So, the deed is done. My son was deposited back to school, shoes polished and hair cut into a neat and respectable style. His new, slightly too big, uniform was pressed to perfection and his schoolbag was stocked with new HB pencils, a collection of sharpeners and rubbers and some brand new colouring pencils.
He was excited to go back. He jumped awake at some time around 6.30am and declared, with a punch of his hand in the air, that “Yes! It’s a school day”. I spent the following two hours trying to convince him that we had plenty of time and no, there was no need to leave just yet.
He did hold my hand a little tighter as we walked through the school gates but he had no sooner set sights on his group of friends than I was dropped like a cold snotter and left to walk back through the gates to the car alone.
I’ll admit it. I felt a little emotionl. Actually I felt a lot emotional. Even though this was the fifth time I had left him at the school gates, surviving the emotional upheaval of nursery school and everything after there was still a part of me which realised we had reached another milestone.
He’s in P4 - officially out of the infants section of the school and officially one step closer to being one of the proper big boys. He’s put aside a lot of his childhood things already. His toys, the bits of plastic he couldn’t live without for years, are lying in their drawers replaced by a Nintendo DS and a football in the garden.
His spaceship themed bedroom - which we considered to be his big boy room - has been repainted in red and white, in honour of both his beloved Liverpool and his beloved Derry City.
He rolls his eyes when his baby sister wants to watch CBeebies, changing the channel to Sky Sports News at every opportunity. He no longer needs mammy to read him a bedtime story and wriggles about in an embarrassed fashion when I remind him of all the nights sat on the rocking chair reading ‘Bunny My Honey’ or ‘Guess How Much I Love You?’.
He turns scarlet with embarrassment when I remind him of the songs I sang to him as a young child and when his sister and I launch into a chorus of ‘Ba Ba Black Sheep’ he declares it dumb.
He’s most certainly not my baby boy any more. When he looks at me I see a young man stare back at me. His baby features are all gone. His face is thinner, his features growing more manly day by day.
His gapped tooth smile - a mix of tiny baby teeth and adult teeth which seem too big for his head, smile back at me. There’s not a hope of getting him to wear any clothes which are not football related and when he goes for a haircut he demands wax and wants to style it like a footballers.
I still remember when his hairstyle could only be described as “ frizzy curls” and when his baby face would grin up and me and no matter what I did, or said, or sang I was always the coolest mammy in the world.
Time, I feel, is just passing too fast. So when I dropped him off and school, and skulked back to the car - my hand still warm from where he had held on - I felt myself choke up with emotion and had to fight the urge to ugly cry right there and then amid the hoardes of other parents dropping their wee ones back off for the first day of term.
Of course I know that he will always be my baby - and that is especially true of a Derry son and a Derry mammy. We’ll always have that link - but there are times when I wish I could press the pause button for just a bit. Or even the rewind button to relive those moments I wished away when he was smaller.
I’m tending to take things at a slower pace with his sister. I’m tending to savour the moments more and not crave the milestones. She still, much to the horror of my health visitor and many right thinking yummy mummies has a dummy when she is tired or unwell. She still drinks her bottle of milk at bedtime. The potty training is coming along well, but part of me looks at the nappies with a certain (sick) affection and feels not ready to let go of that particular vestige of parenthood.
I’m already mentally counting down in my head to next September when I’ll hold her hand and walk her through the gates to nursery school. There is a fair chance they will need to sedate me on that day.
A friend very wisely said to me last work that while childbirth is agonising, it’s nothing compared to the pain of letting your children grow up and do their own thing independent of you. It’s a curious feeling - pride at how far they’ve come, overwhelming love, of course, and an almost uncontrollable urge to pull them back to you and hold their hands for ever.