If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
— Rudyard Kipling
Today, February 13th, 2017, my son turns eighteen.
This is an expected turn of events and hasn’t actually come as any sort of surprise, other than the fact that I’m fairly certain he was only born a minute ago. Seriously, the time has flown over and in the last eighteen years, I’ve been through all sorts of life-changing events that have made me into the slightly wrinkled, greying person that I am today.
I separated from my son’s father when The Lad was about three years old and it wasn’t an easy time for any of us. However, despite what were obviously our differences, his dad and I have remained completely amicable and civil, always putting The Lad’s needs first. I receive comments all the time about what a nice kid he is, so between the four of us (both of us have since re-married), we’ve produced what amounts to rather a splendid human being.
When we first separated, The Lad’s Dad was anxious that I might take the opportunity to pack up my things and our son and move back down south to my family. He was rightly anxious because he didn’t want to miss out on seeing his son grow up. It was never my intention to go anywhere, and so I remained in the north east and we had an excellent week on-week off, 50-50 sharing arrangement. Over the years, I’ve asked The Lad many times if he was happy with the arrangement and he’s always said that he thinks it’s brilliant.
So during these early days, I did my best to reassure The Lad’s Dad that I would never take him away, and I made a promise that on The Lad’s eighteenth birthday, he would take his Dad out for a pint. It sounds whimsical and silly in print, but I can’t convey enough how much making this promise meant to me. I made a promise. Just because The Lad’s Dad and I are no longer married, doesn’t mean I’m not inexplicable fond of him, neither does it mean that I make a promise lightly.
Tonight, The Lad is keeping that promise and it’s absolutely the best thing in the world. I have managed to raise a human being who appreciates feelings and understands obligation, even when it’s fulfilling a promise made by someone else and not him. He’s an extraordinary person and I often feel surprised that I was partly responsible for his creation.
The morning he was born was much like today: grey, overcast, drizzling rain. A standard February morning on which a child came into the world. Admittedly, he came into the world eight weeks ahead of schedule which is ironic really, because he’s rubbish at timekeeping now. It was all terribly scary and not without honest assessments from paediatric consultants who stated, in no uncertain terms, that they couldn’t honestly say if he would make it through his first day. By midday, he’d stuck two fingers up at them (metaphorically, obviously) and had turned around to such an extent that they admitted surprise. They clearly knew nothing about my paternal family’s stubborn streak. I knew he’d be fine. Actually, I was out of my head on morphine, so I was convinced that down was up and that I actually liked Marmite after all, so it was a case of believing anything.
I remember that I didn’t see him for about ten hours after he was born as he was whooshed off to the SCBU whilst I lounged around in recovery and later the maternity ward, languishing in a state of drug-induced bliss and semi-unawareness that anything was really happening at all. When I did finally get wheeled down to SCBU, I remember three important things:-
- The old hospital in Durham was built on a hill and I remember thinking ‘cripes, if they let go of this wheelchair, I’m going to careen down this hill and maybe get up speed enough to jump two double-decker buses’ (see also ‘Morphine visions’)
- The SCBU was, frankly, fucking terrifying. It was full of tiny babies, busy neonatal nurses and machines that went ‘BING’ at frequent intervals and at quite considerable volume. I remember once, whilst visiting The Lad asking, in alarm, what a particular noise was. It was the microwave in the kitchen.
- The Lad was in an incubator, like the eggs we hatched at secondary school, with a UV lamp and extra oxygen that made him super-pink. He was hooked up to a bunch of machines (that went ‘BING’), and with tubes up his nose. I was told I could hold him if I wanted. Which I wanted. And it was like cuddling a video. But I fell in love with him there and then and that, at least has never changed.
Over the years, I’ve watched The Lad grow and blossom from an earnest and over-serious child, to an articulate, thoughtful and occasionally stubborn young man. He is almost entirely self-sufficient, able to cook, clean, iron and occasionally he even remembers to put the loo seat down. He is hoping to go to University this year – as long as he gets his finger out and studies properly, although to give him credit, he finally seems to understand how important this aspect is.
Yes, it’s been a roller coaster eighteen years from premature baby to grown adult, and sometimes it felt as though the safety harnesses were going to fly off and the ride would fling us out into the queue, but I wouldn’t change a thing.
Wait. That’s not entirely true.
If I could change one thing, it would be to have my mother here to celebrate with the rest of us. We lost her when The Lad was only two years old and so he has no real memories of her. I would change that aspect of today, definitely. It’s the only sad bit among all the reasons to be happy, though, and for that I am very grateful.
I think I am very lucky in the relationship that I have with The Lad. We seem to harmonise more than we clash. We share a sense of humour, we share a taste in music (mostly) and because his personality is so like mine, I know when to push and when to give. A couple of years ago at LRP, one of the photographers (who is, incidentally, also one of the most gloriously lovely human beings I know) captured a candid shot of myself, The Lad and The Husband. I adore it, because I think it completely captures our mother-son relationship.
This blog post is completely dedicated to The Lad. You are, today, a man, my son. The world is your mollusc. Take it out of its shell and enjoy its slimy amazingness.
I love you.