Friday, 4 September 2015

Letting Go

The countdown to Manchild finishing school has begun: 40-something days till final exams. And frankly, we're both poo-ing our pants. Neither of us is ready for this. How the hell did it happen so quickly? 

Preparations for the final day and Valedictory Dinner are well underway. I know this because the school recently sent me a terrifying and inordinately long e-mail. Terrifying not just because I had to cut through all the dross and dodgy syntax to work out what the hell they were trying to tell me — leaving me trembling at what they might be teaching my kids about good writing — but bowel-looseningly terrifying because of this section of the communication:

 ...I am inviting you, as a parent of a 2015 Year 12 student, to join us in this recognition of students by writing a letter to your son or daughter. It may be a chance to let them know how much they are loved; express some of your fears for them, as well as your joys or tell them how proud you are of their achievements – it is entirely up to you.
This letter is confidential- please do not let your son or daughter see it or know that you are writing it so that it will be a surprise when it is given to them at the House meeting. The Year 12 students will have a chance to reflect and take some time before their final Assembly. In this time the letter from you would be read. It will be a meaningful time for each student to be able to reflect on their relationship with their family...
Last day of school... Ever...
A meaningful time to reflect on his relationship with his family?
So his final day of school isn’t going to be about throwing eggs from the bus and getting his uniform signed by his peers then?
Are you sure?
Have you met my son?

And after the week that we’ve had — a phone call and two emails to let me know about his 'behaviour' and failure to apply himself, plus a detention for arriving late to a class carrying a cheese toastie and cuppa-soup  — right now my letter to the Manchild would begin something like this:
Dearest Light-of-my-life,

It somehow never occurred to me that my amazing intelligent son would spend his last few weeks of school being a total dick. Why don't you just pull your finger out... and your head in?

I'm pretty sure that's not what  they're looking for from me.
My whirling panic about WTF to write stirred a memory of a piece about his  first day of school I wrote for a parenting magazine all those years ago. I found a copy filed on the first external hard-drive I ever bought. Here’s how I started that article:
Suddenly, my big tall boy, who’s always looked so much older than his few years, had shrunk. I watched him through the blurred filter of tears I knew he mustn’t see. Attention focused on the task of tying his shoelaces, he wore the face of one who understands the burden of responsibility. Heavy black shoes and long baggy shorts emphasised his thin brown legs.
I resisted stepping in to help him. With the task completed to his satisfaction, he looked up and beamed. Such a familiar smile. The one he’d worn the first time we saw him. The one that enchanted everyone when we carried him proudly through those big customs doors at the airport more than four years ago. The smile that makes my heart sing and his eyes disappear in his face.
My baby boy was ready to start school. And he was so proud.
For so long – understandably – we parents, mothers especially, focus on the desire for a baby and the delights that becoming a family can bring.
But those babies are with us for a blink.
Too soon they are independent people – off to make their own way in the world, facing experiences that do not involve us, trying to make sense of a life that so often has no reason at all. That’s what we want them to do. That’s what we raise them to do. But when they actually set off to do it, we feel a deep sense of sorrow, even loss. We cannot protect them from any hurt they may face...
And here’s how I finished it:
 It makes my throat constrict and my heart pound whenever I have to wave good-bye and head back home on those days when he has trouble disengaging from me. But this is only the beginning. We have a long way to go. I’ll get over it. But that big smile at pick-up time —  the one that makes my heart sing and takes me back to a hot afternoon in Seoul when I first met my son, I’ll never get over that. 
He used to have trouble disengaging from me.
Now, for his last day at school, the situation is reversed.
I think I know where to start my letter.


  1. OMG I just spluttered all over my new keyboard. Cry, laugh, cry. Such a perfect piece. x

    1. Oh dear... sorry about your keyboard... but I am glad the piece inspired an emotional response...
      Response is good!

  2. you will find the right always do.

  3. I'm sure you'll make a great job of his letter.

  4. Thanks for the vote of support...

  5. I love this so hard and will have to read it again when my baby boy finishes school next Spring.

    1. Thanks for dropping over and leaving a message. Yeah, them boys are heartbreakers alright...

  6. Oh God, it is going to be hard Wendy, but you will do it with the same courage and self-control that you showed on his first day of school. xxx

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  8. Wendy, it is hard. Harder than you imagine. I have a 2015 Grade 12 man-baby who is now in College and will be away for 5 years. I am not ashamed to say I sob and get choked when I am by myself. I take strength when I see him adjusting to the new routine, far away. Sigh. I write to him every my diary. I am not even sure if I'll ever show it to him. Hugs hugs hugs to you!

  9. I may need some coaching... Stay tuned!