It’s oh so quiet. Back in the house the ghosts of the first morning are everywhere. Packages from the new shirts, empty on the couch. Crusts of toast. Half drunk orange juice. A pair of trousers to return, labelled upside down, bought as a 6 when they’re in fact a 9.
You never get used to it and it never gets easier. That’s the conclusion. Waking them feels cruel. Dressing them in new stiff shirts seems pointless. Walking with them, singing about how nice their new teachers are bound to be seems questionable. Then marque 5 pipes up.
‘My new shoes are electrocuting me’. I laugh. He insists that it’s true. Marque 4 stops to turn off the flash light. But it is not that. It’s something in the sole. Pinching or fizzing or frying away. I plonk him up on the wall, remove the shoe and press into the sole. I can’t find what it is, but it’s something alright. We walk on and he is slow, limping almost, looking pale. If it were a different child a psychological cause might spring to mind. First day nerves. But he is sunny and hearty and that isn’t it either. The pace slows so considerably that I think about carrying him. For a milli-second. You can’t actually carry a child into first class. Not even if he’s your baby. We’ll just have to be a little late.
We are greeted at the door by the support teacher who is aiding Marque 4’s reading. Drat. There was a torturous amount of work we were supposed to plough through in the summer. We did no such thing. Although we did do some. Selling homework to a kid on their holidays is no forte of mine. There isn’t a carrot I could think of to engage him as regularly as I should have. Marque 3 disappears, confident about where is going. He’s in the senior cycle now in fifth class and is bound to embrace it wholesale. I find out where the others are to be and we wend our way through the mixed bag of parents hovering, unsure of themselves, of how they should be. I find marque 5’s class and we are greeted by his very smiley cheerful new teacher. He will be fine. Sitting down in his named place he whispers that he will just tell her if the shoe is still electrocuting him in the day. That’s how comfortable he is with her. I kiss him, again, and leave to take marque 4 to his room but there’s no sign of him. He must’ve given up on me and made his own way. Or else he’s done a runner. I ask for directions again. It’s at the very far end of the school. I walk quickly, trying to stop myself from breaking into a run, because that would be too weird and anyway, there’s no running allowed in the corridors. I find the room, the door almost closed, so I rap on it and push it open a little. The teacher is addressing a sea of little uniformed boys, all sitting quietly, attentively. Until their heads turn towards me, quizzically. I can’t see him, they all look the same. So I call out to the teacher – another friendly one smiling through a beard – that I’m just checking that marque 4 got there. A little hand waves at me. He’s right under my nose. He looks pleased and mortified all at once. I’m sure I’m in for it later.
I walk away from them feeling like a traitor. There’s no smidgeon of pleasure being derived from the fact that I’m free now for the next few hours. That for the first time in ten years I will not have a double pick up. It will come though, I know it will. Just not today. Today I’m home alone reeling in the quiet. Listening out for a laugh or a plea or a shriek. The new hamster turning on her wheel doesn’t quite hit the mark.