Saturday 3rd July 2010
As I write this N, recently returned from Nigeria, is quietly downstairs in his study fiddling with the new watch he bought himself on the plane, while outside my bedroom door there is the intermittent patter of small feet across carpet as G and L rush around gathering new bits and pieces for their endless games of Barbies. I have just found them in the bathroom discussing new hair styles for Rapunzel, chuffed that they have finally released her tresses from some manky old elastic bands which were curtailing her beauty. The house never seems quite complete when one of the girls is missing - E is off with her Year 6 classmates on an adventure weekend in Castleton which happens to be just 15 minutes away from our house. It is nice to know she is nearby.
It is really noticeable how she and her muckers have subtly grown up in the last six months. Until Christmas the boys in their year seemed more of an irritation than anything else. There were complaints, even during the rehearsals for Beauty and the Beast (Year 6 puts on a musical every year), of the boys just being silly and disruptive. Now though, softly softly, they have infiltrated themselves into the tight little groups of girls and are starting to be embraced as fellow friends, potential boyfriends, and people who will be missed when they all get split up in September as they move into Seniors (the boys are on one site, the girls on another).
With the end of the school year drawing nigh, there have been a stack of Leavers events and activities over the last few weeks (let alone all the normal end of year stuff), all of which I seem to have been heavily involved in and N has been absent for, his work commitments leaving me playing the part of Single Parent once again.
I spent the day with them all at Alton Towers a few Tuesdays ago. (This is a theme park nestled unexpectedly, and surpringly attractively, in the rolling green Staffordshire moorlands in the grounds of a once stately home.) We were all split into groups and another parent and I were in charge of five girls (including our daughters) and six boys. It was a day of high adrenaline, hot sunshine, getting wet and having fun together. True, there was also a lot of queuing, a lot of walking and much hurtling through the air at high speeds which meant we all came home exhausted - but very happy.
At the end of the week was the School Walk where the entire junior school does a 7 mile hike up and around the hills surrounding the school. Another glorious summer's day and my memory filled with large groups of children walking alongside cool canals then climbing up high and gamboling through flower-filled meadows, down stoney paths, along lanes and through villages back to the school for a big picnic.
The Junior School Talent Show followed the picnic lunch. L was singing a Take That duet with a little Year 3 boy called Sam who's taken a shine to her and they're often seen hand in little hand. Parents were not allowed to watch but I managed to lurk and catch them on stage doing their stuff in front of a sea of faces - two tiny seven year olds in shorts with huge microphones, looking like rabbits in headlights but singing beautifully together. I was so proud. I couldn't do that now, let alone at their age.
After school that same afternoon was Summer Fun Friday (the equivavlent of a school fete) with stalls and bouncy castles, cheerleading displays and all the usual stuff. I helped set up. I helped clear away. Another fun but exhausting day, finished off with supper in a pub garden with friends where N was finally able to join us. The long light evenings made it far too late a night for all the children, but one to savour.
Then on the Sunday of that weekend was the Leavers' Party. I could hardly believe it had crept up on us - so long in the planning and now suddenly here. A band of parents arrived at school early to set everything up. It was another glorious summer's day, perfect for a happy send-off into the next stage of life. I donned apron, hat and silly plastic gloves ('elf and safety') and helped behind the barbecue, serving up hotdogs and hamburgers to hungry folk. I watched the scene from my corner of the playground - a bucking bronco, a treasure hunt, a red sofa on the playing field where a photographer was taking pictures of them all, and a Leavers 2010 banner with all their names on it, wishing them luck, which made me choke with emotion when I first saw it. Time spun forward to the day when they are adults looking back on this moment that we were living now. One of those days which we all have tucked away in our own adult minds - a special day when we were once children, long ago in the mists of time. I took a photo of E and some of her friends standing under the banner, knowing that one day in the unknown future they would look back on this and remember...
As I served my hotdogs to mothers and fathers and watched them go and sit down at a table with their families, I wished N was there to share this rite of passage with me and our daughter. But he was up in those big blue skies above, on a plane to Africa. What different lives we lead.
A disco followed and I lay down my plastic gloves and hat and managed to go and have a peek at them. As I watched their dance moves, their smiles and laughter I was reminded of the Christmas discos they've had in the last four years and noted the subtle changes which have taken place in comportment and body language. They were growing up, for sure. One boy, who I watched doing extraordinary break-dance moves with his sunglasses fixed firmly on his nose and who had dedicated his talent show song to E earlier in the afternoon, gave her a present at the end of the disco. It was a black leather cord looped through a golden butterfly. It was sweet, it was perfect - the girl with the golden hair and clear blue eyes, the girl with her feet on the ground and her head in the clouds, the girl who had played the role of Belle in Beauty and the Beast, a part that was made for her and her voice of an angel.
So as my eldest daughter takes her first significant step towards adulthood I think of my youngest, with her little sticky legs poking out of her shorts, who has spent the afternoon gamboling around with her friend and singing partner, giggling and getting into mischief. I will savour that for now, because I know that all too soon she will be at that Leavers Disco too, with a different look in her eyes and different thoughts in ther head and maybe Sam will be handing her a present too...