For the second year in a row, I have just sat through one of the most emotional and traumatic experiences of my life, the Year Six Leavers’ Assembly.
Surrounded by sobbing parents grasping tissues and trying to hold back floods of tears, I joined the throng to endure beautifully sung songs, powerfully performed poems and an array of projected images of our joyously happy primary school children through the years. It was all too much. How does anyone survive this?
The end of Year Six marks a milestone that no parent really wants to admit exists and this year, as our youngest graduates from her Primary years, my wife and I are still in denial. It seems impossible that the little girl we first brought to this place, aged four, can now be old enough to join her brother at Secondary School. Surely, somewhere along the way, we must have skipped over a few years. I am convinced it was only yesterday that I was cack-handedly building her Barbie house and sitting with her to read Biff, Chip and Kipper.
But, for me, even with the tortuous assembly in mind, the worst part of the end of this summer term and the end of Year Six, is that I will no longer get to walk either of my children to school.
After seven years, I have crossed the school run finish line, and I am at a loss as to what happens next.
Through all weathers and with varying degrees of reluctance, we have walked to school. On occasion, it has been a struggle, but on the whole it has been a wonderfully simple opportunity to enjoy time with our children, with the two of them together for so many years and, for this final year, just with my daughter.
Holding her hand and walking the 25 minutes to school, we have talked about nonsensical things, family things, school things, friends, holidays, birthdays, Christmases, homework, teachers, TV, toys and everything else in between. Sometimes we have walked quietly, without saying much, other times we have chatted all the way, or taken the chance to work through troubles and concerns.
On most days, we have fallen into step with familiar figures and come up with nicknames for several of our fellow school runners. We have speculated over where ‘cat bag lady’ goes every day, why ‘walking woman’ always walks like she’s about to break into a run and where we will bump into Lorna the childminder with her horde of high-viz charges and incredible six-seater buggy.
Our route itself is so comfortably familiar. Every step, every corner, every pavement and every road – we know all the houses and all the gardens, we have seen every tree in every season, we’ve kicked autumnal leaves, traipsed through snow, watched the blossom fall and basked in the summer sunshine. It has been an integral part of our morning routine – up, breakfast, dressed, walk to school – and become encoded in our family DNA.
So, what happens now?
From September, my wife and I will be redundant walking companions. Our children will make their way to ‘big school’ by themselves and we will, for the first time in seven years, have an hour in the morning to ourselves. It is time that we will miss, but it is also time that we have gained and, although I fully expect us to ache for the days of the school run – we’ve got to embrace the opportunity to establish a new routine.
There has been talk of getting a dog, but whatever the future brings, we will always look back with such fondness and gratitude for the simple joy of the school run. Indeed, when we first moved into our home, over a decade ago, we wondered whether the mile or so to school was too much, but I am so glad we decided to live as far away as we did. Choosing to do so gave us a gift that no money could ever buy and for which I will be forever grateful.
So, dear school run, in all your chaotic, ‘where are my shoes?’ ‘We’re going to be late!’ glory, I’ll miss you. I just hope that in the years to come, we can somehow persuade our two secondary school tweens to join their soppy, sentimental parents for the occasional walk. Fingers crossed.