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.