The School Year began less than a week ago for us in the UK. There are four people in my house who call me mom, so the start of school, is the start of a new year for me in so many ways. As I look at this coming year, I am filled with thanks for all that we have made it through and quite simply that we are not back at the beginning of figuring out school here again! We have waded through so much that it can be nothing but better days ahead. (I am trying to not be over-confident, but odds are that it can only be smoother sailing after the many difficulties, uncomfortable moments and little things that we never saw coming during the 2018/2019 school year.)
I remember walking onto the school yard with my girls that first day a year ago. There are not big yellow school buses in the UK and there isn’t a drop off/pick-up car line. You walk your child to their classroom each day. In every way, I felt like a fish out of water. There were people everywhere, knowing each other and knowing the drill. I had been a parent for almost 15 years, and suddenly, I knew nothing about anything.
“No one is ever going to want to get to know me here,” I told myself and feelings of junior high insecurity rushed in.
As inefficient as this system seems, after doing it for a year, I can see the community building benefits of walking your child right to their door every day. That scary sea of people that I faced last year is full of familiar acquaintances and even some friends who I would never have met had we not been dropping off and picking up face-to-face every day. On the first day of school this year, one little girl who had been in an after-school club that I led, ran over and gave me a hug. . .yes, we have come a long way, Baby!
The overwhelming ins and outs of the school uniform, school lunch system and taking music lessons are routine now. I have volunteered and found that when you do that, there is a person from that sea of unknown people who hands you a “cuppa” and you are included.
It was with wide eyes that we watched holidays be celebrated here. We were so naïve to think that this land of our forefathers where we speak the same language would do things in basically the same way that we do them in America. There is Guy Fawkes/Bonfire Night in November and Christmas brings mince pies (which are already out in the shops!) There were certainly lumps in our throats when Thanksgiving and the 4thof July were just ordinary school days here. (We did keep our kids home from school on Thanksgiving, stating that it was a religious holiday for us, which it most certainly is. There wasn’t an excuse that we thought would fly for July 4th, though, so off to school they went. . .and we later donned our red, white and blue for a picnic dinner with fellow Americans!)
Christmas cards were a surprise to me. Social media has made them “on their way out” where I come from, but not here. They are exchanged among classmates like Valentines are in the States. As early as nursery school, kids are signing their name to enough cards for the number of kids in their class and handing them out, sometimes including a “sweet.” Valentine’s Day? – Totally non-existent in school here. It is a holiday for only the romantically involved and kids stay clear of that. No more Pinterest worthy creations for me on the eve of February 13th! And those awkward tween years where we had to labor over the wording of each and every card – not my problem anymore!
I loved volunteering for the Christmas and Summer Fayres (yes, that is how they spell fair here!) – Such a great way to get to know other parents and the school staff.
“You didn’t tell me about World Book Day,” I texted my dear friend who is an American whose kids have been out of primary school for at least a decade.
Halloween is just a “not so much” situation in the UK. It is creepier, not community centered and just not nearly “a thing” for kids like it is in the US. I am ok with that as I loved hanging with my neighbors in years past, but never loved the black and scary. My jaw dropped when I arrived at school on World Book Day during the month of March and EVERY SINGLE CHILD was dressed up to the nines as a book character and it felt just like Halloween at school in the States. My ten-year-old had just had an appendectomy so she was at home, but I hadn’t dressed up my preschooler. I hadn’t seen a letter about it for her class, we had just moved house that week and I just wasn’t sure that preschool was doing it. Did I mention that my other daughter just had her appendix out and that we moved in the same week? The preschool teacher looked at me like I had brought my 3-year-old to school naked. She was bewildered at my ignorance and quickly produced a princess dress for her to wear. God bless her. I just didn’t know. Rest assured that even though this event is half a school year away, we already know what we are dressing up as!
And so, we face the beginning of school with so much more know-how, so much more confidence and utter relief to have that first year in the UK school system behind us. I have just recounted the funny, unexpected things. Another time, when we are further away from it and I can stand it better, I will recount what bullying does to a child as that was an unexpected that could’ve sent us packing.
After a year of navigating the unknown with some of the people I cherish most and want the best for, here is what I know to be true:
“I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.”
My God is in every moment of the confusing, the hard and the feeling insecure. He has shown up and carried us along when we didn’t know if we could “carry on” in the UK. Whatever you are facing, I hope that you can call out to Him and be confident of the very same thing – His goodness is to be seen in the land of the living. . .no matter where you are living.