I have been modelling King Canute in the last days of this heavenly Summer break. It’s a role I play well, substituting waves of water with white-tipped breakers of passing time.
Because, Dear Reader, I procrastinate. I create an art form out of attempting to hold back the waves of reality which wash over me.
My friends and family will concur with the fact that I only deal with any facet of reality when it has me by the collar and is eyeing me aggressively with intent.
Motherhood has necessitated a degree of mastery over this dangerous vice. As the children grew and vital deadlines came and went, I learnt that there were times when, instead of running from the raging ring-nosed bull that is an impending change, sometimes you just have to turn around, wave your red silk cloak in the air and yell “Ole!”.
Well, the time for the great Ole of the year has arrived. Six days remain to my children before they must don red and white and head for our lovely little school up the road.
And this is the last year Maddie will return.
Next year, she will go to big school, and I will be very poor indeed, unless I can become a multimillionaire in the intervening twelve months.
And she will take some important steps towards growing up.
Independence is a funny old thing. The secret seems to be not only knowing when to let go, but by how much.
When they’re three, letting go means simply allowing them to clamber unaided on the climbing frame. I remember craning my neck as Maddie scaled a fearfully high set of play bars in a nearby village. But this little girl was well up to the task
By the time they’re five, the challenge is developing friends at school. Hearing tales come home which make one’s hair stand on end: but trusting that little community to deal with the high moments and pitfalls.
Aged eight, Maddie came with us to a small Cornish village hugging the edge of Bodmin Moor. My sister-in-law has a rather lovely cottage with a fairytale garden and whitewashed walls. It also has swifts at the end of the road.
Maddie was enthralled; but the family simply could not spend ten hours standing at the end of the road watching the birds fly in and out. So Phil said, Off you go Maddie, you can go and watch by yourself.
I was as twitchy as a house spider on a hotplate, watching her walk down the lane and stand at the corner. But she handled it.
Yesterday she went to play with a great friend of hers. At the end of the day I asked: “Maddie, did you enjoy it? What was your best bit?”
An unequivocal answer. The best bit, my daughter said, was when her friend’s mother walked them down to the park, and left them for a little while to play.
“How did you feel?” I enquired, my heart thumping foolishly.
“Rather like a fledgeling”, she said simply.
And she needed to say no more. In my head was a picture of an unco-ordinated bundle of newly-grown feathers, sitting on the edge of its nest, and launching itself on a tiny flight- just to the next branch over, nothing too ambitious.
To everything there is a season. A time for every purpose under Heaven.
Today I launched my latest Canute Initiative. We’re Still In The Holidays, part iii): a trip to Windsor with the fledgeling and her brother.
A tip: don’t take large people carriers round Windsor’s multi story car park. I did, and it wasn’t pretty. Grown men were cursing mightily behind car windows as I negotiated my stately way round the corners. How I failed to decorate each level with pretty silver car paint is beyond me.
Remember Spirograph, anyone? I was tracing intricate patterns for ages trying to get into a space.
Felix informed me politely but firmly that dinner was imperative. We tracked down Pizza Hut and ate all we could for a very small fee.
We walked the riverbank, watching wild geese acting with more tameness than was seemly, and swans grooming themselves in sun that has not shown itself for weeks.
And on the way to a toy shop, we happened upon the Castle Maze.
Felix insisted on a detour and set to work running along the path with gusto, solving one of his favourite puzzles as if it were a beloved old story.
Maddie stood with me, handbag in hand.
It took about a minute. I noticed Maddie’s feet beginning to move and shuffle, and finally dance as she watched her brother running rings around the intertwining paths.
Finally, she handed her handbag to me. She walked in a measured fashion, modelling what she felt was grown-up decorum, around the brick footways, slowly, enjoying each moment for itself.
In some ways, she’s still very young. For her, change must happen gradually.
One of Phil’s stories keeps playing through my mind. It was his first day doing work experience as a new reporter at a radio station, and he was almost paralysed with fear of the unknown. He paused at the foot of the steps which ran to the imposing front doors. He was fighting the impulse to run far away and give up on the whole idea of radio journalism.
And from somewhere, the thought came: just put one foot in front of the other. When you get to the top, make the choice to open the door.With one increment at a time, change will happen. Just do the next thing.
Some change is cataclysmic. But a lot is just small change.
Maddie won’t grow all at once. She’ll change gradually, and each change I can handle.
The School term won’t explode all at once. Each step will take me where I want to go.
One step at a time.
POSTSCRIPT: That fabulous illustration? Take a look at http://fleck-tesseract.tumblr.com .