Next week, a new year group of eager and expanding minds will start their first day of school, thereby altering their -- and their parents -- lives forever. Facebook feeds will be littered with proud photos, crisp, unfaded uniforms will be filled with bodies still slightly too small for them, and parents everywhere will be stressing wildly over every little thing.
Will he cry? Will she make friends? Will Imake friends? How the heck do I keep lunch fresh on a 35-degree day and am I seriously expected to walk up this hill every day lugging a backpack bigger than my child?
The transition from home life or daycare to 12 or more years of formal education is undeniably enormous. Days are shorter, afternoons are longer and mornings are a new form of chaos.
In order to maximise the excitement and minimise the parental anxiety, here are four things you can cross off your stress list for the start of school.
What doesn't matter? An 'Instagram-worthy' lunch box
Instagram, you have so much to answer for. Detox Tea, drunk memes and now #lunchboxporn. There are dozens of feeds and Pinterest pages which induce fears of inadequacy in kindy mothers everywhere, as they are left wondering how to create and package the perfect kindy lunch.
I was one of those mothers who became excessively excited about packing lunches. During the day I would leer at well-lit images of other people's lunchboxes, and by night I would picture mini containers of superfoods and organic snacks designed to best fuel my preppie's mind (and my own lunch box fantasies). Edamame beans in stainless steel bento boxes, strawberries cut into hearts and homemade avocado sushi rolls... #eattherainbow.
Well, hold on to your BPA-free, fair-trade, sustainable lunch boxes. Chances are your thriving foodie is just going to eat what every other child is eating, and you'll be packing Tiny Teddies and Cheerios before the year is through.
Teachers will not comment on your incredible array of homemade sustenance. The only awards for creative shape cutting will be in the classroom, and chances are your soggy star will come home half nibbled. By all means, channel your inner Gwyneth and make as many seaweed and nut butter snacks as you'd like, but you'll likely be adding additional morning stress when you could, in fact, have been sleeping soundly the night before with a cut lunch safely chilling in the fridge.
What does matter? Calories in/energy out
Feed that child however you best can, noting that they almost always eat better, faster and with less complaints when mothers are not in sight. If you are blessed with a bland eater such as my eldest -- who would happily scoff two ham-and-mustard sandwiches every day -- then that's great. If it ain't broke, don't add soggy pinwheels to it (seriously, they never stay in shape).
Oh, and extra points for the canteen. Don't worry, they all serve healthy and gluten-free options these days, so instead of suffering guilt you can, in fact, feel rather virtuous about your child eating fresh vegetarian sushi in the playground.
What doesn't matter? The "drop-off" outfit
No, you are not vain and you certainly are not the only one wanting to make a grand impression at the school gates on the first day. Let's face it, you never thought you would actually grow up to be a real-life school mum or dad, and when you text that first-day photo far and wide you want to be looking your perfect, school-parent best.
Many parents will try too hard on the first day -- after all, it will be a full casting call of mothers, fathers, working parents, full-time parents, nannies and some au pairs to boot. It will be the single busiest day for parent scoping.
By all means take care and pride in your appearance. One day you will want to reminisce about a time both you and your child found school exciting and emotional, so you want to look good in the photo.
The fashionable truth is, however, that beyond the first day, no one cares. The people you will encounter on a daily basis (until you can throw your Year 1 child out the door in the 'Stop and Drop' next year) are those doing the same things as you are. Outside school hours, parents are dropping off in work uniforms or corporate attire. Stay-at-home mums are wearing their own uniform of park-efficient clothing or active wear (which may or may not be used for activities that day).
The truly exotic mothers (who I secretly yearned to see more of after years of paparazzi shots of celebs on the school run) usually have the nanny do the walk-in, save for special events and days which involve a photo op.
What actually matters? Comfort
Getting your child dressed on time is challenging enough some mornings. If you do have time to consider your own outfit after remembering whether it was swimming day or library day, then always go for comfort. Did I mention the hill? Why are all school parks on a hill far, far away?
What doesn't matter? Who you know
Right now, many of you are desperately hoping your child is in the same class as that one nice kid from daycare, or the offspring of your own friends. You're imagining a seamless transition for your child and easy access to a ready-made friendship group and playdate circuit for yourself.
Unfortunately, you will not have been the only parent to put in that special request for your little darling to be in the same class as his or her potential bestie, and class lists are tricky enough to negotiate without school Admin spending their pupil-free days negotiating prep parents' social circles.
Fear not. Chances are the former flame from preschool will be long forgotten by the time the first bell rings. Worse still, what if that family friend actually turns out to be a bit of a terror who you need to start trying to phase out?
What does matter? Who you GET to know
Water finds its own level and so does gin, so if you're a mum who likes to organise playdates around some sneaky vino in plastic cups at the park, believe me, you'll find your cohorts. If you're an "activity mum", shepherding multiple children to myriad activities, you'll find an equally time-poor mum with a seven-seater SUV to coordinate your terms with. (And these women are like gold. Find them, love them, and never let them or their extra booster seats and Coles bakery cookies go).
What doesn't matter? What your child knows
"Is my child ready?" It's the thought that keeps so many guilt-plagued parents fretting during the weeks before school starts. They are tiny. They can barely write their own names and they don't follow direction.
That, dear parent, is exactly why they are going to school. To learn.
There will, of course, be the rare prodigy who spent the summer holidays learning sight words and reading Harry Potter, and with them the parent who smugly enjoys telling people this. But before you let the seeds of doubt grow, remember that any child who is capable of learning is, well, capable.
No matter how many reading apps and letter writing books they have endured, almost every child is fair game when they walk into the classroom. Kids never know how much they want something until they are surrounded by peers ready or willing to do the exact same thing. Notice how your child probably ate everything without complaint at kindy. Well, the same rules apply. Plus, it's probably easier for a professional to teach every sight word than it is to get them to stop picking only the good parts out of the fruit salad at kindy.
Was your child born within the suggested year level? If so, they are probably ready. If they weren't, it would have been identified by now by either you or a childcare professional.
So stress less, and enjoy more. This is a momentous milestone and one which you will experience through your own naïve and nervous eyes.