He doesn’t even glance backwards any more. Two weeks into secondary school and it’s as if Isaac has been doing it for years.
At the end of our two-week European road trip, we commented (only half-jokingly) that Isaac had left as a boy and returned as a teenager. Barely a fortnight later, it’s apparent how much he has grown up in a short space of time.
Where once he was understandably apprehensive about travelling on his own by train, now he strides confidently off down the platform.
A new school. New subjects: everything from chemistry and biology to German and Latin. And new friends too.
How quickly the new normal has established itself. But what effect will the new normal have on the old normal that we built up over seven years of primary school? As he changes, how will his relationships with his parents, his siblings and his primary school friends change?
Of course, it’s inevitable that the independence that comes with moving to secondary school will change his relationship with Heather and me.
We’ve already seen the impact of hormones as he hurtles from his pre-teens towards his teenage years. He’s less dependent on us and he’s testing both his own boundaries and ours. Increasingly, he expects to be treated as a grown-up. (In height terms, he pretty much already is a grown-up.) And while in many ways it’s right for him to push for it, he’s not quite an adult yet. But he’ll get there, and probably sooner than we think.
In truth, I’m struggling with this a bit. In my mind’s eye he’s still a sweet little kid of five or six. But that little boy has long since gone, replaced by an almost-man whose occasional bursts of childishness cannot disguise the fact that he views and thinks about the world through increasingly mature eyes.
I need to treat him differently, and to err on the side of talking to him like an adult rather than as a child. As big an adjustment as it is for him, it’s a big change for us too.
For the past three years, Isaac, Toby and Kara have shared the daily bond of going to school together. Isaac is very close to Kara but has always tended to do more things with Toby, as they’re closer in age. They play on the Xbox together. They share more interests. Their friendship groups overlap more with each other than with Kara’s.
But I wonder if Isaac going to a different school might change that dynamic. Will he drift away from the others because of his new environment and friends? He’s now learning subjects and having experiences that are alien to Toby. And will Toby become closer to Kara as a result because they now have more in common? In the past, when a two-against-one situation developed, it has invariably been Isaac and Kara versus Toby. In future, will it be the primary pair of Toby and Kara ganging up against Isaac?
So far that doesn’t seem to be the case. But it will be interesting to see what develops.
For the past seven years, Isaac’s group of friends has remained stable. We’ve lived in the same house. He’s gone to the same school. He’s had a small circle of good friends which has hardly varied, all of whom live within walking distance.
Now, though, that is all changing. His old friends are still there, of course, but virtually all of them go to the local secondary whereas his new school is a good 15 miles away. We live on the very edge of the catchment area, so he can no longer just wander up the road to see his new friends. And will his eagerness to make new friends come at the expense of his old ones?
Again, so far we have seen little change. He has made a noticeable, conscious effort to keep his old friends close.
Of course, technology helps a lot here. They are forever playing online together on the Xbox. And he is permanently glued to WhatsApp and Instagram. If anything, they’re in more frequent contact now than they were before.
It’s great to see that he’s also finding a good balance investing time in making friends at his new school. We were delighted to learn that he had been invited round to a classmate’s house last week; he spent an afternoon with him this week. He’s also participating in a number of lunchtime and after-school clubs, discovering other friends through shared interests.
But while he’s marching forward with new friends, he hasn’t forgotten where he came from. It will be interesting to see how he maintains the balance. When I made the transition to secondary education, I was in a similar situation where I was starting at a new school to which only one of my primary schoolmates was also going. I didn’t do a very good job of keeping in touch with any of my old friends. Isaac is alredy doing better than me in that respect. Long may it continue.
Lots of change – but lots of stability too
I really thought we’d see a more dramatic shift in Isaac’s relationships than has actually happened so far. Maybe it will just take a bit longer than I first thought. But my observation is that Isaac is managing to juggle adapting to a big change by anchoring his established relationships as a point of stability.
He’s being incredibly mature about it – far more so than I was at his age – and I think that’s a real tribute to his emotional intelligence. That, as much as his academic smarts, is what fills me with confidence for the rest of this year.
So, yes, now he doesn’t even glance backwards as he heads off to catch the train in the morning. His eyes are firmly fixed on the future. But he isn’t dismissing his past. And that’s as it should be.
Every afternoon he comes home a slightly different young man to the one who left that morning. He’s changing all the time and the nature of all his relationships will evolve with him. I’m sure he will take all the coming challenges easily in that long, loping stride of his.