Middle Child is going away on a school trip to France at the end of the half term holiday. In the intervening time, nearly a week, he sits around the house all day going on Facebook or watching the telly, or doing both at the same time.
Older brother is ‘revising’. Younger brother is going up north for a couple of nights to stay with his cousins at his grandparent’s house. I have to take him on the train, a seven-hour round trip door to door in one day. And I have a stinking cold and a dodgy tummy. It would have been great if Middle One could have gone too, but they can’t manage four children with such a broad spread of ages so Middle One roams the house and tells me he’s bored and it drives me half crazy. Go and see a friend, I say. Ring someone. Go out. Walk to the park. Read your book. Go to a shop. Catch a movie. Go swimming. Come out with me. But he doesn’t want to do any of these things, his answer to everything is the same: can’t be bothered.
What he does want to do is talk about science and the universe and martial arts and the Mandarin and geography and Sherlock Holmes. He has question after question, none of which I can answer. It makes me feel inadequate. And he wants to do experiments with dangerous chemicals. All I want is an afternoon to myself to write followed by a nice sit down with a cup of tea and a read of the paper.
A few days before he’s due to go on the trip we start getting things together. Sailing shoes, a rash vest, six t-shirts, three towels… the list from school goes on and on. I leave him and Eldest at home and go shopping, ticking things off the list as I find them. Then the next day I go shopping again for the things I didn’t tick off the first time. On the Friday before he is due to go I start to label and pack. I get him to help. He says he needs a packed-tea for the twenty-hour coach journey and he wants sushi. “Only if you can be bothered to come with me to get it,” I say. So this time he comes, actually out of the house!
We choose some sushi in Waitrose, then we select some fruit and some drink and some crisps and some bread rolls, and other things I need, and he helps and he chats and I’m so glad he’s not in the house anymore. We got to Smith's to buy his magazine and after that I suggest lunch, a snack at a café, and to my surprise he agrees. He doesn’t want to just go straight home as I expect, so we sit in the café eating and chatting some more and he tells me things, about school, about the subjects he’s interested in, about the origin of martial arts, about why he is keen to learn one, and I listen. And I watch. And then suddenly I realize that I’m so happy; happy to be out with him, together, just being friends, because that’s what he is now, instead of just my child, my son. He’s my friend.