August 15, 2013 by talkaboutyork
I stand on the edge of a busy road, cars thundering past. I instinctively stretch my hands out either side of me offering them to my children. My right hand is clasped by a small, slightly sticky hand of my seven year old. I curl my fingers around his, not just to make him secure, but as a silent thank you for still taking it. My left hand is ignored. I glance at my nine year old. His arms are crossed. I don’t need to hold your hand anymore, every fibre of his being is yelling. I shuffle closer to him and casually curve my arm behind his back, not quite touching him, but in position to grab him should I need to. He knows it’s there. He doesn’t move away. Yet.
We walk along the pavement. I am carrying a heavy bag of shopping in one hand, my handbag tucked uncomfortably under my arm on the other side. A little hand snakes into mine, pulling down on my arm, adding weight. He is tired and wants me to pull him along. I am tired too and want to shake my hand free. But I don’t. I move my handbag to the same side as the shopping, listing heavily like a yacht with too much sail up, and let him hold my free hand. Because he still wants to hold my hand. For now. I don’t have much longer. His older brother is like a lighthouse, warning me of what is to come.
We’re eating dinner.
‘Father Christmas isn’t real you know,’ the nine year old says.
‘Tell me the truth mommy, is he or not?’ the seven year old says.
‘Of course he’s real. How else do the presents get there?’ I say, with a look of incredulity on my face as though this is the first I’ve heard of it.
‘You bring them,’ says nine year old.
‘Well of course we bring some of them, but not all. That’s Father Christmas. That is the magic of Christmas. You have to believe in him to get his presents.’
I can see the seven year old is torn. He wants to believe me. His older brother looks at me with pity, as though he isn’t quite sure how to break the news to his own mother that really and truly, Father Christmas isn’t real. But there is a brief flicker of confusion in his eyes too. He wants to believe too.
This will be the very last year, I think to myself. Then the brutal reality of Christmas without Father Christmas will replace the nine brief years of magic we’ve enjoyed.
‘Come on it’s bedtime. Go clean your teeth please.’ My seven year old loiters on the stairs. ‘Why aren’t you going up?’ I ask, a note of frustration rising in my voice.
‘I want you to come with me,’ he says.
I know why. He is scared of the dark but doesn’t want to say so. I take him up. He makes me stand right next to him. Then I tuck him into his bed.
‘I want to sleep in your bed tonight,’ he says. I waver. I know that isn’t something he will be able to do for much longer either, but I need my sleep.
‘You can’t. Whenever you sleep in my bed, I don’t sleep because you kick me and take the whole bed. Are you afraid of something?’
‘Yes,’ says the small voice. It may have been the discussion we’d been having about Dracula earlier.
‘Well here’s Gruffles, the fiercest teddy bear in the world. Nothing will get past him. So snuggle up with him and you’ll be fine.’
He takes the bear and holds him tight. He lets me kiss him all over his face. His arms, surprisingly strong, wrap around my neck, holding tight, not wanting me to leave. I let him hold me. He won’t always want to do this. I have only a few more years.
I head next door to his brother’s room. He’s not quite in bed, still messing around with some random piece of lego or similar.
‘Can I have a cuddle?’ I ask.
He drops the lego and leans into me, his arms dangling at his sides.
‘Ehem,’ I say.
His arms reach up and wrap around my waist. I squeeze him. He squeezes back. I squeeze him harder still. He reciprocates. I start to move away. He holds fast. I stand still and let him. I kiss the top of his head.
‘I love you,’ I whisper into his hair.
‘I love you too,’ he says, pulling away and scrambling up into his bunk.
In nine years time, I will be the parent celebrating (hopefully) my son’s A-level results and helping him get ready for university. I’ll be the mother dropping him at his new place of residence wondering where the time went, looking at his empty bedroom and quietly weeping. And I wonder if then, as I stand at the side of the road, with cars thundering past, I will still reach out for a sticky little hand that’s no longer there.