My son rolls he eyes. I can’t see him- he is in the back seat and I am driving home – but I know he’s doing it. “Ok, ok, Mum,” he cuts in, “you don’t have to tell me that. I already know.”
“Oh, but I do have to tell you that. Because you might already know what to do, but day after day I walk into your room and find sad bedraggled trousers in the same hunched pile you left them in when you walked out of them into home clothes.”
He’s not listening. He’s already arguing; my son, the lawyer-to-be, has a retort for every occasion. He will happily argue that black is white. Whilst his logic is still 11 years old (a sharp 11 years old, I’ll give you that) his tone of voice carries absolute assurance. Trust me, it says, I know implicitly what I’m talking about, and indeed what you and everyone else is talking about. And I won’t stop debating this point until Domesday.
This persistence in the line of dispute is what makes so many 11-year-old boys invincible. But not here, and not yet, Mr Felix Shrewsday, I think to myself, turning off the internal volume somewhere inside my head as I glance appraisingly in the car mirror.
Not just yet.
Whilst he has all the garrulousness of an 11-year-old popular with his peers, Felix also has that sense of possibility about him. Already his skills and abilities are enough for a double take on regular occasions.”Maddie!” I hollered up the stairs a few weeks ago, “it is not piano practice time yet – settle to your homework and practice later!”
And the answer came back, floating in merriment down the stairs, accompanies by Felix’s chortling: “That’s not Maddie, Mum, it’s Felix!”
My son, I learn suddenly, plays the piano like he speaks. With assurance and growing skill.
It is not what he can do, so much, as my growing sense of who he is, and will become, which ensures that though I battle him with the ruthlessness of Stalin, I am proud.
Meanwhile, at 11, he is still happy to share his fears, and I feel lucky. I dread that soon he will take them on his shoulders and carry them silently, by himself. I realise this is why some mothers heave a sigh of relief when their son finds a soul mate who will listen to him, and help carry them once again.
“Mum, he says, last thing at night, his face screwed up with anxiety, “I’m worried about my science.”
“Why’s that, Love?
“I think I might have missed some homework.”
“Didn’t you write it down in your homework book?”
“No. The bell went and I had to dash off to my piano lesson.”
“Shall I write a note?”
“Ok.” His shoulders relax, and he is ready to sleep.
Later, I find tens of notes scrumpled up in his school rucksack. he doesn’t use them, it seems: they are just talismans against the foreboding. Rarely has Felix missed homework, actually. But he worries about it all the time. Big School is so complex and demanding.
I send up a prayer of thanks that his sister is there, to fend off worry in those moments it threatens to engulf him.
I glance around the room as his eyelids droop.
There, in the corner, is a pair of walked-out-of-school trousers, a perfect sculpture of devil-may-care-boyhood.
I grimace, pick them up, and head to the wardrobe.