Starting school can be a traumatic experience for the parents | Emma Brockes

Dropping my off each morning has stirred a panic I havent felt since they were , says

Anxiety

T is so much to worry about, said Gertrude Stein, might as well not worry about any of it. But then again she never dropped two children off at for the . Mine started last week and while one was fine, the stood in the doorway of her classroom looking and lost and very alarmed and did the thing that, in extremis, fear more than tears: no tears. Looking on from the corridor, I felt something lift up and leave my body like the spirits in .

Controlling anxiety is the great labour of our age and one with no discernible end. I try to divide my fears into categories: those with controllable outcomes (there is a mouse in our skirting board), those with no solution but that I consider manageable (why do I persist in buying jeans that are too small when I know Im too lazy to return them?), and those that form part of a great, amorphous cloud of dread that hovers just over the horizon (where will it end? Why do we live like this? If there is a God, why did He allow Instagram to happen?).

When my children were babies, the existential terror of being responsible for other was so vast the only way to control it was to attach it to real- anxieties. It didnt matter how fantastical; I just needed a shape to hang on to. For a time, every time I passed the -disposal chute in our hallway, I had to staunch a mental of tripping, wrenching the open and accidentally dropping one of my children down the 13-storey shaft to the cruncher . It wasnt , but it was better than shapeless fear.

That phase eventually wore off to be replaced with a worse one: the fear not of freak accident or ill- but unhappiness. Were they unhappy? Why were they unhappy? Was it contextual or constitutional? Were signs of distress actually a good thing, given that the unhappiest people in the world are the ones who cant show their unhappiness?

Once my children learned to speak, it was curious to observe that their own anxieties trammelled along similar lines, the necessity of attaching a cause any cause to their fears. Over the past few months, I have talked them down about getting struck by lightning, getting killed in a , having a creature come out of the wall at them and something I still cant get a handle on about the not being real. What if a crawls into my mouth? asked my the other day, and my answer It just wouldnt, dont worry about it was clearly inadequate because it keeps coming up.

Meanwhile, with school, my own seems to have gone back to one: amorphous dread. The place is good, and , and well organised. Apart from the agony of drop-off, my girls seem happy. But handing them over has thrown up the dust from those earliest days of unsoothable panic and here once again: wandering the aisles of the on a Tuesday morning, crushing an indent into the of a of tofu sausages while shouting at myself in my . Get a grip, woman! What would Gertrude Stein say?!

Emma Brockes is a



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