Maybe it’s the time of year.
The skin is still golden, although it is only a matter of time before the very last hint of a summer spent largely outside will fade and only the memory will remain. The morning walk to the car requires a jacket. The wife’s warmth in bed is now a resource to be mined rather than a furnace to be kept as far as humanly possible lest I perspire out every last mortal drop of moisture.
September is always something of a mixed month for teachers. It has the melancholy of a summer’s passing coupled rakishly with the dawn of a fresh start. Every new face at school is a source of potential, of worry, of hope. Returning students have grown, men and women replacing the boys and girls who left merely a month or two ago. New students are trepidatious and timid or full of false bravo and swagger. All are at least a little scared.
I guess the fear of being isolated, of not making any friends looms large in the mind of all who step foot into a school for the first time.
And as with everything my own children have grown – whilst not men, they are moving in that direction. The eldest has just started school himself. I asked him how it went as we sat down for dinner.
“Yeah it was okay” he said contentedly before returning to his peas.
“Did you make a friend?”
“Yep” – clearly having an actual conversation was currently beneath him.
“That’s good, what is their name?”
Fast Charlie? My son’s first school friend has a gangster name from the 1930s.
One day he’ll come home and, after some serious questioning, my son will detail his lunchtime antics of having to ‘straighten out’ some punks with Fast Charlie, The Fridge and Timmy No Toes.
“Just don’t tell anyone Dad,” he’ll probably conclude, locking me with his soulful grey-green eyes, a spoonful of beans used to punctuate his words, “no one likes a snitch.” The unspoken threat of a visit from The Fridge hanging in the air between us.
The concern of new students at school is that they will make friends. The concern of their parents is that they’ll make the right ones.
These concerns are most likely misplaced and magnified by the huge shift in the dynamics of the home. Having absolute control over who your child sees and when, for how long and with continual oversight is replaced by a brief hug at the school gate and whatever minute scraps of information you can extract at dinner time – something I was expecting to have to deal with when he became a teenager, not – as has actually happened – on his very first day.
But as with the feeling of a fresh start permeates my work, there is a sense of excitement at the new beginning my son has just experienced. All the things he will learn and be enthused by, things that are not an extension of us but his and his alone. The Autumn festivals of Halloween and Bonfire Night, the run up to Christmas.
If I’m honest, I’m a bit confused and conflicted by it all. I want to push him out of the door to embrace his life whilst simultaneously holding him tight to prevent him from stepping foot on the path that inevitably leads to adulthood – as if I actually could. I am excited to hear about his friends and experiences, terrified that I can’t vet them in real time. I look forward to having adventures during our holidays together, I’ll miss him being home all the time.
All of the people I talk to on a daily basis have the same bittersweet feeling. Be they new students or colleagues at work, friends with kids the same age as mine, parents met in the park. Everyone feels sad and overjoyed, scared and excited, hopeless and hopeful.
Maybe it’s the time of year.