Promised Land

I have sat in front of teachers through the schooling of six children….With other parents and carers I have milled on staircases and in sports halls, waiting our turn with stewed tea, over-eager smiles and testing handshakes.

    promised land
    The very last teachers’ evenings clashed and I had to choose. Was it Betty, her grades good, her choices clear, her migration path settled or Harry, with whom I do not live, choices not taken, grades uneven and staying on…? It was not a hard call but I felt sadness. I saw clearly – as I once did not see – what was on offer and I wanted both experiences. One leave-taking had inadvertently been taken and thus (don’t mope now) I should take special care of the one to come.
    I have sat in front of teachers through the schooling of six children. I have jogged alongside six kids as the pace kicked in and they girded themselves for the hurdles of the General Certificate of Secondary Education. I am left to admire their stride as they push into the distance and I pull up, heavy limbed and winded, feeling every year of my fifty something. With other parents and carers I have milled on staircases and in sports halls , waiting our turn with stewed tea, over-eager smiles and testing handshakes. The talks from the teachers are all familiar exhortation but also – as they were surely not in my day – calculating and numerical. There are metrics and modules, coursework and percentages; the pupils as much as teachers show a nuanced knowledge of the way their work is marked and measured. The crude ore of mocks are smelted into predicted grades and laid before us. There is a cunning afoot which arouses both my disdain and my envy.Harry is his scatological self, his commentaries are funny, fluent and very rude. They bind his mother and me in admiration. Harry is excited too because the sessions are going well and his art piece is one of only ten on show. (It’s the Brighton Pavilion: my wedding started it and I see with delight where he has taken it). I lean forward to catch each teacher’s assessment but I am distracted by more than my deafness in such places. My attention is seized by Harry’s shoulders, their breadth, their sculpted shape. I see his head, his hands and wrists and cannot shift my gaze. The youngest of my six children has adult form and he is so strong, so handsome. Occaisonally he leans against me and I want to swoon. The evening is all about the exams ahead but I am conscious of the child no longer there to sit them and I know his mother feels this too. All three of us eat at a cheap Chinese to seal the evening’s good cheer. Harry’s A level choices emerge without worry and follow the flow of his siblings. His parents make eye contact. We smile and shrug, it’s Life Scientists 3: Historians 0. How did that happen…?

    At his home I hug Harry in the doorway and turn the car toward Brighton. I am no longer skewered by bad feelings at these goodbyes and haven’t been for a long while. It suddenly seems natural on this night to write a report card on Harry’s Dad. Tonight I acted on intuition and things went well. I am on the road yet again: I drove up for this meeting four hours earlier and I am back in the car but I don’t feel any preposterous self-pity. With the turn of the new year I have slammed down on my outgoings and see I could have done this six, nine months ago but I am not lacerating myself: I am where I am. In January I worked diligently and methodically but I have not triggered any billings and so a tight financial situation has gotten a whole lot tighter. I am doing everything I can think of but maybe another person could think of something else or something better: I am open to ideas. I have never been less financially secure but it does not obscure that I have a life full of other people and I am living it. I can intervene in my thinking, in my anxiety, in my fear (give me a fucking A* for that one). I am in the Land of the Promises and while everything is the same it looks entirely different.

    In particular, in this land, I can be sure of illness. January introduced me to bronchial, then gastric infections. As I rose from the bowl and caught myself in the bathroom mirror I reflexively thought sad old git but my firewall is holding: rotten feelings have not wormed their way through to metaphysical despair. Today I have recovered most of my zest and much of my looks but I know aging is an inside-job, done in the dark. It’s a non-linear process and deep down I have felt the surge as some thing has sunk deeper into my bones. January has not been kind to Julie either: bedded first by sciatica, then the gastric bug, and now her mastalgia has returned to hurt her. Julie has started a course of acupuncture – surprisingly at my suggestion – and next week we see her new gynaecologist, Brighton based at a new fertility clinic. Our friends often remark on our individual powers of perseverance and this year they are becoming focused upon conception.

    The miles pass, it’s nearly midnight, I crest the last down and my adopted city lies bright against the black sea. I indulge myself: how will it be to be wrong? To find myself once again inside a school hall (perhaps one below me now) as a child of mine, shrugging off childhood, undertakes her first public examinations. If I am there to witness it I will be nudging seventy. The meeting will be in the evening so I will be tired. On entering the hall I will flush with the embarrassment of my decrepitude, brought into the glare of the overhead flouresence. I will doubtless strain to hear the teachers (every one of them so much younger than me). But I if I can only pull focus there is every chance I will be amazed because over her head and shoulders and all around us there will be varieties of wonder in the air.