Many a True Word Said by Accident
A couple of weekends ago, I accidentally told the truth. As the summer holidays are approaching, I turned to my son, and said, 'Only another couple of weeks, and this nightmare will be over'. I said it without really thinking. For a split second a strange expression flashed in his eyes. I had overstepped a mark. If it were a joke, then it was a poor one. If it wasn't a joke, I had just revealed more than any eleven-year-old would want to hear. As clumsy as the expression may have been, I was speaking from the heart.
The summer holidays will offer a welcome relief. I will once again be given the opportunity to parent my own child every day of the week. I will not be fretting about the possibility of a 'Lord of the Flies' scenario among abandoned trainee ballet dancers. Nor will I need to worry about him glancing over a fellow pupil's shoulder and catching glimpses of Saw III on their iPad. For two months, he will be back in an environment which supports and understands him completely; where his private self can breathe easily and he can express himself without worry that he will have to justify his views publicly later on. We will have direct access to him, rather than saving up anything we want to tell him, or need to ask him, for the daily fifteen minute Skype call. I won't have to get up at half past five every Monday morning to get ready to drive him back. Even without any interaction, it will be comforting to just see him in the room.
On the one hand, this last academic year has been wonderful. We have seen our son grow and flourish. He has embraced everything that the school has offered; not just ballet. He has immersed himself in folk dance, choreography and ballet history. He has become a better musician. He's become more politically aware. His organisational skills have developed to an incredible degree for someone so young, and he has become more resilient and independent. On the other hand it has been a nightmare.
I worry about him and the atmosphere of constant competition. I worry about the lack of academic engagement - and this is no criticism of the academic staff who all display a selfless dedication; but they can only achieve so much in a mere four hours a day. I worry about his body holding out under the immense constant strain. I worry about injury. It is the end of the year and he looks knackered.
But for me, the most awful part of this nightmare is the separation. I really hate the fact that our family experiences this severance. To describe the dull aching sense of loss is a difficult task. Writing about it helps even though I also feel like screaming at myself, "Enough already. Get over it." But the dull ache just seems to sit more deeply within, festering more silently. A fulfilled and happy child was exactly what I wanted, but this separation was not. It makes me even more contemptuous of the British upper classes - those who choose to send their children away, sometimes even from the age of seven - an ingrained inbred heartlessness. Little wonder the country is in such a state. It's being run by people who experienced only the minimum of parental nurture.
From the café where I write this I see dads out walking with their children. Some are pushing them in pushchairs; others are holding hands as they stroll. An invisible bond is evident in all of them. My envy quickly subsides, but I have an urge to run after them.
"Hold on tightly," I'd say. "Hold on, and should the nightmare encroach, shake yourself, stay awake and don't let it in." I want to tell them the truth.