As a family, we are late for everything. I have been meaning to take Bear to the cinema since the beginning of the holidays, but we’re only really getting into the swing of summer now September is here. The kids are brown-skinned* and grubby-toed, ice cream is a staple part of our diet and the thought of any kind of routine is satisfyingly alien. We spend mornings (OK, until 7.30am) in bed, all mixed up together, drinking tea or milk and playing.
Our family life is noisy and busy. We are inveterate squeezer-inners, all summer long we’ve had visitors or been visitors ourselves, Andrew has been upcycling a shed into an office, and in between running the school farm. Raff has just discovered the joys of prolonged yelling; Bear the delights of head-banging. The Prodigy’s Firestarter is on repeat and because Rafferty has arranged this on the car CD player, no one else can turn it off.
Although we’ve been together all the time, I realised yesterday that a bit of Bear has been drowned out by all the noise. I’d forgotten how funny he is, how sweet, what good company he is. I’ve also just realised, as I write this sentence, that B and I haven’t spent the day alone together since Raff came along, 20 months ago.
Because of the busyness of summer, Bear starting school has crept up upon us without warning. I have failed to fill in his paperwork, forgotten to buy him trousers, neglected to fill a single entry in his Show & Tell summer diary. Under the circumstances, the most useful thing to do is take him to the cinema.
There is something lurking in the subconscious of most new school mums that makes us believe that once school starts we’ll lose them forever. I imagine that once Bear begins secondary school, gets his first girlfriend, goes to university, gets married, I will convince myself of exactly the same thing. As each milestone approaches I will forget that I’ve already supposedly lost him, and begin panicking anew.
Our cinema day began yesterday, without panic, at the local supermarket. We headed for the school section and after settling on some fetching slim-cut front-crease trousers, I remembered his dad’s warning about making sure B could get them up and down to go to the loo. So I got him into an elasticated pair and we role played it. Bear took it all very seriously. So seriously in fact that that he began saying, quite urgently, ‘I need a wee NOW mum, REALLY.’ At the point of him pulling down his underpants and pointing his willy at the rack of trousers in front of him I finally got the hint and we dashed to the loo. And I was glad of the diversion as The Panic had been creeping up my throat the moment I saw him in those elasticated trousers.
We bought a tonne of sweets and popcorn on the way out then drove to the cinema to watch The Secret Life of Pets. And we snuck into the big VIP seats which made him look tiny. And this is where The Panic set in again, and my day went from run of the mill trying-to-stop-my-son-peeing-in-places-he-shouldn’t, to hard. Because how tiny and vulnerable he looked in that giant leather chair.
I force fed (OK, I didn’t exactly force-feed) myself a jellybean-fudge combo to push The Panic down. And that worked for a bit. Until, genius that I am, I realised that a film called The Secret Life of Pets was going to have a lot of animals in. Films with animals make me cry. Films with unexpected scary bits that make my grown-up-baby-boy sit on your knee, especially make me cry. And films that end with pet owners coming home and loving their pets, just as our summer was about to end with me losing my boy to school, make me triply cry.
The lights came on and I busied myself looking for something very hard to find in my bag. Bear took my hand and we walked out without him noticing what a wreck his mum was.
And since we got back yesterday I’ve been wishing I’d spent the day alone with him at the start of summer, before summer itself took over. If I’d realised then how little alone time I spend with my boy I would have done summer differently. Then last night, just as I thought I couldn’t take the guilt-inducing loveliness of my little boy any longer, at bedtime Andrew told me to come up, Bear had something to tell me. I waited for something along the lines of ‘thanks for a magical day mum,’ perhaps with an ‘I love you’ thrown in. What I got instead was ‘don’t eat all the jellybeans without me.’ Another lesson that came a bit too late.
But the upside of all this is that Andrew and I have resolved to make sure we each take B out for a special day, by himself, once a term. I’d love to know if there’s anything special you do, one on one, with your child? Any suggestions would be great – as long as they don’t films about dogs. I just don’t have the emotional constitution.
*Before anyone says it I mean, of course ‘Irish’ brown.