Two years ago, my nephew Louie started school, and I called round to see him in the morning and my parents were there and we took photos and all of us were trying not to think about the fact that Rachel was missing it. Today, it was Joseph’s turn. And all the things everyone says about how it only seems like a few days since they were a tiny baby in your arms and how you can’t believe how grown up they look in their uniform, they’re all true. At the gates, we ran into Louie, and I took a photo of the two of them side by side, big cousin and little cousin. Joseph was excited, grinning. He’s going to be five in October. He’s ready.
There were times when I thought I might not be here for this. That, like Louie, Joseph would have to face this milestone without his mum beside him. So walking him to school this morning (or rather watching him scooting into the distance as Paul pushed Elodie in the pushchair) was special. I know I’m lucky. And I didn’t cry. Not when we took photos in the garden and he put his arm around his little sister, not when we hung his bag on his peg, not when we said goodbye. He was fine and so I was fine, too. Stuffed full of pride, and fine.
Paul has taken a couple of days off, and yesterday we said Joseph could do whatever he wanted. We had pancakes for breakfast, we went trampolining, we went out for lunch and ate burgers and he had an enormous chocolate milkshake. We went to the cinema to see The Incredibles 2 and ate pick’n’mix. Elodie was at nursery, and it was strange for it to be the three of us. For him to have both of us, our full attention. We’d talked for a while about his special day. Over lunch, he said he couldn’t feel the specialness. Isn’t that always the way, when something’s been built up like that? But by bedtime, I think he was pretty tired and happy. I went to visit Rachel and left him listening to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory while Paul read stories to Elodie in the room next door.
Today, Paul and I are taking Rachel out for lunch. We’ll tell her all about it, that Joe was fine going in. That when I looked behind me as I was leaving and he’d followed me and I thought he was going to cry or ask me to stay, he said he was just looking for his teacher to ask her something. We’ll tell her we saw her boy, her Louie, on his first day of Year Two. That he was smiling, at ease. We won’t talk about the fact that this is the third first day of school that she’s missed.
In two years’ time, Elodie and Jay will be the new ones. Joseph will be the one starting Year Two, confident and sure about where he’s going. Louie will be in Year Four. He might not want to have a photo with the rest of them. I hope Rachel will be there. I hope she’ll be living at home by then. I hope that somehow we’ll manage to get her to those school gates, to wave off her boys. It doesn’t seem like too big a thing to hope for.