The most important job in my life looks like it’s finally done
There are certain events in your child's life that you can never forget; rites of passage that stay burnt into your memory with a flash-bulb and all it takes is a moment of nostalgia or a jolt of realisation for them to develop once again in full colour before your mind's eye.
My first memory of Luke was of a helpless infant being passed to me as I lay exhausted in the hospital bed. I remember looking down (still off my head on a hallucinogenic cocktail of Pethidine and gas and air) thinking ‘Why is this baby wrapped in a J Cloth? I hope they didn't use it to clean the ward first ...’
The first time I left him with a babysitter, aged six months, is as vivid today as if it was last weekend. We'd been invited to a fortieth birthday barbecue on the Copeland Islands and, because they seemed so close from my window in Bangor, I had felt confident and comfortable enough to leave him, foolishly imagining it was only a hop, skip and jump away if anything went wrong. I said: “I'll probably be back by about 10pm at the latest,” and only left enough milk for one feed. Of course, it took over an hour for the rickety boat to get there and by the time the barbecue was lit and in full swing I was distraught and wretched with worry.
I eventually persuaded the lighthouse keeper to let me use his phone (situated at the top of 150 spiral steps) but that only made things worse because I could hear my baby crying and wailing in the background as the babysitter tried to convince me everything was ok.
As a result my husband literally had to hold me down to stop me from jumping into the sea to swim home. When I finally got back, in the wee hours and suffering from hormonally-imbalanced post-traumatic stress, I burst into tears and vowed I would never leave him again.
Then, before you know it he was going to his first pre-school playgroup and nonchalently waving goodbye from behind his tiny desk whilst I hid my teary eyes behind sunglasses.
The P1 school nativity play was another sight I'll always remember. Luke was delighted to get the part of King Herod. Heck, who wants to play Angel Gabriel — a goodie-goodie with a girl's name — when you can be the bestest baddy out of the whole Bible?
“I vow that none but I shall reign, I'll find that king and have him slain!” he practiced over and over again over his Coco Pops until it became as familiar as the theme tune to Postman Pat.
Since then so many innocent rituals have been, gone and passed — like that day he decided he didn’t want to hold my hand anymore crossing the road. Even that small declaration of independence, so insignificant that it went unnoticed by everyone else, had snapped off a heartstring and gave me a feeling of loss I'd never be able to repair.
Then onwards and upwards into Big School without so much as a by-your-leave. GCSEs turn into A Levels and before you know it he's arriving home with a blazer covered in flour and crazy-foam and school's out forever.
As I pack his suitcases for his first journey to university, I can't help feeling like the most important job of my life is finally done. His life thus far has flashed before my eyes and the rest is now down to him.
Good luck, Luke — and to all the other boys and girls heading off on your big adventures at the University of Life this weekend. Your mums are really going to miss you!