I Want Free Range Kids
but I’m Lost Without Them
“Just pull it out of the pan when you’ve checked it’s cooked on the inside,” I say, reminding myself not to get caught up in an argument he’s been gunning for since he came home from school.
“But that’s not what it says on the pack!”
“Forget the pack. I’ve been cooking sausages for half my life.”
“Ten minutes. Look. Here. One minute for every year of my life. ” He thrusts the plastic wrapper in my face. I push him away.
“Ten minutes is a random figure decided on by a marketing man at Tesco’s. A sausage is ready when it’s cooked on the inside.”
“How will I be able to see the inside of a sausage? I haven’t got X- ray goggles on my packing list!”
Matthew’s upset. And he won’t tell me why. I am upset. And I won’t tell him why. We are both pretending it’s about sausages.
Almost time for Scout Camp
In less than an hour my son is due to set off on his first scout camp; a weekend of navigating in Cumbria’s Langdale Valley. I’ve offered to check his bag for him, but he doesn’t want me to; I’ve offered to pack the car for him but his Dad’s already done it. So we’re arguing about how long a banger takes to reach sizzling point.
“Mum, the mixture’s gone gloopy again,” Hannah interrupts, holding out a wooden spoon covered in carrot batter.
“Have you been stirring it properly?”
“Yes! Well actually My Little Pony has been stirring it, I’m been in charge.”
“You haven’t dropped any of his hair beads in the mixture have you?”
Everything at once
Hannah’s having a baking moment. She’s had one every day this week, demanding I make butterfly cakes, fairy cakes or chocolate cake on her return from school. Today we’re tackling a carrot cake. It would be a lovely family activity if I wasn’t simultaneously working with Stuart to design a magazine advert for a jeweller’s shop.
“Mum, they’re on the phone now. The jewellers,” calls Cameron from the front room.
I try to remove carrot gloop from my sticky hands as I brush past Matthew who is now leaning back in a chair with a pained look on his face. In the living room Cameron is practising the piano and I can’t hear much of the jeweller’s end of the conversation apart from the word “deadline.”
“Mum, My Little Pony galloped into the carrot cake! Naughty pony….”
“Mum, what time is my piano lesson?”
“Ten minutes. It definitely says ten. But is that for each sausage?”
“Matthew, we have to go,” says Stuart, “or you’re going to be late for camp.”
Time to say goodbye
It’s the moment I’ve been dreading all day. It’s not like he hasn’t been away from us for a weekend before. Matthew has been to cub camp and beaver camp, Stuart has taken him off onto the fells for the night and we’ve done endless camping trips as a family. But scout camp is different. This is all about fending for yourself. This is a weekend with kids much older than him and leaders who won’t wipe his nose, pull his socks up or correct him when he’s taken a wrong turn towards the edge of a crevasse. He has to do night navigation. He has to put up his own tent. He has to cook his own food. It was only when we were in the supermarket buying supplies that I realised he’s never cooked a breakfast before. Or a lunch. Or indeed a dinner; although he’s a Jedi Master at making pancakes, custard and toast. (Thankfully not at the same time).
He gives me a goodbye hug. He holds on too tight. Normally these days I get shrugged off very quickly; particularly in the school playground. I hold on even tighter and soon we are both in danger of choking.
“We’re late,” says Stuart, pulling him away. “See you at the concert!”
Ah yes, the concert. Didn’t I mention that? Tonight the rest of us are on a family outing to Morecambe Platform to see Dizzy Hack and the Rhino Horns; a swing band who promise to play all the classics. It’s part of this year’s project to expand our musical horizons. Trouble is that Matthew is normally the brass player in our family and the moment the concert starts I miss him. I start to see his face in the more youthful members of the brass section. And it’s a big brass section. I don’t know which face of Matthew-look-a-like to look at and have to steel myself not to blub.
The band are doing a jazz version of Oasis’ Wonderwall when Stuart pitches up, not exactly looking his best. “I got lost,” he says, tucking his shirt into his trousers in a pointless attempt to look as smart as everyone else. He has carrot gloop on his shirt.
“Maybe, you’re gonna be the one to save me,” the guy on stage sings.
“Can you believe it?” Stuart hisses, grabbing the bottle of wine in the centre of the table. “A grown adult getting lost on the way to scout navigation camp.”
It’s not easy letting go
The trumpeter comes to the fore, skilfully improvising his way through the instrumental section. I think back to all the bum notes Matthew has played on the trumpet over the years and I so fiercely want him next to me that it hurts. But he’s busy navigating away from me; it’s starting already. Yet again I’m conflicted. Do I really want my children to be independent, find their own way and explore the outdoors? Or do I want them by my side where I can see them at all times. Why can’t they play on bouncy castles forever? Since Matthew reached double figures I seem to have been in a loop of saying goodbye to him. I’m the lost one here, the one who can’t navigate through this.
“I don’t believe that anybody feels the way I do about you now….” Is it me or is the singer reading my mind? All the Matthew-look-alikes pucker up their lips. They stand up in unison as the music reaches its climax, and blast out the final notes. It’s a wonderwall of brass players, cemented together in the moment. My heart beats to their tune.
My son sleeps under a separate moon.