Although I went back to work very soon after my son was born, we’ve always had a great relationship. I’m not entirely sure how it developed; I think many things helped. Listening and just being there for him is probably a big part of it.
When he was younger we had regular stories at bedtime. We started with books like the Hungry Caterpillar and Wind in the Willows then moved on to the Harry Potter series. We had lots of made-up stories too. He was one of the main characters and the tale unfolded around him. I racked my brain coming home from the office everyday to think up a new adventure he would be part of that evening. We had some very far-fetched quests but when you’re five years old does it really matter if you defy gravity or bend the second law of thermodynamics a little?
When he was old enough we’d go to the cinema, eat ice cream and enjoy a film. We visited the zoo and the museum regularly too, more ice cream, face-painting and watching the animals. They were much livelier at the zoo and there was a strong chance they’d poop on you in pets corner; they were easier to see in the museum with no poop-risk. We viewed kids TV together – Captain Scarlet, Funny Bones and Star Trek, then we’d draw the characters and stick the drawings in a scrap-book. Harry Potter was the hero of the moment so I painted a floor to ceiling mural of Hogwarts in the corner of my son’s room – it was a cool bedroom for a ’90’s child. We played in the garden or walked to the park with whole loaf of bread to feed the birds; families of ducks soon became our friends. Our outdoor adventures often involved getting muddy or falling over but either way, he’d come to me to clean him up and make any bumps, knocks or grazes better. A hug and some savlon worked wonders.
When he started school we practiced handwriting and did math together. I helped him make party costumes and scale models, sent him in with baking ingredients and looked forward to chocolate-chip cookies, cheesy pizza or bread rolls when he came home. There’s something very special about sampling your child’s first culinary delights, you never forget it. And he’s a decent cake baker today so there’s a lot to be said for primary school cookery lessons. We considered ideas for homework projects and revised for exams, I encouraged him to play sports and learn music. Many a happy Sunday morning has been spent frozen-stiff, ankle-deep in mud and drenched through to the skin, returning home later to defrost, listen to guitar, flute or drums being practiced. (Yes, I’m the Mom who allowed drums in the house and yes, they’re very loud. I’ve never regretted it though.)
As he grew older we worked on some of life’s challenges. Dealing with bullies, what growing-up is all about, when to hold your position and when to back down. How to respect others opinions whilst still having a mind of your own – something I believe to be hugely important. Attaining a good pass in a subject that’s not your favourite, coping with exam nerves, university applications and learning to drive. Plus, of course, that perplexing but none the less essential topic – what girls are and why they might seem confusing for boys at times.
I’ve always been there for my son. We’ve shared many good times together and I’ve made sure he knows two key things: 1. There’s never a problem too big to be solved. 2. When it comes to problems, two heads working on the solution are usually better than one.
My son called me at 10pm two days after the last chemo to say he’d been taken to hospital. I don’t like late night ‘phone calls, not once have I known them to bring good news and this one was no different. He’d had an accident playing football, his sporting passion, and was waiting to find out if he’d broken his leg… something in there had made an audible snap sound and he couldn’t walk. He was in the city A&E waiting for results of x-rays and I wasn’t there for him. Worse still, I wasn’t well enough to get in the car and drive a couple of hours to reach him.
Now from his perspective, this is probably not as bad as it sounds. His Dad was there so he was in safe hands; he’d get a lift back to his student bed-sit once the hospital worked out what was wrong. From my perspective it was a disaster. I was unable to be there for him and it hit me like an express train. Even though he’s a young man and more than capable of looking after himself, he’s still my son. Rationally I knew the hospital would fix him up; I knew he’d get to his flat safely. But the emotional realisation that I couldn’t just grab my car keys and be by his side was very disconcerting. I felt miserable and inadequate.
For me, being there is part of being a Mom. It doesn’t matter how old he is or where he is, when my son needs help or support I want to be there.
PS. He hasn’t broken his leg, his ligaments are a different story. Orthopedic referral coming soon.