For the parents whose children are starting school this week, there comes the swift realisation that during school time, at least, they are no longer in control. For me, after five years of banging on about eating cucumber, sharing the Playmobil ambulance nicely and not jabbing people in the eye with a pencil, it came as a bit of a shock that I couldn’t directly influence what happened between nine and three-thirty any more. In short, I had to ‘let go’.
Ten years later, I’m discovering that process all over again. In fact, it’s been a summer of letting go. Mainly out of necessity as this year I graduated from ‘unsuccessful author’ (as my son described me to his teachers) to ‘published author, still to prove herself’. So this summer I wasn’t quite as available to my children as I normally am. I was often flat out, working on publicity, blogs and the next novel. Previously my novel-writing (accorded the same status in the house as weeding, dusting and shoe-polishing – nice but not essential) managed to fit around their need to be ferried into town, their inability to find bread in the freezer and the necessity of topping up their phones now! Something had to give. We live on a big hill, with town a fifteen-minute drive away. The children are at a school with a wide catchment area and of course, have found friends that even the crow gets tired flying to.
At twelve and fourteen, I decided that bus, train and Shanks’s pony were the way to go. How young is too young to be gadding about Surrey without a parent in tow? Pre-mobile phone days, I got the train to school every day from the age of eight and walked a mile at the other end. Different times? Well, maybe. However, the need to cross the road on your own, work out a train timetable and ask a bus conductor where to get off by the time you leave home remains the same. So, with a little bit of fear and a lot of instructions, I let them loose.
The daughter, at twelve, turned into Dora The Explorer. ‘I’m just getting the train to Maddie’s.’ ‘I’m getting the bus to swimming.’ ‘We’re all meeting in Croydon.’ The son immediately decided that he didn’t need to go to the gym, after all.
But he did manage to wangle himself an invite to stay with some friends of ours in Spain. To my surprise, I discovered that at the age of fourteen, a child can fly unaccompanied with EasyJet. I gave him the choice of EasyJet on his own or BA accompanied. ‘That’ll be really embarrassing, they’ll just want to talk to me about school and stuff.’
So I found myself at the airport, waving off my precious first born, with a host of warnings about not getting burnt and not being ‘silly’, plus a couple of entreaties about not diving in anywhere shallow – or anywhere at all – or even thinking about drinking. He looked so young disappearing off into security. I snivelled all the way back to the car.
So far, both children have come back to me safely and I’m hugely grateful and relieved. It’s the start of another round of letting go, the necessary step of allowing them to become adults, of teaching them to manage risk, not avoid it completely. However, I have decided to stockpile an extra hour of sleep a night from now until my son learns to drive on the grounds that I can’t imagine how I’ll ever shut my eyes again once he does.
Kerry Fisher is the author of The School Gate Survival Guide, out now.