My son - now almost 6ft tall - has needed a new bed for quite some time. GCSEs, holidays, work experience and various other related commitments meant there hasn't been time to buy one. Yesterday I suggested we did just that. "No point," he said. "I'll be leaving home next year anyway." I sat down quickly before I fainted.
Watching your son grow up is a great joy. Watching your son prepare to leave home is a journey of tiny painful steps. He used to call me when he left school and he would chat on the phone until he arrived home and could tell me all about his day in person. Now I'm not always sure if he is in the house.
This summer, he spent the last four weeks at home alone, while we remained in France. He had got himself a part-time job. He wanted to go to parties and a festival. He wanted to hang out with his friends. It was the first time he had looked after himself for any extended period. I pretended sanguinity. After all he is 17, legally allowed to leave home, vote, join the army and get married, I told any friend who looked askance.
"Call me every day," I instructed. "So I know you're safe."
"I won't have time. I'll text instead." My flinch must have been imperceptible because it passed without comment.
The texts dried up on the third day. I called. No answer. I texted. No answer. I tried our landline. No answer. Now my son knows me very well. His nickname for me is Cersei from the Game of Thrones for very many good reasons, none of which have anything to do with the walk of shame I hasten to add. I considered my options.
Declare him missing. The moment when the police tracked him down and found him still asleep in his friend's house would be worth rushing back to London for. The downside was that I would likely be arrested for wasting police time. Cut off his mobile. Perforce he'd have to spend more time at home because only there would he have reliable access to a telephone and WiFi. The downside - I would have no means of contacting him when he wasn't at home. Cut off his Oyster card. How would be get to work or more importantly how would he get back home? Better then to cut off his pocket money. He wouldn't be able to go out. Then again he wouldn't be able to buy food either ... unless of course he called to ask for money.
A male friend once told me that men wake up at the weekend fully intending to visit their mothers, then as the day progresses, they become overtaken by an incredible lassitude at the thought. Yet I've seen sons show their love in other and far more important ways than telephone calls and afternoon visits. A dear aunt of mine died recently from cancer. She had five sons and no daughters, something we regularly bemoaned on her behalf. In the last six months of her life these five men surrounded her with great love and care, respecting her wish not to go into a hospice, and taking it in turns to sit by her hospital bed so she didn't die alone.
My son plans to go to Nottingham University, near enough for him to be able to get home at weekends, he tells me. Of course he won't come back at weekends. If he did, it would mean he wasn't making new friends, finding new interests and enjoying everything that university life has to offer. It would also mean he would lose extra study time in the library, which is very important to an African mother like me.
I want him to do all those things because growing up and discovering independence is what every parent wishes for their child. You see I also have a daughter whose special needs mean that she will always require round the clock care and the pain of watching her never discover her independence is far greater than the anticipation of saying goodbye to the child who will.