Then I sat in the car and cried to my mother for a full hour and a half, venting every single one of the grievances I carry about with me like so much lead. A 47-year-old sniffing and snotting to her nearly 80-year-old mother. I should have been ashamed of myself (don't worry, reader, I was).
She was brilliant, as she always is. My quiet, self-contained wartime mother, whose magisterial sense of proportion is the equal of any classical architect. She said a couple of things that stuck:
1. You're quite wrong to keep on regretting something that happened twelve years ago.
2. If the kids shout at you, walk away. You don't have to put up with that.Those two sentences, in amongst a lot of silent, upset, loving listening, worked on me all day long. Let go of the past, it's over. Let go of the anxiety, it's pointless.
This morning, bellicose son, having been asked (politely, mind) to practise the piano, clear up his breakfast, get dressed and get out the door for school, kicked off when I suggested brightly that we go over the 7, 8 and 9 times tables as we walked.
What a Tiger Mother I must be, to force my poor dear child to practise his tables! How outrageous that he should be told he needs to know something that he is going to use every single day of his life!
The arguing, abuse and refusal lasted from our front door to the local park, at which point I told him (politely, mind) he could walk the rest of the way on his own, and went home. I never even looked back.
As I walked, I realised that a certain maternal filament has broken, like a tooth finally coming free of its moorings. I'm not sure when it broke. I suspect quite a long time ago, but I've been hanging on to it, worrying.
I simply do not think it is my job – or the job of any parent – to keep walking a child to school and be abused for trying to help him. If he's old enough to swear at me, he's old enough to learn his own tables, and make his own way to school.
A strand of the ambivalence, that keeps mothers locked to their children in anxiety and guilt, fear of social censure and fear of letting their offspring down, gave way at 8.40 this morning, 5 January 2016. Good riddance to it.
I no longer feel that guilty responsibility. He will, sooner or later, have to make his own way in the world, and he might as well start now. He has consistently been an autodidact, larger than life, a great ball of energy. He is not a child who can be forced to do all that much – the result has always been fury, violence and resistance. So be it. That is his character. I free him to be himself – if I am allowed to be myself.
So. My New Year's Resolution is that I will no longer walk him to and from school. He can seize his freedom, and shape it without my troubled intervention. He'll find out the hard way that he does actually need his times tables, but my work on that is done.
After the attempted abduction of our son just before Christmas, I had to speak to several police people. Thank goodness the first one who came round was a woman with a 9-year-old son. Her firm message was: keep walking home from school – your independence goes forward not backwards. Many parents asked what I would do, and at first, I stuck to my guns – he would keep walking. As they asked, the pressure mounted, and I felt my courage dissolve, along with my son's. He started asking me to pick him up.
Then came other, male, police officers. I found myself having to answer the question, "May I ask why he was walking back alone at 4.45pm?" Incredulous, I reminded the man that my kid was coming home from an after-school activity. The obvious implication was that I was a negligent mother. I tried to push the insinuation away, but it worked on me all over Christmas.
Then in early January the same officer phoned me to tell me they had looked at all the CCTV footage and hadn't come up with anything about the predator. And blow me, he tried again to insinuate that I shouldn't have been letting my child walk home at 4.45pm – apparently I was setting up the opportunity for the man to approach my son. Like a pimp. Strangely enough, I'm not responsible for a paedophile's behaviour and desires, and happen to want to live in a community in which it's safe for everyone's children to walk around freely. And strangely enough, I'm not negligent.
I tend to think of 'resolutions', certainly New Year's ones, as predictions for the year ahead, an announcement of things I would like to have happen, without doing an awful lot of planning or hard work to make them come to pass.
The meaning of 'resolve', however, is to settle or find a solution to a problem, and decide firmly on a course of action. Resolve begins now, when you make a decision, and it entails first knowing that there is a problem, naming it, and then knowing what the solution to that problem is.
A resolution isn't a prediction, it's an Aha! moment and a map.
I cannot begin to tell you how good it feels.
AND THE CODA..... My son came home from school today (first day on the school run without Mummy telling him what to do and/or protecting him from paedophiles).
He held out his hand. In it were several pounds. On his way, he had seen an old lady struggling with her bag, and run up to her to offer help. They had pottered up the road together, she had told him her life story, and then met her son at the top of the street. She had insisted on giving him a reward. He wanted to refuse, and she pressed it on him. He came home wanting to give it to charity.
Reader, I cried.