I’m sure he’s fine. He’s eleven. Just think what I did when I was his age. And he’s sensible, mature for his age.
Rehearsals finished at 5.00. With a bit of chat, walking down the stairs, meandering out of the playground, then down the High Road…
I’ll just start dinner, that’ll take my mind off it. I need to make a white sauce for the lasagna...
If any of this anxiety sounds familiar you’re probably the mother of a newly independent child, like me, and you have my deepest sympathy. It’s late afternoon on Wednesday, I’ve already picked up Youngest from school and now I’m waiting for Middle One to appear - one of his first forays into freedom, walking back from school all this week after rehearsals for the end of term play. I’ve been here before, of course, with Eldest – and have my regular panics about him still - but this is different, I’m not used to this yet, and despite the fact he would never admit it, neither is Middle One.
The doorbell rings and I rush to answer it expecting to see a familiar skinny frame through the glass, to hear a laconic response as I open the door. But no. It’s two charity workers wanting money. I’m unreasonably short. I was expecting my son, I say, as if it’s their fault he’s not standing there on the step.
I go back to cooking, thinking of all the things that could happen, I decide getting run over is most likely. I think about that driveway into Tesco Express, the way cars whizz in at top speed. I think about the programme I caught the other night on BBC Four, In Loving Memory, with all the sad little ways in which people commemorated the loss of their loved ones, and in particular, I think of the scene in which a mother takes the camera crew into her 15 year-old daughter’s perfectly preserved bedroom: here’s her teddy, here are her photos, here is her handprint photocopied for an art project. The mother gently rests her own hand on top of her dead daughter’s ghostly imprint. “We were very alike,” she says, and she cries. Again.
I remember, when we lived in our old house, the first time I let the oldest ones go to the sweet shop on the corner; I stood by the gate watching them run down the road. Only twelve houses or so along from us, no roads to cross, and I’d already told Mr Yogi, the lovely shopkeeper, that they were coming, asking if he would keep an eye on them, and I know he did. But I still worried.
I remember the time we first let them go swimming at the local pool without us, after they nagged and nagged. They’d only been gone ten minutes when I changed my mind. Perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea? Eldest was 11, but Middle One was still only 9. Was it too young? Would Eldest be sensible and wait for Middle One? I fretted, and after a long while, when they weren’t back dead on time, lost my nerve completely asking husband to look for them. He went off on his bike. There they were, just round the corner, walking very slowly, bickering all the while, Eldest just about to give Middle One a sneaky little kick. And we were so cross, we said they weren’t allowed to go anymore.
None of this helps. I look at the clock. Rehearsals finished half an hour ago. It doesn’t take half an hour to walk back. I drop the spoon in the saucepan, pick up the keys, walk out into the street and peer down the road. Nothing. I go back in. Will you go and look for Middle One? I say to Eldest. Just walk down the road a bit? I have to cook, Youngest has a friend over. Eldest nods and goes to look for his shoes. I stir the sauce. This is it. What shall we do if he doesn’t come and we can’t find him? Who can I ring? Will anyone still be at school? The doorbell rings. It’s Middle One leaning against the porch, hand on his hip.
“You were a long time,” I casually remark as he lopes into the house and throws down his bag.
“Yeah, it took F a really long time to find his things. Then I went to Tesco for a cinnamon whirl.”
Of course you did.
“Okay,” I shrug, giving him a relieved little hug and kissing the top of his head.
I go back to the sauce and almost straightaway forget that I was ever worried.
Until the next time.