I’m sitting at my desk, just home from my son’s end of year school play. It was so good. The children really put their heart and soul into every note, word and move and I could have burst with pride seeing my boy, eleven years old standing up there with all the confidence of youth. It was a great night and I know I should feel so happy but actually right now, I just feel really sad. And proud obviously, it goes without saying, but for the most part I feel so so sad. I’ve got that hot, choking feeling you get in your throat when you try to do anything but cry and now that he is in bed, I can’t do anything but cry.
It’s coming to the end of his life in primary school and he has just four days left. That alone is a milestone in itself for both him and I but one that he has long been ready for. I’ve been mentally bracing myself for this moment for over a year I’d say. There’s a combustible mixture of pride and grief at a childhood ending and an adolescence beginning – something that many parents will totally get. You may even be one of them, nodding along in sympathy, knowing all about the tears that will fall on that final day. It is sad. It is momentous and it is amazing all at the same time. When I look back, I wonder how that tiny, lost little boy, fresh from a bitter battle of divorce between two parents on his first day in reception can have morphed into such a handsome, confident young man. It is one of life’s amazing yet cruel ironies that life can fly by yet stand so poignantly still I guess.
But it is not really for any of these reasons that I feel the saddest. The reason that I feel so sad is because I know that I will be alone at the school gates, as I have been for almost all of Zak’s time at school, when he leaves for the final time. He will look, I know it, and he will hope to see his dad there. I will see him scan the crowd of waiting faces and then shut down the emotion when he realises his dad isn’t there and it’s actually just me as he expected and feared. There’s a very particular hollow look behind the smile and eyes that only I can detect in my boy. He misses his dad always but you see, when it’s a milestone moment, the sting is so much sharper. For both of us really.
I have to face facts that I am not enough for Zak no matter how hard I’ve tried to fill the void of a missing parent. I have battled with so many sleepless nights, guilt and what-ifs knowing that I cannot provide what he really needs most – his father. No matter how much I’ve loved him, guided him, cared, cajoled and pushed him or how many times I nursed him through sickness or tiptoed into his room to check he’s still breathing – I cannot ever quite fill the gap. He will always need us both and that is a heavy burden to carry when you’ve tried so hard.
Although my feelings are unimportant in the scheme of things and it is for Zak that I feel so sad, I have to admit at this juncture that actually, I needed Zak’s dad there too. I need someone to stand side by side with, someone who would understand exactly how it feels to watch their firstborn make this crazy, came too soon, transition. Someone who would share that day with me and without saying a word, would understand just how painful it is to see that last snapshot of childhood slip through your fingers. No matter my feelings towards him, this is our boy and his absence has left a void for us both on Friday.
Only in writing this do I realise that I also feel sad for him. Zak’s dad has missed out on so much that cannot be undone. Even if he is there, he won’t recognise the classmates who will come whooping, hollering and no doubt weeping down the school path on Friday afternoon with our boy. He will not know their stories like I do, their families and the relationships that have formed and shaped our sons view of life. He will not have lived through the ups and the downs of friendships and fall outs. He will not know this world or even recognise his teachers and therefore he cannot really ever fully know his son. That is perhaps the saddest thing I have ever had to write.
I have never really written about it before but his absence in Zak’s life has cast a shadow over every happy moment and I know that this Friday, we will both feel his absence in more ways than one.
And so, I wrote this post for you, if you too are a single parent standing alone at the school gates this week for the final time. I know how it feels to give everything and still never be anything other than one half of missing puzzle piece. I know what it feels like to not be able to fill a need in your child when you have given everything you have.
And I’m so sorry that I’m not enough.