The past few months have been really significant for Poppy. And have happily they don’t have anything to do with cancer. In September Poppy started nursery.
If you’d have told me at the beginning of this year that she’d be attending nursery for three hours five days a week I’d have said you were mad. The thought of entrusting her into the care of someone other than family, or indeed hospital staff would have terrified me. And there were often times when we never would have believed she would have been well enough. But yet again she defied my expectations…..
From the beginning of Poppy’s treatment, the doctors and nurses were keen to impress the importance of keeping life as normal as possible. And, as such they advised us to go ahead with starting nursery in September. As much as I’d always thought it would give Poppy a real boost socially – I couldn’t help but imagine nursery to be a breeding ground for germs and infections. To be fair, nurseries are and as her Consultant put it, it’s a “right of passage” for youngsters to pick up all manner of coughs and sneezes from their peers. But obviously in Poppy’s case it was potentially a lot more serious, and we knew her immune system wouldn’t always have the capacity to fight off every bug she may encounter.
But, what was the alternative ? We can’t and won’t keep her in a bubble for the duration of her treatment. It wouldn’t be fair to anyone, least of all Poppy. She needed the social interaction of nursery and even before she became ill we knew she would benefit from it immensely. Determined to keep life as normal as possible yet cautious we spoke to our Macmillan nurse who wholeheartedly agreed that it would be the right thing to do. When her place was confirmed over the summer it felt like a real boost and a positive sign that illness hadn’t scuppered every plan we had dared to make for our little girl.
As the months went by, we spoke to Poppy about nursery and sold it to her by telling her of all the play doh and painting she’d be able to do. I started to buy her uniform and as she was on the Maintenance stage of her treatment it felt like the right time. Our Macmillan nurse Helen had liaised with the school and they were fully aware of what was going on with the Popster. We found this incredibly reassuring and after chatting to the head of the school I felt that everyone was up to speed with Poppy’s needs and that, importantly they felt confident with their role in Poppy’s care too.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never asked for her to be singled out for special treatment or to be mollycoddled in anyway. The most important thing to me is that she’s the same as everyone else there. That she’s Poppy, not the little girl with Leukaemia.
So as her first day approached it was mixed emotions for us all. I’m sure most parents are anxious about their child being entrusted into some one else’s care, but I felt we had extra reason to worry. It also felt like a really significant day too. Finally something we had planned for wasn’t being ruined by illness. Typically things didn’t get off to a good start…
Recently in a diva-ish style Poppy flat out refuses to wear anything but dresses and tights these days. So, the jogging bottoms required for nursery were not met upon with delight. That’s putting it mildly. Before we’d left the house there were tears and tantrums, culminating with Poppy trying to put her uniform in the bin! This wasn’t how I’d imagined such an important day to begin. The first day was a taster session, whereby I was to stay in nursery with her and it was a chance to get the young ones used to their surroundings till we left them at the door the next day. Despite everyone being smiley and chatty, yet again Poppy was not impressed. She didn’t get off my lap the whole time and wouldn’t look at anyone who spoke to her. To make things worse she still had her dummy in refused to take it out. I tried to keep smiling and try to pique her interest but as she clung to me I could feel all the expectations I’d had for her first day start slipping away. To top it off she was mistaken for a boy twice (Poppy probably did have a point about those tracksuit bottoms after all) but it was the icing on the cake for me. And I’m ashamed to say I got home and cried. Big fat tears that had been kept at bay for a while were back. As I sobbed on the phone to my mum it wasn’t the first time I was struck with the unfairness of this all. Poppy’s always been shy with people she doesn’t know, but maybe if she hadn’t been through so much this year she’s have been a little more forthcoming? Perhaps it was asking too much of her too soon? In my mind the whole thing became a catastrophe and I imagined her being kept back a school year. Stupid bloody cancer ruining everything all over again.
I managed to pull myself together and my mum was summoned into action to purchase any school skirt or pinafore she could get her hands on. Those tracksuit bottoms had to go we were going to make this as smooth for Poppy as we could.
At the next visit I was the only mum allowed to go into the classroom with the children, so much for no special treatment. Again she clung onto me at first but very slowly she showed an interest in a story and I made a break for it. I felt wicked. My stomach was in knots and all the way home I imagined Poppy wailing wondering why I’d abandoned her. Turns out she did cry for ages but eventually she stopped and reluctantly joined in with an activity.
It wasn’t an easy process. Every time nursery was mentioned she’d tell you she didn’t like it and didn’t want to go. Each time I collected her she burst into tears and told me how much she’d missed me. She was the child at handover who was getting upset every day. The little girl with leukaemia who didn’t like nursery…
Then I was thrown a lifeline by a very kind mum who invited us over to play at their house. She’d wondered if getting to know her daughter outside of nursery would help ease Poppy in and go some way to making her more settled. I was so touched that she had noticed our plight and tried to help in some way. The playdate was a success and very slowly the tide began to turn.
It wasn’t easy but as soon as the children started attending nursery each day – the first few weeks had been split into two groups doing alternate days – something just seemed to click in her mind. She started going in without crying and I stopped feeling sick every time I left her. Her teacher had noticed it too, and when he mentioned seeing her playing with the other children or enjoying a song and story we could not have been happier.
As I see her confidence grow and her friendships form I’m astounded how far Poppy’s come from that miserable week in January. I couldn’t be more proud of her. We are now looking to apply for school places for next year, it seems finally things are starting to take shape. And she deserves it so much.
She’s missed the odd day due to hospital appointments or feeling unwell from chemo but nothing significant. The school are incredibly understanding and I genuinely believe she is in good hands. I now think of her teacher and the classroom assistants she adores as another set of people who are looking out for our Pops.
These days she generally has her uniform on ready and waits at the door telling me to hurry up. She skips there and chats on the way home about the things she’s done and who she’s played with. She refers to her classmates as her ‘friends’ and the progress she’s made from the positive influence of nursery, such as putting on her shoes and using the toilet have been invaluable. As ever Poppy just needed to do things in her own way in her own time. If I’ve learnt anything this year its never to underestimate that girl.