Suddenly, two weeks into Intermediate School and I’m full of questions. What do you do in form room? How many boys in the class? How long is morning tea?
It’s interval now Mum.
“OK, how long is interval then? Are the big boys friendly?”
Not that I want to know if they’re not.
He doesn’t say anything except that he’s doing his hair differently. He asks if it looks OK and in his face I can see an eagerness to be liked that makes my heart twist. I’ve always been able to read his face like a text message. I want to tell him not to care because if you try too hard to be liked it never happens because you’re trying too hard. But I can’t.
He’d say I was reading too much into it and it’s only hair Mum. Jeez.
He does tell me things. Like when he accidentally drew a penis and balls when he was meant to be drawing a banana man in class. I wasn’t sure if I was meant to be appalled or amused but a grin sneaked out.
“Don’t say balls,” I added. Still the mum.
He got upset when he missed the bus home because the stupid driver left three minutes after the bell rang and he was in his first ever Japanese class and the teacher went over for two minutes and his 10-year-old legs couldn’t get him to the other side of his new school in one minute. And he’s worried about being bullied. He told me he thought about beating someone up at his new school so the bullies would know not to mess with him. My heart twisted some more. He’s never beaten anyone up in his life.
“Expect teasing,” I said, “but don’t expect to be bullied”.
He said he’d just swear at the teasing. Apparently now he’s at Intermediate School everyone swears.
“Even the f word,” I asked, my jaw scraping the table.
Yep, Mum. “And you, do you say the f word now?”
He looked at me sideways. “Sometimes. But not around you and Dad.”
He looks so small in his bright new uniform with slightly too big shoes at the front of the bus with all the High School boys and girls. I can’t bear him being the youngest but then I can’t bear the idea of him being one of those big boys with hairy lips and husky voices, saying fuck all the time.
I can’t watch him on that bus and I have to watch. I don’t want to know and I want to know everything. I have to let him grow up and try new things and figure it out for himself but it’s the hardest thing. Being a parent means your heart is constantly beaten up, like it’s just flapping about on the end of your elbow waiting to be bashed.
Nobody puts that on the label when you bring the baby home.
The only thing I’ve figured out is that you get nothing when you ask too many questions. Only the good stuff comes when he’s just being a boy and I’m just being a mum—usually the moment before I turn out the light, at night, when he tells me a worry. Or desire. Or how he hated crying when he missed the bus but he did make a new friend, Sebastian.
When he has no fear to be himself and tell me the stuff that hurts my heart twists some more but with so much love I think I might melt with the heat of it.
We try to knock the sensitive and vulnerable sides out of our boys as if they never existed. We don’t mind them being angry or tough but not the dreaded scared or crying. We put our fear of it and what might happen on to them but really we should say, when you’re being yourself and open and honest, no matter what that is, you are totally awesome.
Because it’s true.
But he thinks I am being weird.
Whatevs Mum, it was only the bus.