I’m normally a happy-go-lucky optimist. Rob is the one for whom the glass is half empty. I look on the bright side, he double checks the small print and reminds me what APR is.
But today I cried all the way to school drop off, all the way back, and for about 20 minutes at the gym, cycling mournfully on the stationary bike.
Not big gulping sobs, just that quiet, lump-in-the-throat sadness that sends tears streaming silently down your face.
My son’s smile.
Not in a, ‘oh my gosh he’s so perfect and squashy I could just eat him oh the beauty oh the beauty’ sadness my children sometimes reduce me to.
It was because he was remembering something that had happened at school. He had received some kind of update that morning which had really tickled him. In fact, what he had learned had affected him so much he couldn’t stop his face breaking out into a grin every now and then. It was infectious.
‘What are you giggling about?’ I asked, smiling down at him.
‘Oh… nothing,’ he replied.
‘Oh come on! Tell me!’ I said. ‘It looks like it was pretty funny?’
‘No it’s nothing. Honestly.’
He turned his head to look out of the window as the familiar markers of the school run passed by: Asda, the co-op funeral home, the park, the tyre place with the drunken tramp reeling about outside.
All so normal and familiar so why did I suddenly feel like crying? A huge lump had appeared in my throat.
I tried to work out what it was, and that’s when the waterworks really started. For the first time in our relationship. Son wasn’t sharing jokes with me. The lump in my throat swelled as I remembered all the times he would run in from school, breathless with the urgency to tell me something ridiculous his mates had done, or something funny his teacher had said.
And now he had closed up. Turned away from me. I could tell he was still thinking about whatever had happened because I kept glimpsing his cheeks rounding as he tried to stop himself from laughing.
I used to love it when he did this. He would find something hilarious and then repeat it to us until we could no longer bear to hear it any more. He would then spend the rest of the day muttering ‘naked bananas’ or ‘yer man!’ And exploding with laughter to himself.
But before, I was always part of it. He would love sharing it with me, trying to make me laugh with him.
I’m sure the story he had heard was wildly inappropriate and something he didn’t want to tell me because maybe it would make me cross, or think less of his friends. But it made me realise the terrible reality that this is it, he really is becoming his own person. And eventually he will grow away from me and venture out into the big blue yonder.
Son is 12 now. If I think logically, I want him to go out and live his life, explore the world and fall in love – all those things. It would be awful if he never cut the apron strings and hung around my house until he became a creepy 50 year old with no friends except the robot women he meets on his computer.
I AM GOING TO MISS HIM SO MUCH.
These were the thoughts that were coursing through my mind and, much as I tried to stop it, a sob escaped.
Son looked at me in consternation. ‘Blimey,’ he must have been thinking, ‘what the hell…?’
‘What’s the matter?’ He said in utter bewilderment.
‘I just feel like I’ve lost you and it’s too sooooonnnnnnn’ I wailed teary-eyed and COMPLETELY inappropriately.
Son’s face fell and his voice got a bit panicky, ‘do you want me to tell you the joke? I can tell you!’
Immediately I snapped out of my self-pity and mawkishness. What was I DOING? I rapidly backtracked.
‘Don’t worry, darling! I’m just being silly. I’m fine! I’m fine! I just didn’t get much sleep!’ I gave a high pitched and unconvincing peal of laughter.
Son eyed me warily making doubly sure I was OK before turning back to the window.
Once I dropped them off I was alone int he car so sobbed with abandon all the way from drop off to the gym. The lump in my throat – now the size of a cabbage – accompanied me all the way to the bike where I adjusted the pedals with tears dripping onto my hands; I was desperate to get a fricking grip on myself before the gym bunnies saw my distraught little face.
When I was young my friends and I would joke about forgetting to write home, or not calling mum and dad, rolling our eyes when messages abounded to ‘call home!’ When a thoughtless idiot in my twenties I would talk to my mum when she called once a week, but I didn’t really make the effort to call them. I completely took them for granted.
Once I was a mother I was so smug. Of COURSE that wouldn’t happen to me. I would be a friend to my children, they would LOVE hanging out with me. They would beam with delight when they saw my number flash up on their phones.
Now, I hate it when I read articles by writers who claim to have lost touch with their parents, or who complain what a nightmare their mothers are. I hate it because I realise, despite my best efforts, this is how my children will see me.
The trouble is this is the natural order of things. I read somewhere that parents love forwards. A child can never love their parents as much as their parents love them. When they grow up and have children they, in turn, will love their children as powerfully as they were loved.
But boy it’s tough to think about them walking away.
Now Son is 12 I have been struck me with a chilling realisation: his childhood proper is over. This worries me greatly, I was planning to be a really great parent at some point. Next week, next month I was going to get him off his phone and arrange some brilliant family event where we would joke and laugh in the sunshine of the countryside, Dog bouncing around in joy.
Well it looks like any precious memories he will carry into adulthood have now already been formed. My window of opportunity has pretty much closed. Christ! I hope there’s some good stuff in there in amongst the times when I was at work too much, or got cross with him because I was stressed.
He’s a great kid, my Son. Funny, kind, energetic and cool. He’s got a great crowd of friends but I worry some are a bit rough and grown up and may lead him astray.
We argue often. I hate it, but I don’t know how to stop it. We love each other to bits, but if I’m absolutely honest with myself, 90% of our arguments stem from the fact that I can’t control him anymore.
When he was little he did what I wanted him to. Ate what I wanted him to eat, wore what I gave him; he was my boy. But now he’s his own person with ideas, thoughts and opinions that are completely separate and independent from mine.
At times I love this; I’m so proud of him I could burst. But at other times it drives me absolutely insane because he is making decisions and has ideas that have no basis in experience. Because I am an aged old crone I KNOW he’s wrong and making a mistake. But I have to shut up. Bite my tongue. Take a step back.
He’s got to make his own decisions and discover for himself things like leaving homework until the last minute is not a good idea, or leaving dirty clothes in a pile will make them stink and render them unwearable.
I know I’m getting ahead of myself. He’s only 12 and will still need me for a good while yet (I hope). He still zooms in for quick, bony hugs, his sharp elbows and knees sinking comfortably into my ample Mum body.
But, for the first time the fact of Son growing up and leaving me has become real. He’s already talking about wanting a flat in London when he grows up. Half of me thinks, ‘hmmm yes, well, better study hard as you going to need to be earning millions of pounds,’ and the other half is screaming, ‘MY BABY!!’ while sobbing and rocking in the corner.
It doesn’t matter how often I have read or heard about the empty nest it never really sank in.
Well today it did, and that’s why I cried all the way back from the school run.
Anyone else dealing with this? Or who have dealt with this and have any tips? Is it OK to just lock your kids in her basement and not let them grow up? Do sons still visit or do you really lose them when they get married?