So as Spider-boy’s first day of school approaches I have a lot planned. In my usual overdrive I am very keen to have some fun with him, to enjoy our last hurrah of Mummy and Spider-boy time. We hatched a plan: to go riding on an open-topped bus tour of London.
It’s hard to tell who’s more excited: him, with his lifelong passion for buses, or me with the shining window in his eye I get to surf off when he proudly tells our friends about what he’s going to do with his mummy on the day before he starts school.
And for this precious day, this plan which started on a spur of the moment idea then was built on a promise and cooked up over a fortnight, he and I, getting more and more keen, I was so, so happy. Since I’ve been back to work, working full time, I find my life is stretched to see-through. There’s so little time for anything, No time to focus and regroup, to plan, to think, to write. There is certainly no time for mistakes or things not going according to plan. And I’m not really one of life’s planners. Those ‘Organised Mum’ things give me the willies and yet the compartmentalisation of my life, the splitting and slotting in of things I need to do, that must be done, the deadlines and the commitments is becoming more frenzied.
We do have fun, but I’ve noticed that I’ve started almost making windows for things I never thought I’d need to plan. Not quite a note in the diary for the bit of the week where we all have a good time, after the online shop and before setting up a direct debit for the council tax, but we’re not far off.
The day before something shifts though. Spider-boy suddenly reneges on our deal. He declines, he fights, he derides and dismisses. Sleep does nothing to quell his grump – the next morning he’s even more adamant. It is a boring idea, something he’d rather do with daddy, and failing that at the very least on a family day (which is what he calls a weekend). Bluntly he starts being horrible to me.
He is four. Four! He is deliberately (well, I’m pretty sure deliberately) saying and doing unkind things. He unleashes on the landing about the distinctions in his head. It is not that he doesn’t like me, it is time with me just me which is not his ‘favourite’, he wishes I was at work, and doesn’t want me to take him on a special treat for school. He is particularly scathing about the idea of ‘Mummy & Spider-boy Days’ pointing out he sees me every day and he doesn’t need time with just me, no brother, no dad: it will be ‘stupid’.
Before you think him a heartless wretch, believe me I know there was more going on. He was sabotaging fun things, as toddlers and young children often do, he was on a roll, and by God I know what it is like to be on a roll, and he was in a strange nowhere-land, having left nursery but not yet being at school.
He’s wrong, about all our time together. I know, because I miss, miss, miss it. I know that if I calculate it properly today is the first day in about 12 months which has just been me and him (no baby brother, no relatives). I took him to the shops a few weeks ago but all our other time has been with someone else. He’s forgotten, because he does get attention and games and fun and love and stories. Or rather, perhaps he hasn’t, forgotten or forgiven me for being unable to walk and having to be helped to care from him and then topping that trick by having a baby, often clamped to my tit, and just generally around.
And I know he’s confused by the stop/start nature of a very long settling in period for school, something I barely understand or can organise with my work and our life. He, like all of us, is unsettled.
I know all that but I still feel humiliated and hated. I know this is small fry but I don’t know how I can stand it or cope with this mean and unloving version of my boy on a day I’ve been so excited about. I try ringing daddy and when that doesn’t work I crack and cry. I tell him he is being unkind and I don’t know what to do, that I wish he wasn’t being so horrid and I love him very much.
I hear a petulant twang that reminds me of his. He cries too and we wind up on the stairs. It is almost 11 and we’re both exhausted. I go upstairs to wash my face and say I am going to finish getting ready for the day. I hear a shuffling, and it sounds like ice cracking at the start of a thaw.
‘Maybe we shouldn’t tell daddy about the shouting’ he says, ‘if we go on the bus now’. And we are ready in 10 minutes. We get club sandwiches and a coffee, we go to a tourist shop to buy tickets, we wait at a stop and get on the wrong route because we can’t bear to hang around at a bus stop when we could be at the top in the winning open top seats. The wind blows through our hair as a lady tells us about kings and queens, bastard royals, war memorials, palaces and gallows. We jump off on whims, take in a river tour, scoff our sandwiches in our seats, see the London Eye up close, learn facts, weather a storm or two. School and arguments and stressed out family life teetering on a (work life) balance are all forgotten as we delve into history and urban myth and rise victorious with a Big Ben pencil and a cake outside St Paul’s.
We barely talk about school tomorrow, and I make a mental note to find some time to berate myself, and then learn a lesson, from having too much invested in having the sort of day to cherish with my little one. After all, the pressure I was creating for it to be meaningful and symbolic, for it being the kind of day that allows you to look to the ones you love in a world where horrid things happen, this was naive and destined for disaster from the off. It was almost as naive as his hope that by cancelling his before school treat he could cancel school too.
When we made it on to the open top bus, he nearly wet himself with thrilled excitement. I’ll never forget his face in the sun as he jumped on his seat spotting the lions (he later built a model of London on the dining room table to commemorate our trip). Giddy to be with my first born, and trying to grab my sentimental moment, I said:
‘Do you know who, of all the people in the world, I most like going on a bus with?’
He replied, with feeling: ‘the Burrito Brothers?’