It’s all you want for them, isn’t it, as a mother, a parent? To be happy in what they do, healthy, good in their heart, and to outlive you. I only have two. Both boys. Actually, they’re young men, and the eldest a parent himself now. But I ‘ve always been more anxious for the younger one. Perhaps because he’s the bigger risk-taker. Perhaps it’s the mirror he casts back to me. Courage inside his vulnerability.
As the weekend approaches, I’m excited and a little nervous. I want him to be safe, to succeed, whatever distance he rides. And this ride—up and down The Alps is no spin class. It’s totally gruelling and we know it will take him to the edge. Two hundred and thirty-five kilometres and a 4,500-metre climb, in one day. Lordy.
In the wait, I anticipate the trip up the mountain, tracking his progress through the day, and the finish line—wherever it occurs. In the space, within my mind, I take time to reflect, to recall.
Through the memories of long ago, I find a story, of letting go.
It wasn’t a conscious decision to take him to school that day, unlike the first day of his first year, when he was five. There were tears when he was small, but not on the morning he was seventeen—the first day of his last year at school. But I felt something familiar. The same pull at my heart, as if another thread that connected us had been cut. Another part of him, no longer mine.
That day, it rained. At five, the sky was sunny, as we walked hand-in-hand. A little boy, delightful and delighted to be on an adventure, to school. At seventeen, I drove him. And when he jumped from the car into the wet, his bag bulging with the year’s work ahead of him, I knew again, he was on his way.
“Take the umbrella in the boot, in case it’s raining when you walk home”, I called. To my amazement, he took it. That day, he was sensible. Not five, but seventeen. Then the school-drop cars, were everywhere, jostling to get in and out. In the mayhem of backing-out, I forgot to say, “love you”.
As I turned from the car park, I looked back for him. He was gone. But in the mirror, I saw him on that first day, when he was a little boy. The school corridor. Me, peeking through the glass in the door, waving through my tears, “have a great day, darling.” Him, crossed-legged on the floor. His gaze, gone from mine to the teacher. His little hands. Fingers crossed, in his lap.
In the car, the radio broke my thought. Peter Hellier talks about dropping his child off to school for his first day. “It’s all about letting go,” he says. “Seeing the changes that are there. Watching them grow, watching them go”.
He is right. And it’s the same at five as it is at seventeen.
At seventeen, he had the same haircut as he did at five. His brother, eighteen months older, did it with a number two razor the day before. And, my boy, though no longer my baby, and over six foot, is still the same to me. The one who goes easy, taking it all in his long stride. There’s no looking back. It’s always forward.
I made his lunch for him that day, at seventeen. That was the same, but there was no margarine on the bread, the way he liked at five.
Now, at thirty-one, his hair is longer. He has a stylish mullet. I ask him for a photo before he leaves to join other riders at the lodge overnight, at race start. We wish him well. It’s hugs all round. His attitude is sensible. He’s done the work, ridden each section of the course in preparation. He knows his limits; he has a ride plan and is philosophical about the outcome.
This time, it is he who drives off. Bike strapped to the roof of his car. He looks back. We all wave. As he leaves, there is a knowing tug. But, this time, the threads that connects us, are strong.