“My holiday starts now!” I joked only a day or two ago. We’d had great summer; my son can swim and ride a bike and follow a narrative independently; so amusing himself independently nowadays is an absolute doddle. Long gone are the days of chaperoning him closely round the playground/seashore/café, shadowing his every step; now I lie back and leave him to get on with it, content with an occasional sighting. Sometimes he’s tentatively building friendships, sometimes he’s pushing sticks, balls, pine cones around and up and down, intensely absorbed in a monologue of his own. Whatever; he needs me only intermittently.
But I’m still the default-carer, the bottom line, on-call and responsible 24 hours, even if the emergency phone doesn’t ring all that often any more. There is no real time off until September.
And now here we are, two days into the new school term. And I feel dreadful.
The first morning, he ignored his classroom friends, who we’d been discussing with anticipation, wondering what kind of holidays they might have had in front of the reception class photo only the night before, and clung to me like a three-year old, inventing an imminent sneeze-attack and refusing so much as a look at anyone, never mind utter a greeting. Now, there were a number of children in tears, I noted, so I presume reluctance is not uncommon at the start of year 1, or perhaps any new year. He seemed OK when I picked him up in the afternoon but lost no time in telling me “It all went on too long.” What did? Playtime, learning time – all of it, he declared. Well – did you play with your friends? Not much, he said. They didn’t want to play with me. I played mostly on my own.
Immediately I succumbed to a full-blown anxiety assault of a familiar kind; that my son is doomed to perpetual social exclusion thanks to his socially inept and excluded parents; that his talent and good nature will go forever unrecognised leading to a life of sorrow, bitterness and frustration, much as mine has been, only much, much worse . . .
The next day, however, things improved, at least for him. He reconnected properly with last term’s best friend. The new teacher has turned out OK. And today, Saturday, he has taken up again with his oldest chums from his preschool days, our privately educated neighbours. The inner-London apartheid has been breached again! A triumph!
Meanwhile, though, I received the literary agent’s rejection I’d been expecting for weeks but pushed to the back of my mind, kind of hoping it would never arrive. It’s a good rejection, as rejections go – and believe me, I have experience. Allow me to quote: “The quality of your writing is superior to that of many published authors but unfortunately quality of writing is a desirable but not sufficient condition etc etc.”
Twenty years ago, I would have been actually pretty chuffed to receive this. But now, I’m too old to put my failure down to inexperience. I have to ask myself if I really haven’t been wasting the best energies of my life; I may have learned how to write a fine sentence, but literary novel-writing is a completely different ballgame. It requires, perhaps, a core stability, a self-belief, a faith in one’s vision, that I have never had.
I know it’s safely too late to do anything about it now, like revert to long-abandoned day-job; nothing for it but to soldier on regardless. And to be fair to the agent, he’s not advising me to do anything else. He knows, at my age, it would be a waste of time.