He leans nonchalantly against the lamppost, hands stuffed in his pockets, one eye slightly squinting as he surveys the scene around him.
‘How are you feeling?’ I say to my son. A slight shrug of the shoulder, one hand runs through his recently cut hair. ‘Actually…’ he looks around again, the crowds of children returning from their summer holidays, the parents chattering, the new little ones starting school.
‘…I’m pretty bored. Yeh.’
‘You are bored?’
‘Yeh. I’m pretty bored.’ He glances around slowly again, hands moving deeper into his pockets. Steve McQueen has nothing on him. If he weren’t five, I’d expect him to take a pack of cigarettes from his rolled-up T-shirt sleeve and light up.
That lump in your throat you get when it strikes you how big your children are getting was already present, stuck there since the seven-year-old had ushered me away from the school entrance, not even allowing a hug, no backward glance. The nine-year-old, at least, tolerated a kiss on the cheek, taking it with a good-natured smile and thumbs up.
The youngest and me had struck up a deal. When we got to the school gates, I would immediately leave. I would pretend he was on his own, and I wouldn’t even say goodbye. Ok, I had said. You might change your mind when you get to the gates.
So here we are. As I stand back, making moves to go, I watch him, this pretty bored small boy. How he has so many enormous feelings going back to school, how excited he is to see his friends, how scared he is to go in the gates by himself, how tired he is from a sleepless, hectic summer. How full of hope and curiosity he is. He is replete with it, a fat pod of potential percolating, ready to pour himself into his world.
This is all too much for someone so young. He has to say he is bored. It is the only non-threatening, almost-neutral adjective he can pluck out of the air to describe his overwhelm.
I know this, and I hover close by.
‘Mum!’ he shouts. ‘It’s alright if you stay.’
He slips his hand into mine and buries his face briefly into the top of my leg, and Steve McQueen retreats from sight as he strolls into another year.