I probably wouldn't be writing a blog post as confessional as this if I was not currently wrapped up snugly in the warm duvet that is half-term.
'You're not coping very well at all.' These were the words which resonated as she shut the door to go off to work one morning a couple of months. I think there was an additional statement also: 'Perhaps you might consider seeing someone ... you know ... a councillor or therapist.' And then there was the click of the latch as the door fully closed. These words came from the mother of our children - my fiercest and most supportive critic whose perception and ability to be completely honest is only matched by her glorious and hilarious lack of tact. This is not meant as a criticism. If a shock is going to come, I would rather it were short and sharp rather than hesitant and drawn out. As so often during the course of this eighteen-year-long adventure I immediately dismissed her opinion as utter nonsense, only to return to it a few days later as possibly absolutely correct.
I have not been completely honest with you. There are some additional details to share about how this separation between child and family is handled. You know already about the fifteen minute Skype call every day, and the cards that arrive every week, and the occasional package stuffed with random useless stuff that gets brought back eventually anyway. But there are a few things that I have deliberately forgotten to mention in case it make me appear less like an over-involved parent and more like a sociopath.
First, there is 'picture of the day'. Every day I photograph something, and,using a free app on my iPad, crop it, colour it, and re-focus it. I email it to him with a caption and a few words. There is no expectation for him to return the email nor does he need to send a picture. I take photos of moments, people, events, views, food, and I try to write a couple of witty lines to accompany the image. His sister features sometimes, or other people he knows and would be happy to see. I try not to include the dog very often. It would be too easy. I have also set myself a limit on desserts. So far, I have not missed a single day. I enjoy it most when I set myself a theme for a series; all the pictures in December had something to do with Christmas. He told me once that no other child got sent a 'picture of the day'. I'm not sure if his voice was tinged with pride or sadness.
I've also never told you about the YouTube videos, or the links to newspaper articles that I email him. When I was at university, I had a friend whose mother regularly sent her envelopes of newspaper clippings. I thought this was the most wonderful parental response to their separation. It was a way of saying, 'Look, these are all the things we would be discussing and sharing if you were here.' Emailing someone a link is the modern day equivalent of an envelope stuffed with newspaper articles. The YouTube videos I share with him are things I've seen on FaceBook, and I think would make him laugh. Sometimes they connect to something he is doing in science. He is new to email, and I asked him once if he was enjoying this mode of communication. 'It can be a bit stressful keeping up with it,' he replied. At this point I realised that I might be spamming my own child.
I fooled myself that all this activity was for his benefit. Now, I understand that it is also for mine. These are activities that help to dull the pain and fill the emptiness that potentially could overwhelm me between Monday and Saturday; ways of sustaining an invisible connection, or at least the illusion of it.
Someone I know who walks her dog at the same time as me told me a story this week. Her husband had stopped their sixteen-year-old son joining a football team as a young professional, because it was deemed too far away from home. She only found out about this a couple of years ago. When the offer had been made, no one discussed it with her. The son is now an adult with a child of his own. Both mother and son live with regret. They think the father should have let him go. I find this story comforting and reassuring. I completely understand the father.