2020 has been a year of surprises. No one expected the basic shit storm which has happened as a result of the pandemic. But – controversially or otherwise – it feels like the fog is lifting and things are getting a little bit back to normal/new normal. The most noticeable shift for TJ (and I) is that he will be having his first day at school in a few short weeks.

(Back) to school.

It’s a feeling which all parents will be familiar with. That first day in school is a big step in so many ways. It’s a huge sign of how much that little person has grown and how far you have both come. Even if, like TJ, your kid has been at nursery, preschool or with a childminder for a number of years, it’s their first step into the big wide world. It’s a glorious moment which is supercharged with emotions of every kind for us all and for the little people in our lives.

The last few months in the lead-up to TJ’s first day of school haven’t exactly gone to plan, of course. I remember at the end of last year visiting his prospective school and getting excited about all the amazing things they did to ease that introduction into ‘big school’. Trips to his new classroom, playtimes with his future fellow pupils, home visits from his new teachers. It goes without saying that a lot of this hasn’t been able to happen. His school have already been truly amazing and are doing all that they can to bridge that gap in the best way possible. But it doesn’t look – or feel – exactly how we thought that it would.

Life. Paused.

Life at preschool was also obviously put on hold for a number of weeks. As TJ will be attending a school in Hampshire, he is leaving behind his circle of friends he made at a preschool nearer to the home I used to share with his dad in Surrey before our marriage separation. I was worried that he wouldn’t get the opportunity to go back and spend some more time with his friends and his teachers before September arrived. But we decided to send him back as soon as his preschool reopened and, judging by TJ’s love for being back there, there’s no regrets on that front.

Like millions of parents with children of all ages, I never expected to do any homeschooling in my entire life. However, in preparation for that first day at school, TJ and I have spent some time practicing basic maths and writing skills. He’s great at it. However I am terrible at it. I have little to no patience at the best of times so I spent much of that homeschooling time biting my tongue from yelling “why the fuck is writing a 5 so bloody difficult!?” to no one in particular.

The lucky ones.

I will also be going back to work shortly. That’s having been on furlough since March so it will definitely be weird to log onto my computer and work from home again on a flexi-furlough basis. Weird but also exciting. It is also a huge relief as I am well aware that I am one of the fortunate ones to be able to pick up my professional responsibilities (almost) right where I left them.

Throughout all of this, I have known that we have been amongst the lucky ones. TJ has handled this change in so much of his life amazingly well and has, quite literally, took social distancing in his stride. His preschool and big school have done all that they can to care for our kids and ensure a smooth transition on that first day at school and beyond. My work was waiting for me when I opted for flexi-furlough. Also, my family, friends and amazing boyfriend are safe and we have done all that we can to be there for each other for support, sympathy and a good old moan when required.

Normality. But not as we know it.

The next few weeks and months do still feel like venturing into the unknown. Getting back to ‘normal’ will still be a bizarre experience. Even as a reasonably confident and chatty person, the social side of both professional and personal life feels a bit scary to me. Although hermit life isn’t for me, being around a lot of people again – whether in real life or via Zoom work meetings – will be jarring to say the least. Small talk, which is bound to be in abundance, is also on the list of things I hate the most. Hopefully for me, this struggle to get back to a usual routine will be a short term experience. For many, it may take longer to adjust. Several may not feel the same way ever again. For others, the luxury of a usual routine may still be a very far off concept.

Baby steps. That’s the way forward for TJ, me and loads of others too – no matter what the circumstances. TJ’s first day at school will take centre stage on the sparsely used 2020 calendar. I am giddy for all that it will bring – as well as wracked with anxiety about it too. Juggling back to work (whatever that may look like) and raising a school boy will bring its own challenges (I say this with BBC’s Motherland on in the background). But bring it on … though I may regret saying that come October half term.