With DS1 out of the lounge, the wife, on a tidying spree, took the opportunity to put the cushions on the sofa back how they should be (the boy had rearranged them a couple of days previously to make some sort of den from where to watch TV.
And there was me thinking that was what a sofa in its original format was ideal for.
The newly built den-style sofa, though, was a ‘safe haven’, where he had taken to eating his meals, lying horizontally, obscured from view.
While the wife was in mid-rearrangement, DS1 returned.
“I don’t know why you bother Mum,” he said, before promptly putting everything back to how it had been.
We were in the countdown to going back to school.
Coupled with his nesting, the reluctance to go out was ramping up and the tetchiness that had dissipated over the holidays was back. Anxiety was on the march again.
The day before the return, he started to whimper, as the realisation that he was going back to school – to a new teacher, to a new classroom, to who knew what – hit him.
Even his Xbox couldn’t provide the comfort he needed, nor could returning to an old, previously discarded, TV favourite – Horrible Histories.
But he was adamant that he wasn’t worried about school – it was just that the holidays were at an end, he insisted.
I had my doubts.
Despite this, I did manage to entice him out of the house to buy some last-minute necessities for school and I even got him into the supermarket – something I hadn’t managed all holidays.
It cost me a magazine and a milkshake, mind.
Chores complete, we sat in a coffee shop, leafed through his mag and chatted aimlessly about football, beer and women, like blokes do (OK, not the last two – he is only nine, after all). But it was a little haven of normality for half-an-hour.
On returning home everything remained sweetness and light. Maybe he wasn’t worried after all, maybe a trip into town was what he had needed to take his mind off things – or maybe his brain was so mashed that he obligingly did whatever I asked. He even went to bed on time without quibbling.
But as he got into bed the worry gene popped its head up and demanded to be heard.
He started crying – not actual tears, but he made that sound that suggested ‘I’m not HP, Dad’. He got very clingy and, finally, admitted that he was scared about going back to school.
We talked it through: what was going to happen, the fact it was the same playground, just the next column over for lining up, and that he knew his new teacher, he had already spent some time with her at the end of last term and that she knew all about him.
But this didn’t do the trick. Surprisingly though, his anxiety didn’t manifest itself in ‘bad’ behaviour. There was no running around the house or playing up. He remained in bed – he just couldn’t settle.
The wife tried her luck. She soon had him in giggles at my expense and shared her worries about going back to work after a week off, to show he was not alone in having those type of thoughts.
She also told him that there would 200-plus other children returning to his school in the morning who would be feeling the same as he was as well.
I’m not sure he bought that reasoning either.
Instead, he started to talk in riddles. Random utterances that had no meaning spouted forth – “You’re a chicken,” he informed me.
“Are you talking nonsense because you don’t know how to explain how you are feeling?” the wife asked.
“Yes,” he admitted.
By now, it was getting very late; too late for a young lad to be awake anyway. He was clearly tired, but he was very much awake – a look of apprehension etched on his face.
Not knowing what else to do, we took the only course of action open to us and left him to it – promising to pop up to see him every so often. Eventually tiredness won out and he slumped into a welcome sleep.
Later it was my turn to lie awake, unable to drop off as I worried about how things were going to pan out the following morning.
After a somewhat fitful night, I forced myself out of bed and crept nervously downstairs, only to find him ensconced in his sofa den, seemingly unperturbed.
I even got a sort of acknowledgment. Not a “Good morning, Dad”, but he didn’t refer to me as being a “giant turd”, so, all in all, a positive result.
Breakfast was demanded and eaten rapidly, and his uniform put on without prompting.
Who was this imposter?
“Can we go yet?” he asked, way before the time we needed to leave.
Sword of Damocles
The first week back was not far short of a miracle, all things considered.
He didn’t smack me (much) on the way home and I wasn’t greeted with his “idiot located” line at pick-up time. In fact he ran up to me all smiles.
He even chatted on the way home and I was only told to “shut up” a few times.
His handwriting was so neat it looked like it was someone else’s. And he even read to me for the regulation time that is expected of them each night – he flatly refused to read to us for most of last year.
Whatever his new teacher had said to him about the importance of reading and helping his class to become the school reading champions, he had taken on board (for now, at least).
On the Friday, DS1’s teacher from last year told me what great reports she’d been hearing about him from his new teacher. The boy, head bowed, as she spoke to me, grinned from ear to ear.
There was just the one meltdown to report – and that was mine.
After a month of shunning work, I was suddenly sinking in it, and DS1, unfortunately, chose the day I was really stressing about it to show signs of being on the edge himself.
For a while we sparred, balancing on the narrow ledge between calm and tornado, both trying not to fall off the precipice… but all too soon we both tumbled.
Whatever he did irritated the hell out of me. I was trying to work yet he was smothering me, pretending to decapitate me with his sword – in fun, of course (it was a plastic one, in case you were wondering), but it felt like I was being strangled and I failed to see the funny side at that moment (a slight understatement).
He wanted my attention, my support – being back at school, though he appeared to be coping, was clearly a massive strain. He needed me. But I needed space. Never the twain shall meet, they say. There was only going to be one outcome.
After a brief exchange of hostilities, we kissed and made up. It was as if we both needed to let off steam. It made me realise that I had to make him the priority – I knew that already of course, but putting it into practice is occasionally a different matter. Work could wait. What was a deadline compared to his wellbeing (about £200 in lost revenue, if you really want to know).
I told him that I had got my priorities wrong and, although I did need to work sometimes, I would put it to one side and concentrate on him when he got home from school.
Obvious really, but sometimes we lose sight of what’s important.
“Me,” shouted DS1.