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Wednesday, 25 May 2011


“All you do is nag and drink wine.”
The need for both is linked. I had a mouth full of pins at the time, altering the curtains, so couldn’t squawk in outrage. I thought about it, but guessed that death might get in the way.
“You said you’d stop nagging.” This could only be a teenager speaking. Or maybe a recalcitrant footballer to a humiliated wife. Sue me.
“Nagging is only repetition,” I said tartly, momentarily pin-free, and taking the opportunity for a medicinal tot (me nerves, doctor, summat chronic) of the vino. “And repetition is only necessary when you don’t do what you’ve been asked to do a hundred times. I said I wouldn’t nag, if you just did. And you haven’t done.”

E strode by. He frowned. “There’s pins on the floor.” He has a mediaeval belief that pins will pierce his skin, take the boat, sail north and puncture his heart.
“Pick them up then,” I might have snapped.

T14 looked blank. “Anyway, I’m crap at exams.”
“You’re crap at exams because you don’t do enough work for them.”
“They’re not for ages.”
“They’re not for ages, until they’re suddenly tomorrow, and yours are in 4 weeks. However much you might dislike the idea, the day will come when you are on a chair and facing a paper you are quite capable of easily passing. If you’d just thought to glance at a textbook beforehand.”

The evenings are light and long and the urge – never strong – to brush up on diffusion and refraction and negative enlargement and irregular verbs, ebbs further as the wind drops and the park beckons.

His local chums, at the local school, phone endlessly, “’s T14 there?” they grunt as if I hadn’t known them a decade and fed them fish fingers in their tiny days. These boys’ exams were a fortnight ago. “Wanna go down the park, T14?”

The head boy at T14’s school went to look round Durham, or was it York? with a view to studying medicine there. He abandoned a 1st XV match to do so. And was despatched roundly, for “only” having 7 A*s and 3 As at GCSE. Apparently you won’t be considered without 8 A*s. Bye! Could try harder. A mother panics.

“Yeah,” says T14, “See ya.”

Fourteen is a bit of a rubbish age. I wasn’t allowed to be fourteen. I only realised what a teenager could and should do when I was about 35 and aghast at the feral offspring of eye-rolling, older friends, “What can you do? They’re teenagers!”
Too old (dammit) to be Mummy’s boy and too young to be anything useful. Still tied to the chemistry textbook while dreaming of a VW campervan laden with chums making its way across America.
“J14’s coming to America,” says T14.
“Is he,” I say, “Is he really.”
J14 chucks a cricket ball against the wall and grins vaguely. The funding of the trip is not broached.

“I’ll revise later. Promise.” He’s off, a head phone in one ear, cycling hands-free to the park, free from piano practice and valencies, from the nagging alkie, the pin-freak and the bossy professor:
“T14’s not wearing his helmet!!! Phone him, phone now. Tell him he’s got to put his helmet on!!!”

Somewhere in the past couple of years, I’ve seen him artlessly naked for the last time. I didn’t, of course, realise that it was the last time, just as I didn’t realise when it was that I closed the cover on my final goodnight story.

Progress brings backwards steps, a merging from the individual to the masses, to fitting in with the other honking poltroons. Soon he’ll be like all those others, you know the ones, the ones who won’t kiss their mothers in public and who go out leaving the hot tap on and the back door open, a loaf of bread in the sink; who turn up just to frown at the fridge’s content and expect mounds of laundry to transform into neatly piled clean items. He’s never been a taking for granted type of child, but it’s seeping in, edging out the charm and softness. Leaving himself behind. I hope he finds a good new him to inhabit.
The next day, such is the volatility of what the in-flight magazine called Those Hard To Please Teens, he is smiling again, and singing on the stairs.

On leaving me at my brutal breeze-block Halls of Residence, strip lit and lino-floored, my father patted my shoulder, “You don’t need to come back at Christmas,” he said. This was his version of reassurance, to spare me the horror of claustrophobic obligation. Bugger off and don’t look back. Ha. Way to prompt a major neediness… I’ve missed only one Christmas in the decades since. Trap them and they don’t come back. I sit on metaphorical hands and grind a zip across my mouth against the urge to smother and annoy.

His face, his beautiful face, is changing. I thought all this would last forever. I was wrong. The bones beneath the skin are cranking and stretching, the hair's a little lanker. Sometimes his childish beauty is still there, or an echo of it, and sometimes the mix of growth is not that pleasing and the spots flare and the nostril flares and the lip curls and the eye no longer holds mine. Then he grows into himself a little more and edges a little older, another day away.

And the girls on his Facebook page call each other whore and slapper and bitch and fucker and say, “Oh Charl, you’re so pretty Charl, I hate you Charl, you bitch. Ellie tell Charl she’s a bitch.” And all the boys click Like. And the girls fly into a frenzy.

The door goes and in he comes, and he hugs me and he says, “Mummy,” and he says “Sorry,” and I say, “Darling,” and I don’t say, “Maths?” or “Geography?” though it nearly bloody kills me not to impart a wise word. He goes in to the kitchen and he fumbles on the window sill where all their school-books lie and he selects a textbook and neither of us says anything and he sits down and goes as if to read it.
“’t was boring down the park,” he said. He lies.
His eyes stray to the window, to the big sky beyond, and then, reluctantly, back to Henry VIII’s monastic reforms.


Potty Mummy said...

Food for thought - as the mother of two boys... x

Zoë said...

All these tiny losses, each step to independence, is a step away from needing Mum so much. Bitter sweet joy, to see them grow and evolve.

One way I tried to cope with this, is not to look at the child I was loosing, but to imagine then men/women they were to become.


Exmoorjane said...

fuckity fuck, you've made me cry, you daft old biscuit you...
nodding away here in the cold like one of those sodding dogs in the back of cars in childhood..
And, k'know, hate to say it but E's right about the pin and the heart thing. I stood on a needle whilst enacting the sinking of the Titanic in dance form, aged eight, and it snapped off and was supposed to 'work its way out' but didn't and then the doctor said they were worried about it 'getting into the bloodstream and making its way to the heart' so was ensconced in St Mary's Hospital for Children and had THE most painful local anaesthetic EVER (hordes of tiny tiny bones for it to bounce around in the foot) while they gauged it out. I kept it for years but now lost. Sooo.....

Milla said...

yup, PM, flies by. Well, not always, not when they're being annoying of course.
Zoe, you are very wise. I am trying to be. I can pretend.
Aaargh, Jane, Mrs Badger, NO! Don't say the old bugger is right. I'll have to change the locks, not let him in: imagine the smuggery, the imprimatur of guru Jane!!

rasmbisilodge said...

I don't seem to 'do' boys (3 girls), but, I have a brother, a troublesome one. My mother has kept him on her apron strings (he's now 37) which built up huge resentment (and destroyed my relationship with her).I think you are handling it perfectly! they need to know they are loved and cared about, but that they are free to fly - then they come back, willingly. My brothers resentment btw resulted in him stealing her life savings, he is currently in prison. She still believes he is 'misunderstood'

Milla said...

Hi rasmbisilodge - OMG!! as has to be said. God, what a lesson. Note to self, kick boy out at 18. Truly though, how horrifying, I AM sorry. And thanks for coming by and sharing that. Shakes head in sadness.

Expat mum said...

Sigh - have you been hiding in my pantry, listening to me and the Man-Child? Oy, boys!
Mine's almost 16 and given that he's now a budding punk rocker (and good, at that) this new phase is quite exciting, but if I get one more bloody report with the words "effort" and "not enough" anywhere in the text, I swear I will swing for him.
Great post!

Fennie said...

Yes, it's a crying, or at least a damp-eyed sort of a piece. I think it's easier with girls. We are still very close to ours. They still do things. Still tractable if needs be. Still trying to please. Still mocking. Still needy. But then there's young Theo. Who couldn't care less. Demand, demand, demand. Thinks he can have it all for a sweet smile - and he's only 2 and a quarter and a grandchild to boot. If in doubt sit down in the road and weep. That'll bring them running, their little selves racked with guilt. Then when safely in someone's arms it's back to the smiles again. Watch me! Have I got all this that you are describing to go through, Milla? I guess I have but I'm really too old. Still you do observe beautifully. And your right we rarely realise when we do something for the last time.

Judy Astley said...

Just lovely. And yes, a bit damp-eyed here. Must be early hay-fever.. sniff..

Chris Stovell said...

I have to say I was chuffed to bits when my daughters started growing up and found it absolutely delightful to see glimpses of the women they were becoming. Clearly, I am just a cold, unfeeling mother!

Fred said...

Take heart dear girl, the darling beautiful child is still there somewhere, just temporarily hiding amongst the acne, the greasy hair and the skanky tissues down the the side of the bed, sorry, gross I know, but true.
Hold onto them with open arms and one day you'll look at them and think, 'Where on earth did these fine, handsome young men come from?' - even if they are still wearing their trousers down around their arses.
Absolutely fabulous post, as always.

Milla said...

goodness gracious, you go off to collect an ingrate from cricket and what do you find?
ExPat, sessions in the pantry would be very sardines in our house, but you're in America so I'm seeing something grander and seething with hisses. Love it.
Fennie. I'll never know. Never know. Don't set me off again.
Judy, how gorgeous to welcome you here. Hayfever, eh. Funny, I get that a lot, too.
Chris, either that, or you've just done it soooo much better. You flint heart you.
Fred, well, you should know. 4 of them. Only 3 in charge of tissues. Oh God. That image. Take it I'll be reaching for gloves soon on sheet changing day.
Thanks all.
Have just realised. T14 can leave home in 50 months. NO!!! Where are my hay fever pills. Or my wine. Or even pins!

Tattie Weasle said...

Oh Bloomin' 'eck I don't want them to grow up now and will have to go into their bedrooms and stare at them as they sleep...I'll geta right telling off from the older one too all 8 years of him: "Mummy go way I want to sleep!"
Will take large glug of wine to stave off temptation....

Muddling Along said...

Oh my - how beautifully written

And am so hoping that I can do this parenting thing as well as you when they grow up - am trying for roots and wings and a hope that they do come back

Frances said...

Milla, you know how I admire you as a writer, and as a childless lady, also greatly admire you and E as parents.

This post really grabbed at my heart, again letting me know how lucky your lads are to have you all as their parents.

Seems to me that you all have gotten it right, a good balance of nudging, encouraging, denying, allowing those lads to step from childhood through the challenging territory that will eventually lead them to adult time.

Going global, I so hope that in other homes all over the world there are other teenagers to whose parents I would also want to send such a message.


Pondside said...

Ah yes - my boy is 31 and the father of two and I remember many of those 'last times'. I also remember the horror of learning that he had a severe infection on his 13 year old knee. 'How long have you had that?' I demanded, terrified. 'A long time' answered he. I realised then that it had been ages since I'd seen him in the bath, and that he refused to wear short pants. It bothered me terribly that he had such a thing going on without my knowledge.

Inspiral Daze said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jen said...

I don't know whether to smile or cry after reading this... I torture my 14yo almost daily by asking 'fancy giving your lovely mummy a cuddle?' to which the answer is always 'nah...'

Milla said...

Tattie, I've been dreading them leaving home since I was pregnant. Lumber on into that room.
Muddling - "as well as me" - God help you! A comment I won't be showing the children, you'd hear the snort of derision from there..
Frances, as always I love your measured prose and generosity of response.
Pondside, yes, the fact that they Think For Themselves and have their own secrets is most disturbing. Hope your boy no longer bears the scars!
Jen keep on keeping on. You know it makes sense!

Thank you all for your very appreciated comments!

Edward said...

I'm not ashamed to say that a tear sprang to my rheumy old peepers. Lovely, lovely writing as usual. Beautiful and poignant.

Laura (LittleStuff) said...

Blood hell, am holding back tears now. I have a 12yr old, and am just a bit frightened of losing my beautiful boy to the man-he-will-become.
In fact, he had a very bad night with a stomach bug, and I sent a few hours just sitting on his bed, watching him, wondering where my Golden Toddler went.
I dread the day he slides into Kev-&-Perry-dom...

sea-blue-sky & abstracts said...

Poignant and funny and so true - can only agree 100% with your definition of nagging Milla.

Laughed out loud at the brutal accuracy of the paragraph beginning 'Progress brings ...! Lesley x

Ladybird World Mother said...

Oh, this was beautiful writing and I am decidedly damp about the eyes... have 3 boys (and one girl) and one is 22, the next 13, and Youngest is 7. I so know all those stages you have written about, and the quiet growing up that leads them up and away from you... sigh. Beautiful post... thank you!x

Trish @ Mum's Gone to... said...

I think this must be one of the most poignant posts I've ever read that speaks volumes to me.
I can't believe the change in my own boy between the age of 14 and now 15. His whole shape has changed within a few months, like a snake shedding its skin. It's quite astonishing to see the man beneath and yes, he's frustrating with his laziness and dimness at times but throughout I'm delighted to see flashes of the funny, warm man he is becoming.
I just want the hugs to return - they are there in his eyes but the embarrassment won't let them travel to those gangling arms.

Becky said...

My boy only 4.5 and starting school in september so guess I need to make most of it! Great post.

shoutydad said...

Lovely, lovely writing. And T14 sounds like a very nice, balanced young fellow, and clearly is a credit to his parents.

Sarah said...

Ah bless him! He came good in the end. So glad it's not just me that worries about choking to death prematurely on a sweet and sour prawn ball and missing these formative years! My "word verification" for this comment, by the way, is swaxin. Is that like having a Brazilian in my sleep?