My wee man started back to school last week.
Naturally, this brought some parental fears to the surface. After a long summer nestled in the comforting arms of family, how would a sensitive little boy react to being thrust back into a world of rules, order and getting ready on time?
But he was fine. Better than fine actually, almost skipping to school on the first few days of P2 filled with the excitement of seeing his friends and the anticipation of new challenges. He didn’t even look back as he left us at the school gates.
Then the weekend intervened.
And this morning, with some of that early shine now scuffed like his new school shoes, the tears finally arrived. As I tried to get him ready he began to sob, tears and snot running as one as he repeated over and over I’m not ready to go back yet daddy.
The narrative of having a five-year-old son is that you are constantly dealing with wonder at how big he is getting. How he is stretching up, finding his confidence, expressing his personality.
But the line between that and a scared small child is a fine one. Traumatic memories of terrible days where he clung to mummy and myself, having to be physically removed by a nursery assistant are still raw. For him and us.
But I knew that the best way to face this latest challenge was with composure and compassion. I’m no stranger to the terrors of a Monday morning. There are some things that you never grow out of.
So I cradled him as he wept, whispering words of love and encouragement as I tried to inch us both towards the point where we could leave the house.
But he is a bigger boy now than the timid child I used to wave off at nursery and my hope was that I would be able to reach some point of reason within him.
So I started to talk to him. Telling him about all of the fun things we could do later in the day when I picked him up.
I told him we could go to the park. I told him we could watch a movie together. He didn’t seem to want to hear me.
Then I had a thought. The mobile blood donation unit is in the little village where I live today and it was on my mind that I should nip along and donate a pint.
So I tried this. Do you want to come along and see daddy give away some of his blood today buddy?
His teary little eyes met mine for the first time in half an hour. He didn’t say anything but I sensed an opening. I began to tell him all about blood donation. How they stick a needle in your arm and extract the blood to help save other people’s lives.
He was watching me intently now, a little hand wiping snot off his face.
Tell me more about the blood daddy.
So I did. Every single fact my mind could summon about blood donation was communicated (plus one or two which may have been of doubtful provenance). About how I would fill in a form, how a nurse would ask me questions and prick my finger, how I would then go onto a bed and a large needle would be inserted into a vein, how the blood would flow into a bag.
Then I told him that at the end we would go and sit down and the nice blood people supply juice and biscuits.
He was enraptured now.
What sort of biscuits daddy? Can I have one too?
During this conversation he had allowed me to dress him and eaten some breakfast. He cleaned his own face as I was sent off to produce for his inspection my blood donation book and the little badge I was given when I made my 25th donation.
The sun was shining as we left the house. I like to drive part of the way to school and then walk the rest of the route so my son gets a little exercise. Today I had to stop at the hall where the blood donation session takes place to show him where the wondrous act would occur.
But he wasn’t close to satisfied yet, his eager young mind desperate for more information. As we walked I talked about different blood groups, the expiration rate of freshly donated blood, how emergency blood is used in major trauma incidents. As I struggled to come up with more information I even heard myself beginning to describe at one point how platelets from blood are also used to treat leukaemia.
I’m not sure how much of it went in but he was clearly fascinated by the concept. More than once he stopped to ask me So daddy, are there people around who have your blood inside them?
Soon we had arrived at the school gates and now it was my son who was talking incessantly and skipping happily. His tears from earlier in the morning were now a memory.
But it’s worth remembering that they are never far from the surface, even when it feels like you have got everything under control. There will undoubtedly be more weeping on future mornings and what worked today will not necessarily work then. I’ll just have to find something that does work to meet each occasion, it’s one of the challenges of parenting.
I hugged and kissed my wee boy as the principal opened the gates. He brought my head close to his wee mouth and whispered in my ear.
Daddy, I’ll see you soon for the blood and the biccies.
Yes son, I’ll be right here waiting for you.
And then he walked off. And didn’t look back.