So there. It’s done. I spread my hands flat, palms upwards, fingers splayed, breath tight, eyes grit-dry.

And I let him go.

I stood on a street corner in E11 and I watched him stride away as bravely as he could, four Tesco bags in his grip. They do not fly, our children, the move away is more tentative than that, more trying-to-be-brave wobble than reach-for-the-skies-soar.

Is it as palpable for everybody? For all mothers? Will we all be able to mark this point as definitively later on, as if with a Post-it note? Or a milestone? Or does my temporary geography render the moment more tangible for me? It doesn’t matter. What does – what did – is the urgency to commit the moment to memory in the (and this is a paradox) slipperiness of the ether.

He bought his own groceries. A first. And refused to let me dictate the contents of his trolley. Though he politely acquiesced and picked up a bag of salad and a net of sunshinebright tangerines.

His new flatmates, who received me with smiles and warmth and a mug of tea, share his – my – muddy heritage: White Africans a long way from home. There will be the necessary level of empathy. They will understand the imperatives and the challenges of making an alien city home.

So I stood there on the corner of a rattled siren singing Sunday afternoon in north east London where the world continued to whirl about me despite my stopped-in-time moment, and I watched my eldest walk away. I hope there was a shard of excitement to slice through his nerves, to shave the edge off inevitable anxiety. I told him that in a day it would be easier. In a week it would be easy. He looked doubtful. But I have been where he is now. And I know what I am talking about.

I have not, though, been where I am now. I have not been to this place where the first person I have helped forge and fashion and whom I hope will have the sense to steer clear of Stratford after dark (‘lots of knife crime down there’ observed our cab driver helpfully), whom I will to be happy,to eat properly, to keep warm and get enough sleep, must be delivered to the Big Wide World.

As scary as it might be for him, I know that it is scarier for me.

21 Responses to “Flown.”

  1. Iota Says:

    Aaargh, I feel like I’m standing on the edge of a precipice, just reading this.

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      oh iota but that’s it: the time wheels past at such speed you can almost hear it rush. especially in hindsight …

  2. Doglover Says:

    The moment will pass and soon you’ll be looking back with confidence and in due course with amusement. But it’ll be just as difficult with the next one!

    Standing on a windy street in Stratford (I lived nearby when I was first married) can’t be fun for anyone from your sunny skies. Do you intend to stay in Africa or move back to England in due course?

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      yes. you’re right doglover, the moment will pass. africa always i think. it’s where i was mad. and it’s mostly what’s moulded me … so for its chaos, it feels comfortable. if that makes sense. familiarity is what makes a place feel like home?

  3. Mud Says:

    You have given him everything he needs to fly and soar into his new beginnings. How thrilling, how twrrifying. But neither of you are alone.

    Cup of tea or shall I crack open the gin? You can be round here in an hour.

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      no Mud, you’re right: we’re not alone. millions of mothers doing the same as I. Gin i think? thank you xx

  4. R. Sherman Says:

    My wife commented when our eldest, (the “girl”) was left at school: “It’s worse for mothers of boys, I think.” She told me, that my daughter had always looked to me for guidance and comfort, but that our boys looked to her for comfort and me for guidance. Whether that’s true for my kids or more widely applicable, I cannot say, but it did seem the Mothers and sons had a harder time taking leave that first time. I’m sure it gets better.

    Cheers, you’ve done a great job.

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      i think boys articulate less and try harder to be braver Mr S. i think that’s why it might be harder. but then i have my daughters to come …

  5. ANN Says:

    What a watershed for you all RM. And so sad. But – to be very obvious – this is the first day of the rest of your lives. Who knows what tomorrow will bring.

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      indeed Ann, indeed. I am a weaver of dreams and plans and believe strongly in planting things in my path to work towards and look forward to and that certainly helps

  6. Addy Says:

    Takes me back to when Kay went to uni 18 months ago. We stood in the street, hugged goodbye with stiff upper lips, then she went one way back to her hall of residence and I went the other off to the train station. We said we wouldn’t look back, but I stole a glance and my heart was like lead. Over the months, it has got much better (notwithstanding losing Greg too). I am sure it’ll get better for you too with time. Just hang on in.

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      oh Addy. that stealing a glance over a shoulder. that’s why i did and then i looked again and he’d rounded a bend. there is something so concrete in that moment isn’t there. and the rush of london kept going. it seemed oddly heartless and strangly reassuring all at the same time? x

  7. nuttycow Says:

    Well done RM – I can’t imagine how hard it must be to let him take that first step out into the big bad world.

    Just be prepared to have a new address every 6 months – or at least, that’s certainly the way it was when I first moved up to London!

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      indeed nutty: but I’m lucky for whilst his geographical address might change, those in the ether won’t: he’ll be a text message or an email away even if he’s neglected to mention he’s moved from E11 to SW15?!x

  8. Muddling Along Says:

    You’ve done a great job giving him the roots to come back to and the wings to fly away – can only begin to imagine how hard it is to watch them walk away from you, and somewhat glad we’re a good few years away from that

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      You think it won’t ever come, this moment, Muddling. You think, as you are submerged in the chaos and cacophony of smaller children that they will always be there to consume your energies and your space. and then suddenly there’s too much of both. unbelievable at the time. but true. thank you.

  9. tash Says:

    gosh I got a lump in my throat reading that. You’re so right – for him it will be easier tomorrow and easy next week. And for you, you haven’t indeed been where you are now before… I feel for you, but I know you’ll be fine too… Our parents did it, and survived, and you will too. Good that he’s with WhenWe’s and got his naatjies! He’ll be fine… xx

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      thank you Tash. i think for him easier already. as i knew it would be. he’s leapt off and is learning to fly. against a bit of a stiff breeze, admittedly, but its coming xx

  10. nappyvalleygirl Says:

    Oh just imaging this scenario brought a tear to my eye (even as my two boys are tearing around the house and screaming, hitting each other with a plastic volcano..)

    But he’ll be fine – and so will you. Think of it as a new beginning.

  11. Yvonne Young Says:

    When my youngest son left home, we took him and his stuff to a shared house. Another 4 people lived there, but that weekend they were all visiting relatives. We left him alone in that house and we cried all the way home. He was only 4 hours away, but I will never forget the image of him standing in that strange doorway.

    After he settled in we were invited to many parties, the other residents were from France, Sri Lanka, Japan and London, so all away from family. He sampled new foods, company and ideas during his stay there, it broadened his outlook.

    He never did move back into our region, but visits regularly. I still miss him so much each time he leaves, that`s called being a mother, it never leaves you. You`ll still want to choose oranges for him until your 90. x

  12. FridayClub Says:

    It brought tears to my eyes. It was only yesterday I was there (and lived on a diet of gin and pitta bread!). I still have a photo of that young man with not much on running around a sprinkler with the biggest smile ever on his face.

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