It was while I was explaining to a French friend the rules of public school exeats that it hit me.
“Term starts on September 6th,” I told her. “And then he’s not allowed out again until September 29th. I can go and watch him play in matches though.”
“Are you allowed to speak to him?” she asked.
At the time it made me laugh. But then I realised that at best I will be able to hug him and say hello before he vanishes off with his new friends.
The closer we get to the beginning of term, the more I dread it.
It’s not that I am unused to my son boarding. He has been at boarding school since he was 10 years old. But for the last two years he has been at a small prep school 15 minutes away from our home. I saw him for matches twice a week. At weekends, thanks to local cricket training, he was always at home. So in effect he was a weekly boarder, which I always thought combined the best of both worlds.
Big school though is a totally different thing. I say goodbye to him early September and that really is it. He’s allowed his phone between 9pm and 9.45pm every day. But if past experience is anything to go on he might call me once a week at best. He will be fine; this is what he wants. Don’t think I haven’t tried to convince him to become a dayboy at a local school. He won’t miss me but I will miss him, and my only chance of seeing him before the month is out is to make a two-hour round trip to catch a glimpse of him pitch-side.
“Come September I’ll have to get a Labrador or a toy-boy,” I joked to another mother at the New Boys’ tea.
“Oh don’t get a Labrador,” she advised, “they’re terribly hard work.”
I’m not sure how my husband would feel about the toy boy. But the good news is that he doesn’t need any kind of child substitute. “I feel rather liberated,” he told me when I said I was worried about the prospect of our three children growing up.
I don’t feel liberated. I feel slightly panicked. The girls of course will still be at home but at the age of 17 and 15 they hardly need me at all. I am a combination of a cashpoint and washerwoman, and that’s about it. Of course I have my work, but if I’m honest my weeks have been dominated by whatever sport Leo is competing in, or training for. Home matches against local rivals were highlights of the term. Collecting him every Saturday has been something to look forward to. Having him home was always a treat. Driving him to cricket training, watching him play, washing his kit, in short just being part of his life.
Of course I will still be a part of his life, but from September 4th I am no longer at the centre of it. I am no longer involved on a daily basis, no longer privy to the highs and lows. I might not know what’s going on with him from one week to the next. Of course no news is good news when it comes to children at boarding school, but it can feel quite gloomy when you’re at home waiting for the phone to ring like some has-been actor waiting for their agent to call or an Olympic athlete on their way home with only retirement looming.
It’s now mid-August. I still have another couple of weeks until I have to hand him over. My husband has suggested that come September, rather than go for the Labrador or the toy-boy, I should take up golf.
I don’t think things are quite that bad.