And so, the term ended, and with it, my son’s tenure at his school of the last six years. The school that has been instrumental in shaping my view of ‘the school mother’. They (we) are a breed, a type, a demographically-defined group. As the culmination of the academic year neared, a dizzying run down of leaving events took place; plays, trips, excursions, a sentimentally-charged Prize Giving service, speeches, parties and farewells. I recall this phase with my daughter’s schooling, but back then, with the first born child, there was a deeper seam of childhood nostalgia to mine, and the future that lay ahead was unknown. Little could I have imagined that, like everything in parenthood, the future would bring new challenges and new excitements, and the past would fade into the background, rightly so. With a second child, I know what to expect, and am reassured that this rite of passage from junior to senior is necessary, and correct.
I have been a school mother to young children for over twelve years, dropping off and picking up from the school with the daily regularity of the tide. I commented to another mother, that come the time children attend a senior school, it is possible to drop them at the bus in one’s pyjamas, as there is no need to exit the car. There is no lingering at school, there is no mother’s gossip, there is no influence, meetings with teachers are rare, email communication, if any, is king. She looked horrified. The transition from one domain to the next is a brutal one to navigate. No longer defined by one’s children. The shock!
All of this plays on my mind, because it is this midlife transition that interests me the most and which, despite my best endeavours to diversify my writing, I come back to. I met with my publisher friend last week and described my enduring preoccupation with midlife mothers and she nodded sagely, and said; ‘yes, I see what you mean.’
Meanwhile, whilst not defined by my children, I remain enamoured, and exasperated with them. The love, which spills over as they mature, is constant. But now, my teenage son, who has been swimming in a small and safe pond, pushes against the every boundary. Thirteen and nearly taller than me; and I am tall. Puberty for the male gender is a long and drawn out affair, full of daily updates; voice drop, height (7 inches in 9 months), shoulders, biceps, a testosterone peak. It’s an uncanny process where the sweet, soft, gentle boy of old has gone, and instead there is a lean, young man in his place. I recall it differently with my daughter, as an understated and short-lived process from girl to woman. Childhood draining away in a trickle, rather than a torrent.
My novel meanwhile, remains in an editing file on my laptop and my feelings about it shift over time. I used to consider it a shiny new gem, whereas now it feels older; in my darker moments I consider it hackneyed, even. This is the writer’s fear, I know. The problem with spending years writing your first book is that time doesn’t wait for you, and the world shifts on to its next encounter, and your writing remains frozen in time. I note that maybe this is why writers favour historical fiction rather than the present day? The present day doesn’t stay present for long, and all too soon, references become clichéd. I learnt on my MA to avoid clichés at all costs, so this troubles me.
In parenting, and perhaps in writing, there are few project closures, no ‘lessons learned’ meetings. Instead there’s a subtle creep, almost imperceptible, and that alone marks a milestone. It’s usually when I look backwards, promoted by a photo or a memory, do I realise what’s passed. This feels like a new era, and one that comes with good feelings. Here’s to endings and beginnings…