Everyone has been telling me that it is a good sign. I am not so sure. Our evening ritual of Skyping has fallen by the wayside. Year Eight, it would seem, is very different from Year Seven. The classes go on for longer, so he doesn't always get time to finish his evening meal, and contact us before prep starts at. By the time that he has finished his homework talking to us becomes a chore - he is just too tired. I would hate to imagine that either of my children ever view talking to me as a task to be ticked off a list. It has become apparent that our son, at age twelve, has become so busy that he no longer has time to talk to us. This has taken some getting used to. For the first week, I was quite angry. We still set the iPad up and waited for the Skype-call to come through ... Nothing. I waited again after eight o'clock ... Still nothing. The dog would start chewing the carpet and scratching the floor. This was usually the time of the day when she gets my undivided attention out on a walk. She didn't understand why I was sitting looking at a blank screen. When she started chewing my foot at about nine o'clock, I decided it was time to yield to the preposterous idea that another twenty-four hours would pass with no news from him, and it was time to honour the unspoken deal I have with the dog; the other unspoken deal - the one with our son - has clearly been reneged on. We were facing an eerie silence.
I found the change of routine (or lack of it) to be as stressful as the lack of contact with our child. Before the conversation happened as regularly as clockwork. The iPad would be set up, and he would usually call five minutes before the arranged time at 6.45. This is what last year trained me to expect. My days were planned around the evening Skype conversation. No evening event could occur before 7pm; I had to be at home so this time in my daily diary was definitively blocked out. Then suddenly it's gone, and there is nothing to replace it; nothing to fill the void. We could book a baby-sitter for our daughter and start going to the theatre of cinema again ... If only we weren't so confused.
At the weekend following this first week of existential waiting, I felt like being cruel. I wanted him to know that it hurt a little; and that a loyalty scorned turns into a very different creature - something bitter that bites when least expected. But I wasn't cruel. I loved him even more that weekend and cherished every second of conversation and every new revelation about the week that had passed. It was all news. He has been too preoccupied coping with a new schedule and an unprecedented level of exhaustion. I'm a grown-up. I can cope with feelings of disappointment and helplessness. I'll identify them for what they are. I don't have to unleash some sort of subtle sardonic attack. He would find it confusing; he's a twelve year old who needs his dad. Our unspoken deal is involves unconditional love, not punctual Skyping. I've agreed to love him forever, regardless, and that is the least that he should expect.
We had a bit of a chat at the weekend. Hopefully it occurred entirely without rebuke - I worked hard that it would. We agreed that if he has time and energy, he could write a one sentence email at night, just to let us know that he is still alive, and he could write just one word if a sentence seems too taxing. Like Mulder and Scully, I just need to know that, like the truth, he is out there. But this isn't a binding psychological contract. It's just an idea.
This seems to work. I am quite happy to check my emails just before nine in the evening, and see a subject line written by him. I still set the iPad up at 6.45 anyway ... Just in case. It seems that even though you can teach an old dog new tricks; just like chewed feet when it's time for the evening walk, we all still need a routine.