‘Yeah but he doesn’t have separation anxiety’ the nine year old declares as he gets out of the car. He’s just told us a story about a boy who accidentally left his house keys inside the house and then couldn’t get in after school.
‘He had to wait outside for two hours for someone to come home’. The story doesn’t quite stack up. The child is the same age as my youngest. A long chalk off a latch key kid. But we roll with it.
‘So your friend goes home by himself and lets himself in and no-one’s there? Wow, how very grown up. Soon you’ll be able to do that’.
‘Yeah but he doesn’t have separation anxiety’. The niggle begins.
How come he’s heard of that? Has some mother around here been muttering it a little too loudly? The dog has it. We all know and accept that. It’s me he’s chosen to focus his anxiety on, running and hiding when he sees me putting perfume on, signalling my departure. Then sitting pining in the window for all the work hours until I walk up the drive again. Full on hysteria then. Cute. Kind of. The child though, what’s going on with him?
‘I think it’s because, you know, you fed him for too long?’ Sage yet tentative words from an all seeing marque 3. One is never quite sure how a mother might react to a little bit of criticism. Must look that up though. The ill effects of prolonged breastfeeding. Acute onset life-long separation anxiety. I mutter it at the school gate. Okay so maybe I blurt it for all to hear.
‘What do you mean you didn’t think I was coming, I’m always here, every (bloody) day, standing (like a lemon) just here. You’re out early today – look at my phone, it’s 14.24 and you’re due out at 14.25 – and I was just saying hello to another Mum (Jesus can’t I even say hello to another Mum?) and now you’re, wait are you actually crying? When you know that I’m here or just about here and’…
Psychologically provocative gems such as these just trip off the tongue. I might, while I’m at it, ask him to remind me what age he is, in case I’ve had some sort of time travel event, and he’s actually a junior infant and not a fourth class boy, the friends of whom reportedly waltz home and let themselves in with their own keys.
It does really seem to be a deep seated fear though, a panic that assaults him if he can’t see me and it doesn’t tally with the rest of his character. He’s sunny. A joker. Always seeing the fun in things. Always in the moment. Loads of friends. Makes his teachers laugh – in a good way – they tell me. So I have to wonder if I am feeding the little chink in his armour by always turning up, standing at the same spot, beaming at him as he emerges and clocks me, full on eye contact from across the car park. What if, I ask him often, perhaps daily, I am a little late some time?What’s the worst that can happen? You find your brother and wait. That’s the worst that can happen.
What if it’s lashing rain, and I could sit in the car and not get drenched and you could walk around to me? You know, walk just around the corner to where I park, each and every day?
It falls on deaf ears.
‘Can you please, please just be there when I come out?’
‘We’ll see’ I say, thinking it’s healthier to keep a little doubt going, but knowing as well as he does that I will be there. Of course I will. I’ll run all the way if I have to, to save myself from seeing that tear resting on his little cheek.
Then one day I’m at my spot, bantering inanely to another mother – someone I’ve never met before. We race through a few hot topics. I land on the reason why I’m here, at the primary school gate, even though after 13 years it may seem a little implausible.
‘He just has to see me, you know, as soon as he comes out. A separation anxiety thing I think. He gets really upset if he doesn’t clock me straight away’.
I’m in the middle of this spiel when he sails across the road with the lollipop lady.
‘Eh, Mum, is it okay if I walk around with my with friends today – they’re over there?’ and he points back across the road.
‘Oh, why yes, of course it is sweetheart’ I say, beaming at him as I notice my new acquaintance looking down at him and then back at me, quizzically.
‘Well, what d’ya know?’ I say to her as he runs back across the road and she deduces that it must be the mother who has the separation anxiety and won’t let her child have a smidgeon of independence, he has to beg for it, the poor little thing. She sidles off in silence taking note to avoid me at all costs in the future.
I celebrate with him, reinforcing this great step with a treat from the garage on the way home. The next morning as he heads off he locks eyes with me again.
‘Be there, won’t you, at your spot? Please? I’ll pay you’ he says and he strolls off to his labours with my laughter accompanying him across on the wind.