I see him well before he spots me.
This is good because it means I can watch without him knowing, see how he interacts with the other kids when I’m not there.
The children are playing outside. The edge has been taken off my emotions from earlier in the day but they’re still there. They never really go away.
He’s playing with another wee boy, one he knows well and is comfortable with. One who shares his aptitude for imaginative games. They are both red-faced with laughter and a burgeoning sense of comradeship. My boy is wearing someone else’s baseball cap. There are grass stains on the jeans said which I put clean on him this morning. I feel a lot better.
Soon he sees me standing at the gate and comes running. He leaps into my arms and hugs me like he means never to let go. I hold him for as long as I can. He’s too young and I’m too old to worry about looking cool.
I can feel his body quiver and see a tremble in his bottom lip. He struggles to contain his emotions, the way kids do. I whisper.
‘Daddy’s here son. Daddy’s here.’
I let him stay that way for as long as he needs to. Then he pulls his face away and becomes himself again.
‘Daddy, I went to do a pee pee today and I sat on the toilet for a long time but the pee pee didn’t come. Daddy, why didn’t the pee pee want to come?’
I’m laughing as I roll my hand through his hair. He feels important now, showing me where he sits inside and the art he’s been working on. I make an effort to chat to every member of staff. Soon we are on our way home.
A little bit later we’re sitting on the sofa at home. Bizarrely I’ve had to turn the lights on because the sky has turned threateningly and unseasonably dark. The air is heavy. There’s a big storm coming.
I’m going through the usual routine of trying to negotiate with my son to eat some dinner.
Then unexpectedly and without looking at me he speaks.
‘Daddy, I’m glad I went to nursery today.’
This may be the least likely thing that I’ve ever heard my boy say.
‘Why’s that son?’, I manage to splutter in response.
His eyes are still fixed on the telly.
‘Because of the thing you said this morning.’
‘You know, the thing about being brave.’
My heart almost leaps out of my chest. Real life trumps fiction every time. When I wrote my words in desperation this morning I couldn’t have even begun to have guessed this would be the conclusion.
I guess all parents talk to their kids all the time and are then left wondering how much, if any, of it has gone in. It’s like throwing a stone at a fence post, just hoping that every so often you get a hit.
Children have that wonderful capacity to surprise and amaze. I hope I’m not being too sentimental when I say that the unpredictability of the journey is the whole point. We travel from joy to despair and back again seamlessly.
He looks at me now, as if for the first time.
‘It’s hard being brave daddy, but you have to try.’
I’m not naive enough to believe that anything has been solved. I know it will be back to tears and tantrums in the morning. But for now I put my arm around him. We can deal with tomorrow when it comes.