Teaching them the Ropes on Razor Wrapped Streets

On Saturday I, wrapped in trailing scarves and a woollen jacket, stood in a street in north east London, a street wrapped in razor wire as far as I could tell, waiting for my son to emerge from the flat he’d gone into. He’s about to move there, to London, to work. On Olympic Park. Lucky boy I tell him. Lucky boy say most of my friends. But he’s nineteen and too cool to exhibit palpable Lucky Me glee. So he needs a home. When we found the addresses we’d identified as alright (On the Page: obviously we couldn’t see the razor wire wrapped environs and nobody thought to mention them in the ad), he ducked inside whilst I stood shivering on the street. He did, mind, have the grace to articulate a modicum of concern at the razorwirewrapping, ‘will you be alright?’

It is an odd feeling this. This slow, tentative opening of my cupped hands so that this boy can fly. You imagine that it will be intangible the letting go: you feel the aftershock but you don’t necessarily witness the step-by-step loosening of tethers. Unless, of course, you’re obliged to stand shivering in E15 trying not to look nervous.

There is a crash course in grown up jargon. ‘What’s pcm?’ he asks. Per Calendar Month, I say (as in razor wire wrapped address – a room in a flatshare – 600 quid pcm ‘exclusive of bills’). What bills? He wants to know, eyes widening. Electricity, water, poll tax, internet, Sky Plus … When I flat-shared back in the dark ages (when, as far as my children are concerned, Londoners tossed the contents of chamber pots out of windows and lit street lanterns at night with a drop of oil and the strike of a match) my rent, in leafy SW6, was less than a quarter of that. Back then though there was no internet, no Sky Plus and mobile phones were as big as shoes. My children don’t believe me: the lighting of lanterns and emptying of chamber pots seems more plausible.

There’s the navigating of the underground. So that, in the swell of late Friday commuter traffic, it all rushes back to me: Keep Left I urge (so that you don’t get mowed down, I explain), understand the way the Underground works and have an idea about the general geography of your destination: North, South, East or West. My son looks blank. He’s more interested in keeping an eye on the cricket score on his Blackberry as we whip through London’s bowels. I stare at my reflection in the glass opposite. It’s much older than the one I used to gaze at. The reading glasses pushed atop my head are new. So are the lines.

We eat brunch watching the ducks and the tourists enjoy the Serpentine. ‘I’d quite like to live around here’, observes my son.

I don’t know if any of it helped. I don’t know if towering nearly twenty year olds listen to middle aged mothers who dig embarrassingly in cavernous bags for tube tickets they’ve misplaced en route. I don’t know if I made it clear how to use an Oyster card, that the Piccadilly line was the one he needed to take when he flies home, that he’ll get his deposit back, that he needs to be careful about razorwirewrapped streets late at night.

You do your best. That’s all. Your unfurl a hand and you let them go and you think you’re lucky to have been allowed to be a part of those shy and cautious early steps.

Even whilst playing Gooseberry to a Blackberry.


30 Responses to “Teaching them the Ropes on Razor Wrapped Streets”

  1. janelle Says:

    chapeau to you darlin’! i think you’re amazing the way you’ve helped get your kids on the road, so to speak…triffikly brave and sensible…LONDON? RAZOR WRAPPED STREETS? sounds bladdy terrifying…thinking of you. lots love x j

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      thanks janelle, not brave at all . and in the end its sort of needs must. as terrifying as it all feels! x

  2. Kit Says:

    Thanks for this glimpse into the future and the past. I remember being dropped off at a university residence at that age, complete with boxes, posters and lamp, finding myself in a flatshare in Rome’s red light district a year later and finding my feet from then on. I can’t imagine my kids being old enough to be renting a room in razor wired London though. I just have to trust that they will find their feet in time just as I did. Good luck to your son with his first job and flat. And to you letting him go.

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      Rome’s red light district?! Oh my. I was in wisteria clad suburbia by comparison. I loved your when I was 35 post. I’m going to have to do a when I was 45 soon … x

  3. Potty Mummy Says:

    Just talking about this – and how it will be on us before we know it, even though it should be 10 years or more away – with friends today. As janelle says, hats off. I hope I can be as relaxed about it when the time comes!

  4. Iota Says:

    Playing gooseberry to a blackberry! Love it.

  5. Elaine Says:

    Great post. Thanks!

    (I have been trying to compose something very pithy and telling to convey just how much I appreciate your posts about those points of change with your children, because I am several years behind you with an eldest child of eleven, and your posts from my future really, really encourage me.

    Can’t do it well enough, though. ‘Great post. Thanks!’ will have to do for now.)

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      oh but Elaine that was a lovely response to my post. That meant a great deal; thank you

  6. R. Sherman Says:

    It wasn’t until I took my daughter to university back in August, that I understood how my parents felt when I left home. Letting go is always the hardest, because you worry you forgot to tell them something during the preceding 18 years.

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      i know Mr S, that’s exactly it, i’ve been panicking ‘now what else does he need to know’ and then i have to remember there’s cell phones and emails and skype …

  7. Sabine Says:

    Oh yes, not so easy, this is. I remember how I cried all the way home from the airport after our daughter left for a year in Bangkok of all places. Still makes my stomach drop thinking about it.

    But he will be fine, London can be very welcoming and inspiring. Really!

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      I think you are right Sabine, i think London can, despite its pace and size, be very welcoming: it’s that whole melting pot of culture and age and diversity. i collared a security man outside olympic park, a great big chap from the W Indies, and i explained my anxiety that I could not find precisely where my son needed to go on the day he began work, i was doing a recce, ‘he’s a big boy now ma’am, you don’t need to worry, i will be here to show him the way on monday, there are 8 000 of them in there and they all needed showing the way to begin with’. Delightful.

    • Sabine Says:

      See? My mantra as regards children out there away from me is that there is always someone’s “mother or father” around to chip in.

  8. Mud Says:

    How terrifying, exciting and pride inducing.

    I’m in London for a few months – let me know if he needs a hand.

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      thank you Mud, that’s incredibly generous and kind of you. I really do appreciate that x

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      Mud, i can’t comment on your blog posts anymore?! why? i loved the Found Nemo picture x

  9. Doglover Says:

    I’m always so deeply impressed by your blogs! But now I’m even more impressed – you know how to work an Oyster card. I don’t even know what it is and I live almost within shouting distance of London!

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      no Doglover. I do not know how to use an oyster card. I was planning to pretend I know how. I shall have the option when I take him down next weekend. And i shall anally read up about it in the meantime. you have to swipe it on your way in and out is as far as i have got. I just gabbled as if i knew. My cover will be blown and scant scant street cred will vanish. but for the moment he – and you – think i am utterly au fait.

  10. muummmeeeee! Says:

    Oh my God… I’m dreading my two going off to the relative safety of uni…hadn’t even given a thought to them actually going….for good! They’re 11 and 13 so guess I’ve got a bit of time to prepare myself…

    Must be so scary for you…particularly being so far away x

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      a bit of time muummmeeee … but those years will fly. and yes, it’s bloody terrifying! x

  11. Family Affairs Says:

    GOOD LUCK to your son – if he needs a hot meal or another teenager to talk to (my oldest is 18) then send him this way – I’m in London, it’s not far Lx

  12. Kimm X Jayne Says:

    Just moved to Zambia in January and came across your site recently — enjoy it tremendously. When our first left home for college I cried for three days, I was so depressed, thinking of all of the things I had done wrong. But then, within a few years, he was back home, visiting all of the time, calling, and I discovered that they never really leave! Oh, and they only remember their happy memories. Our youngest just went to college this fall and it was a breeze because now I know they don’t really go away, and that this new phase of adult children is so fun and easy. Love your blog. KXJ (a newbie blogger, http://kimmxjayne.wordpress.com/)

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      thank you very much for popping by to read. I know what you mean about the weeping: last september my youngest left for boarding school, now my eldest to work and in October middle for diddle is off to Uni. My husband says it’s time to throw caution to winds, grow hair too long, get an extra piercing and buy a Harley … but if we do that our kids might never come back!

  13. mothership Says:

    Oh, a lovely post. It took me right back to my first flat in London (also dark ages) and made me tremor in advance of the day my little ones will also flee the nest although Six still seems to think she’s going to stay with me forever (I can dream?)
    I was dropped in London at nearly 17 by my overseas-dwelling parents and I not only survived, I thrived (throve?).
    He’ll be back sooner than you know it, grateful for lovely home-cooked meals and full of exciting tales.

  14. Addy Says:

    I know exactly what you are going through, although it must be worse living in a separate country from him, let alone a separate continent! I am sure he will be fine. As for you, well that is a different kettle of fish…. but you will be fine eventually.

  15. FridayClub Says:

    Like the bit about the lamplighters – our son had to learn a poem this week (for recital today, and left the sheet in the car..) and after trying to learn a rasta rap one I convinced him to learn The Lamplighter by RL Stevenson – he cant believe there were days without electricity!!

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