Last night my son was off at a neighbours house on his first baby-sitting job and I caught myself glancing at the clock and wondering what was happening and how he would cope. He can barely make himself a sandwich let alone look after a child I thought with a panic. What had I been doing all these years?
My worry that I had failed as a parent, that I had failed him laid heavily across my conscience. Had I over-indulged my only child and this had left him lacking? Somewhere along the line I had missed the stop that said 'get off and just let him get on with it'. And I couldn't seem to help myself.
'You can ring me at any point if you have any concerns' I had said as he left ' and I can be there in seconds!'
He pushed his hands further into the pockets of his hoodie, hunched his shoulders against the snowfall. Momentarily distracted from his secret inner world he stared out at the frosted night before catching my eye briefly and then he turned away.
'Nah - you're alright Mum'.
He threw his words out into the atmosphere, as if the answer to my question was hardly worth directing back towards me and then he shuffled off into the early evening darkness, in shoes which have the heels sloppily trodden down.
So I got on with my own work, checking the clock every now and again and wondering what was happening in the house a few doors down from our own. Finally I went up to bed, leaving all the lights on, half expecting him to lose his key on the short walk back, but hoping that he wouldn't. I wanted him just to return safely and relish that wonderful feeling when you realise you don't have to rely on pocket money from your parents or infrequent hand-outs from elderly relatives.
I lay in bed and thought about the times I had baby-sat as a teenager and when once, deciding to be helpful, I scrubbed clean some wine goblets I found sitting in the kitchen on the counter. I used a Brillo-pad. They were silver.
Or when I used to let a boyfriend in through the back door and we would spend the next two hours snogging on the sofa until headlights would appear in the driveway and the boyfriend would quickly sneak out, hop onto his bike, and pedal off into lamp-lit night. Until we got caught. My mother was furious and I lost the baby-sitting job. But I seemed far more independent than my son, I just went out and found another job.
Maybe its just boys. This boy who I now physically look up to, who is stronger than me and can carry heavy objects around the house with ease still giggles helplessly at the app. on his phone that makes burp and fart noises.
At some time after 11pm I hear his key turn in the front door as he lets himself in. I listen. He locks and pulls the upper and lower bolts across and then vanishes into the kitchen where he remains for sometime. Then I hear his heavy footfall coming up the stairs and he knocks on the bedroom door, pokes his head around the corner and smiles.
He is carrying a plate of sausage rolls and tiny Persian gherkins. He seems taller. He looks more mature. He tells me that everything had been fine and that they had paid him £20. He unfurls his palm to show me his earnings. I am so pleased for him, so relieved for myself.
It feels like we have turned a corner and that a part of his childhood has now ended and that's good. He trundles off to his room with his snack. I turn out my bedside light and go to sleep.
The next morning I am in the kitchen when he comes downstairs with a plastic coat hanger wedged across his forehead and the bodily function app. on his phone belching loudly.
I make him breakfast.