor in toddler fury.
We arrive at the school. I wait with the huddle of other harassed mothers. It starts to rain. Eventually the doors open. We stream in and wait again until our offspring are released from the classroom. I wait. I wait some more. The other kids come out in twos, some tearful, some so hyped you'd think they'd been mainlining sugar for the past couple of hours. I watch as they jump into their parent's arms. Joyfull reunions all around me but no sign of Firstborn. The children have stopped coming out of the classroom door. Still no Firstborn. I poke my head around the door and bellow to the teacher, "Where's my child?". Panic, panic.
It transpires that Firstborn has burrowed under a mound of pillows in the Sunshine Room and is refusing to leave. Despite having fallen over, skinned her knee and cut her lip, then wet her knickers (all unrelated incidents), she's been having the time of her life and is of the opinion that she shouldn't have to curtail her fun. Mummy just can't compete with fifteen other three-year-olds and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of sand, mud and water which Firstborn is at liberty to smear over her face, hair and any other exposed part of her body.
Firstborn is finally talked out of taking up residence and agrees to come home with me; a triumph achieved with the bribe of a box of Smarties. We walk home and I pepper her with questions. She walks with a new nonchalant swagger.
"So what did you do today?" I ask, radiant with Mummy pride. She looks at the floor, scuffs her toes, shrugs, "Nuffin'" "Oh," I say, "Did you make any nice friends?" "Nah," she says - a bare-faced lie as we have passed at least three other children who bellowed her name in excitement and tried to escape their guardians to get at her, Firstborn reciprocating with equal enthusiasm.
I give up with the questioning, reasoning that she'll confide in me when she feels like it, and we walk in companiable silence.
As we turn into our road, in full earshot of sweet old Vera who lives a few doors down and spends most of each day perched on her doorstep, Firstborn pipes up, "Mummy! You're a farty bum head!", giggles until her face turns puce and runs off as fast as her Shetland Pony legs can carry her.
The years ahead stretch out like an arid wasteland. I can't wait until she's a teenager.