MAIL ON SUNDAY SPORTS EDITOR
I spent most of the week before he left home in tears
IT’S the memories that arrive suddenly and squeeze at your heart that hurt the most. I was helping my 18-year-old son George pack yesterday morning to go off to university when I remembered walking him to school one cool autumn morning, many years ago. I was holding his hand, as I always did, and chatting about important things like what would happen if a tiger fought a lion.
Then he saw a friend across the road and immediately pulled his hand out of mine. The movement was so sudden and so overpowering that I could feel the emptiness in my hand where his had just been. He never held my hand again while walking to school.
The moment marked one of the many little steps on my son’s bittersweet journey to independence. Then yesterday presented me with the biggest step of all.
George and I climbed into the car, as we have so many times before, and set off on a long journey, but this time only I came home.
I dropped him and all his belongings in Bristol, where he’s going to university, and drove home to London crying wretchedly – a complete danger to everyone on the road – heading back to an empty house. I confess that I spent most of the week leading up to our departure in tears. George was in his room, music blaring out, phone going constantly – bleeping and shrieking with goodbye messages from his friends: snapchats and texts pouring in while I sat there, biting my lip and wanting to scream ‘STOP’ and beg him to stay.
I know it’s madness. I have no right to feel this crushing sense of grief. I’m proud that he’s going to university and in awe of the lovely young man that he’s become, but I’m also terrified to the core of my being. Watching your son go off to university is the best of times and the worst of times.
I’m sure it’s harder to watch a boy go off into the world than a girl because so much is expected of them. Boys are incredibly soft and vulnerable, despite their gruff exteriors. Sure, they look big and strong, but inside the tough armour there’s a whole tangle of insecurities, love and confusion.
The girls his age look more fragile but they’re tougher. It’s as if girls toughen up from inside out and the boys from outside in.
In many ways I worry as much for my strapping 6ft 2in musclebound young man as I did for the tiny baby handed to me 18 years ago. As a mother, you always worry. From the moment a child is born, the whole world is a more terrifying place.
The night of George’s birth, a fire alarm went off in the hospital. The panic that rushed through me was greater than anything I’d ever known... a whole new level of fear that struck right to the core. What if I don’t get my baby out of this hospital before the fire comes?
Then he grew into a lovely little boy, I remember the way his hair would hang in gentle curls at the nape of his neck when it was long. The way it shined golden blond in the sun and how he looked like Little Lord Fauntleroy as light, golden freckles gathered like glitter across his nose. But then the teenage years: he dyed his hair jet black (along with all the towels), and started playing sport, prompting numerous hospital visits for broken bones (six).
Then there was the time he shoved a piece of cardboard so far into his ear that he needed a general anaesthetic to get it out. I was on first name terms with the doctor at Kingston Hospital by the time he was ten. I think I was one accident short of a visit from social services.
But it’s the sweetness that stays in my mind, and haunts me as I contemplate a future without him in it every day.
Like t he t i me, aged si x, he was asked to describe a banana. ‘It’s the colour of the sun and the shape of a smile,’ he said, and I thought my heart would melt. The time he rushed off the stage shouting, ‘I’m just giving my mummy a kiss’ half way through a drama production. The Mothers’ Day present of a daffodil, roots and all, and the trail of mud he left through the house that took a day to clean up.
And the time he won me the award for ‘ best unscripted moment’ when I was doing a telephone interview with a Swedish radio station to promote my novel( appropriately called Mother& Son ). He picked up the downstairs phone and screamed: ‘Where are my pants?’
In the Q&A afterwards there were no questions about my book, just a hundred or more Swedes asking whether George had found his pants.
I’ll miss him not just because I love him but because I like him a lot – I enjoy his company.
I find him bright, challenging and overwhelmingly intelligent. He’s the best person I know.
I’m lucky and hugely blessed that he has worked hard enough to get into the university of his choice to study the course he wants.
So this is good. It’s all good. Honestly...
BEREF: Daisy hugs her daughter Lydia, who has now left home to start her university course
SPECIAL BOND: Alison posing proudly with George before he set off for his new life in Bristol
PROUD MOMENT: Alison cradles George hours after his birth