Freddie’s school are taking all the children on a trip to the seaside tomorrow, as a reward for all their hard work this year. I hope … no … I’m sure, he will have a lovely time, but I am climbing the walls.
Every worst-case scenario you can imagine is running through my mind, like I have my own personal disaster movie playing on a loop. What if the teacher’s attention was distracted and he wandered off. I can picture him lost and alone, how terrified he’d be, crying for me and wondering why I don’t come. I’m feeling breathless and faint just writing this; I almost started crying in the street yesterday when a string of thoughts like this came barrelling into my head one after another, unbidden. I was overcome by a visceral sense of panic.
The only way I managed to deal with it was to stop, take some deep breaths and force my mind to think of the things we will do together during the summer holidays, when trip day will already be safely behind us. We will go to the shops and learn about money, we’ll take lots of change and count it out together in the right amount, it doesn’t matter if it takes all day to go to one shop, and pay for one thing, because he’ll be with me.
I try to tell myself that his school are well practised in taking groups of pupils with additional needs and learning difficulties out on trips; it’s bread and butter to them. They will have conducted risk assessments, there is a high ratio of staff to children, and Freddie’s tendencies are well known to the staff, and documented in his Individual Behaviour Plan – but my mind will not rest until he is back safe in my arms this evening.
Anxiety, particularly about my children’s safety, has always been the hardest part of parenting for me. Not being able to get to my children if they need me, if they are alone, frightened, in trouble, ill, is my biggest, most stomach-churning fear. And it gets worse as my children get older. It starts with school trips, then sleepovers, scout and guide camps, school residentials, holidays with friends, then before you know it, they want to move out altogether, go off to University, leave their home town, and you, behind. And then, when they need you, and no matter how grown up they are they still might, you won’t be able to go to them straight away. At best, you’ll be on the other end of a phone, maybe during some of the hardest times of their lives. Age and distance does nothing to lessen that breath-snatching, gut-twisting need to be with them when you are afraid for their wellbeing.
There is nothing I can do to stop my children growing up, and nothing I can do to stop worrying about them. I can only hope that I have raised them in such a way that they can navigate the adult world with common sense, secure in the knowledge that they are loved and accepted, and can turn to us for support in any situation, without fear of judgement or rejection. There is nothing that would stop us from loving them – even if we do not like something that they do, we will always love them, and strive to help them.
I will never understand why some parents reject their own children, for reasons of sexuality, gender, lifestyle, or for any other reason you could name. I can understand why they might be afraid for their child, and how that fear might make them wish that their child was more ‘conventional’ so that they might avoid hardship, hurt and danger. But if my child’s being took them down a difficult or frightening path, I would want to walk beside them, to lend them my strength, no matter how scared or uncomfortable it made me. As a parent you have not failed your child until the day that you disown them. If that day comes, then you have failed them utterly.
To my mind, perhaps the most loving thing I can do for any of my children is to accept them exactly as they are. And then accept that they must grow up. Worry is simply the price I must pay for the privilege of loving them. Imagine how barren life would be if I had no one to worry about.