One year ago today, we bid farewell to Berlin and moved back ‘home’ to Edinburgh. It’s no big secret that I was the driving force behind the move. While Berlin is a great city for families, and I love it as a holiday destination, I struggled to find work and I struggled to make friends – two factors which greatly contributed to feeling unhappy there. So how have we fared since we made the move back? My husband is probably the one who has drawn the short straw. He continues to work for his old company, alternating telecommuting with regular trips back to Berlin. This is the compromise we came to, which enabled him to keep his job and still make a move back to Edinburgh possible, and considering he hates travelling I truly appreciate the sacrifice he has made. As for myself, I didn’t pick up where I left off. That would have been impossible, after six years away. But I’ve reconnected with old friends and made new ones, and found a job I am happy in. But once you’re a parent, it’s not really about you any more. The big question you struggle with the most is “have I made the right decision for my kids?”
Mr Fox integrated seamlessly in to his new nursery. He had a couple of settling-in sessions, but he didn’t really need them. He’s had a few wobbles over the past year, but mostly enjoys being there. He loves spending time with our old friends, whom we now see regularly, and I doubt he has many memories of Berlin. He was only 2.5 when we left. And then there was Oskar-Bear. He had just finished his first year at school, which was a massive change for him after 4.5 happy years in a very tightly-knit nursery group, none of whom ended up going to the same school as him. Yet there we were, about to put him through some more massive changes. Then there was the matter of him having to go from Primary 1 straight in to Primary 3, due to the different school systems. So a year ago I was sat across from his teachers in Berlin, telling me this was a HUGE mistake, and we should reconsider letting him skip a year. They felt he wasn’t mature enough yet and would struggle – I think if we had stayed in Berlin they would have recommended he did an extra year as he was by far the youngest due to having a late birthday. He got tired very quickly, and lagged behind in some things such as handwriting and spelling. But we didn’t have much choice, because the school in Edinburgh didn’t even assess him. They just went by his date of birth and decided he had to be in Primary 3. So we went in to our fresh start with this anxiety hanging over us, that we might be about to fail him.
A couple of weeks ago he brought home his first school report, and I cried. Not because our worst fears had been confirmed, but because it was absolutely glowing. Well, okay, so his teacher glossed over the fact his handwriting and spelling is still terrible (apparently he’s worked hard on both and made good progress), but overall he has come on in leaps and bounds and – against predictions from Berlin – has pretty much closed up on most of the gaps he had. Just like all pupils, he has his strengths and weaknesses, but having skipped a year doesn’t seem to have left him at any disadvantage. His teacher described him as “a successful learner who is determined to do his best” and said she had enjoyed challenging him, and he had enjoyed exceeding both his and her expectations! My heart also swelled with pride a little, when his teacher described him as an incredibly kind hearted member of the class who fully immerses himself in all that he does, who consistently shows care and concern for others, and will often be seen helping his peers. It’s actually something his teachers in Berlin acknowledged too. That is the Oskar we know and love, who has worn his heart on his sleeve for as long as we can remember. It was reassuring to hear that throwing all these new things and challenges at him hadn’t crushed that spirit.
But the sentence that really brought on the waterworks, was this one: “He enjoys his time in school and has many friendships.” To understand why reading this turned me in to a weeping mess, I have to rewind a little, to his first year in school. He had been looking forward to starting school SO much, but after a couple of months it became clear he was struggling. Some of it may have been down to the adjustment of moving from nursery to school, going from playing all day to having to concentrate and sit still, getting tired easily and being younger than everyone else. But he also got teased a lot about his hair and his clothes – not by anyone in his class, I hasten to add, and his teachers were good at dealing with it, but it still wore him down. And he struggled to make friends. I had several meetings with his teachers, where they all said Oskar got on really well with everyone in the class and they all loved him, but according to Oskar himself he didn’t have any friends. We think he probably meant that he didn’t have any best buddies, no one to hang out with during breaks or invite for playdates. All these things just added up. He complained of stomach pains a lot, and to this day we don’t know if they were real stomach pains brought on by anxiety, or faked stomach pains to avoid having to go to school. But when your six year old tells you “Mummy, I really want to love school but I just can’t” then it absolutely breaks your heart. So to read that he now enjoys going to school and has many friendships, meant the absolute world to me, more than any feedback on how well he is doing in maths, or science or French. He seems like a completely different person when it comes to school, and we’ve not had a single stomach pain this whole year. In fact, when our school unexpectedly closed earlier this year for three days due to snow chaos, and Oskar cried when he had to stay at home – because he missed seeing his favourite teacher and missed being with his friends – I already knew then that we hadn’t failed our boy. That we had made absolutely the right decision coming back to Edinburgh!