I watched my son walk up the road to his school this morning, his stride brisk and confident, red rucksack bobbing on his back. I kept watching until he blended in with the crowds around the gate, before I turned away, inwardly infused with motherly pride and - quite frankly - relief.
It's been a bit of a breakthrough. It's not his first day at school or even his first day walking to school, but it is the first Monday for ages that he has gone to school without a fuss: no tears, no tirades, no point-blank refusals to go.
He's ten years old and has always had a bit of an issue about school. Every first day of term or half term we've had a battle with him. But just recently it got to the stage that every Monday was a struggle, if not every day.
We've tried to understand, but it didn't make much sense: he's a good pupil, he does well with his work, has strong friendships, appears to enjoy school while he is there and swears blind that no-one is being nasty to him (pupil or teacher). He simply says that he hates it and that's all.
Wrestling over the problem one night, I began to develop the seeds of a theory. He's a sensitive soul and has always found separation - goodbyes - difficult. He was a very clingy baby, had difficulty going to playgroup when he was two, and often hated being left at a friend's house or a party (so I had to stay) . On the other hand, up until recently, he seemed to adjust to school life quite well - even when we went to Abu Dhabi.
Following this line of thought further, I realised that it might all centre around the separation routine. At Infant school I dropped him right at the door of the class so his teacher could take him off. That was easy, because he was distracted and didn't tend to look back. At Junior school, up until recently, we had adapted into a different routine. I would stand at the gate with him until the whistle blew for them all to file in. Usually, his best friend would arrive after us and would stand with him. My son liked - and needed - this routine. If anything was changed, he became agitated and upset.
But a couple of months ago, his friend began to be dropped at school much earlier and was already running around with the others when we got there. This was when my son started to get upset. And I can understand it now: alone at the gate, with his mum, my son battled with the problem of keeping to a vital routine without the back-up of his friend. His need for me was now exposed and, in his own words he felt 'like a baby' .
We talked about it. I offered advice, techniques, alternate scenarios or possibilities - he didn't want to hear of any of them. But I had a plan. I thought it would help if I dropped him off and he went straight into school - just like he had done in Infants - rather than waiting, tremulously for the whistle to blow and building up to that moment he hated so much. In collusion with his teacher, we engineered it so he would have to go in early to help her set out the chairs.
The first day of chair monitoring was a disaster. He was more upset than ever and I had to walk him right into class with him in floods of tears.
That night, we had a rethink. He told me he hated the idea of seeing me walk away or even leaving me in the school grounds. And then I realised. He might find it easier to say goodbye, as long as the school was not in sight. So we agreed to try a new routine. I would walk him half way to school, over the busy roads and leave him by the corner. He could then walk up the road by himself. If he turned round he wouldn't be able to see me and he wouldn't be saying goodbye anywhere near the school.
The first day was a bit shaky and his bottom lip trembled, but he didn't cry and he didn't turn back. Today, a week or so into this new routine, I know we've cracked it. And even though it wouldn't be a big deal for some kids of his age, I'm so proud of my son.