I was so proud of my kid; within half an hour he’d made a couple of friends already, and by the time he was ensconced on one of the two large coaches, taking 50 odd kids aged 7-17 from Paddington station to rural Wales, he was too preoccupied with them to even bother waving out the window.
I, meanwhile, back on the pavement, was almost in tears. My baby, not quite eight years old, disappearing with a bunch of complete strangers, to camp in a distant field in all weather conditions for two whole weeks. Was this really a good idea?
But it clearly was. He’s sociable, quite grown-up for his age, and generally speaking slightly frustrated at home by being the only child of relatively elderly parents, who struggle to incorporate ourselves into a parent-community of similar aged kids. He’s always been popular at school, but outside of it, he’s often bored and a little lonely. I hope this is the start of an annual break for all of us, the gradual building of an alternative old-school network via this longstanding organisation, which I too was a part of back in the day, on which the 18 and 19 year old “graduates”, including my niece, serve as volunteer staffers. I look forward to when my kid does that too.
But I was a wreck. First of all, these beautiful young people, enthusiastically and a little self-consciously playing at being responsible grown-ups for the benefit of us parents; greeting children, checking lists, collecting forms . . . I’d forgotten my form so had to scribble one on the spot, and apologised profusely for my general scattiness to this charming 19-year-old who could (almost) have been my grandson, while his girlfriend smiled composedly beside him. Well I imagined she was, or was planning to be, his girlfriend; he was handsome, in a clean-cut way, and she was very pretty. The young staff enjoy themselves quite a bit on camp, I’ve heard; I don’t blame them. I’m envious of everything they have that I lost decades ago.
I thought of that, because the day before, our lovely, treacherous piano teacher gave my child what may be his last lesson, before he abandons us and London, for good, maybe. He won’t say, but he did mention, twice, looking at my kid’s packed bags, that his girlfriend is an FSC camp staffer, though taking this year off. I think she was on his mind, a lot; I think she may be the reason he’s leaving us, and the city. We have loved him, very chastely, over the past three years, probably rather too much. I feel betrayed, and my son is still in denial, believing that this boy – who is about 25, or 28, possibly – will be back again to teach him in September. I somewhat doubt it.
And then, on the way to the tube station, we ran into our neighbour, a former government minister, who once went on FSC himself; there’s a photo in his memoirs. So I told him where we were going, proudly; he congratulated us.
I am proud. As my sister said (with rather uncharacteristic generosity, being my sister) my confident, independent little boy is a credit to me. But it’s also hard, isn’t it, the coming to terms with him growing up and away, and me growing old. I like being old, on the whole; I like being free of the silly anxieties which plagued me once; I like doing stuff just because I feel like it, not because, well, maybe it will help my career, or look good on CV. I like not caring about my career any more. I like being lucky and having nothing left to lose.
But so many things are ruled out. On the off-the-cuff recommendation of 50 year old on-line dater and Guardian columnist Stella Grey, I’ve been reading Colette’s novel Cheri, which is a salutary lesson if any on the inadvisability of middle-aged women falling for much younger men. Even if, and it is quite common (my child’s father, bless him, says) they may appear to fall for you.