This week marked the last time I shall walk one of my children to school. The girl is finished with primary school and, after nearly 10 years, my school-run days are over.
This year also marks my half century and, once, I would have seen that as the major landmark of the year. But as the last day of term approached, the end of the spawn’s school run seemed far more momentous than some mere incidence of numerical rounding.
As our last day neared I envisaged a wistful, maybe even elegiac, affair. But that is to reckon without the unsentimentality of children towards passing time. Besides which, fretting over the walk to school was, from her point of view, to miss the big picture. After all, she was still expecting to run into me around the house, whereas she was about to say goodbye to most of her friends. Having attended the attached nursery since she was one, the girl cannot remember a time without the place. So, frankly, she had bigger fish to fry than her father getting all mawkish about the walk to school.
The subtext of her attitude was, I think, that she expects more of parents: the older generation really need to buck up. It was not as if I had entirely outlived my usefulness; she would still have plenty of chauffeuring duties for me to take on, so there really was no need to worry. (The chauffeuring point was already well understood. Even the boy, with his increasing assertion of teenage independence, is prepared to sacrifice his principles on the altars of sloth, convenience or slight drizzle.)
That is the problem with parents, she would be thinking. They are just too wrapped up in themselves to see that, actually, she was the one facing a major life moment. After all, it is not as if I was going to have to go out and make a new set of friends or study geography as if it were a serious subject. I am not about to face the full horror of South West trains for the first time, get my shins whacked by hockey sticks or cope with hours of extra homework.
Grown-ups: you’ve got important stuff going on in your life and they turn maudlin just because they’ve suddenly realised you aren’t still five. Seriously, parents can be so rubbish. It was just the same when they realised they couldn’t “kiss it better” when you grazed your knee. How long did they think you would believe that bilge? There they go getting all misty-eyed because you no longer fall for this stuff and their little darling is growing up – and meanwhile you are the one with the sore leg.
In fact, viewed from the girl’s perspective, she has been rather tolerant of my continued presence at the school gate. She has been walking home alone for some time but the school was on my route to work, it was our one guaranteed time together each day and it was the one parental responsibility that was exclusively mine, so she put up with my lingering role.
Landmarks are probably overrated, in any case. They may crystallise one’s feelings about what has been going on anyway but the end of the school run is nothing more than one more comma in the ongoing shift from dependency towards transaction-based parenting. What is uncomfortable for those used to an all-encompassing needs-based approach is the switch to a more light-touch regulatory framework. (This may be necessary in the interests of greater harmony but as events in the markets have demonstrated, there are risks to the more hands-off approach.) Nevertheless, this was no big bang, just a frictionless switchover.
When the last day came, events seemed to bear out the girl’s view. We did not get to have one last lingering stroll down the memory lane of her childhood. In the end, it was pouring with rain as we left the house. So our final walk, in fact, turned out to be a three-minute hop in a VW. She gave me a perfunctory hug, jumped out of the car and headed up the path without looking back.
Illustration by Lucas Varela