The walk to and from school has taken many forms over the past six years - from blissfully skipping hand-in-hand under trees dappled by sunlight, to nightmarish epics where we're being lashed by rain and splashed by passing cars as one of the children screams that they are "NOT. WALKING. ANY. MORE!"
I have taken anything from one child to five children on this walk; in the latter case I am a pied-piper marching down the path with a little crew trotting behind (but not in a weird child-catcher kind of way, more in a "I offered to help way more people than I realised and am now carrying five book bags" kind of way).
The journey has gradually got easier as their legs have got longer but something else has happened in the past few weeks; we leave the house together but other than that I pretty much walk on my own. The boy wonder runs or scoots ahead with his friend, and my daughter and her friend meander somewhere behind me deep in conversation. Where I used to hold a little hand, all that's needed for me to hold now is an umbrella that my daughter refuses to use (proving that she is nearly ready for senior school - those kids never wear a coat, let alone use a brolly!), or a lunch box that is getting in the way of my son's aerodynamics. I exchange rueful smiles with the other parents who appear to be walking a rucksack to school. We have, as one mum put it, become donkeys - transporting our children's heavy loads.
Events like this are occurring ever more frequently and whilst there are elements of being needed that I was very happy to drop (I never once enjoyed trying to catch a cascade of baby vomit or when nappy changing required everyone to have a full change of clothes thanks to errant weeing and explosive pooing) there are times when I don't feel quite ready to be surplus to requirements - none more so than when that hugs and kiss before they go into school was first replaced by a wave goodbye.
But my need is not theirs. Their growing confidence and independence mean that they don't want a constant waterfall of overt affection to be showered upon them - it is very uncool when you're with your friends to have your mum trying to plant a sloppy kiss on your forehead. What they need now is to know that the hugs are ready to be switched on at any given moment - as I found when one of the children felt unwell and snuggled in for a good half an hour. I caught their cold as a result but it was worth it.
So I stand back and try to calm the ever-alert hawk that twitches in my brain, desperate to swoop down and protect my young. I keep to the very edge of the playground (which now has yellow lines designed to inform parents precisely where they are permitted to stand - perhaps this was actually the children's idea?) and speak to my own friends, glancing occasionally to make sure the children are ok - which of course they are as they don't have their mum cramping their style. I watch them go in, wave goodbye, and walk back home.
And then I find this on the table:
I'm reminded that just because it's not shown on the playground, it doesn't mean it's not felt - I got a hug after all.
Soundtrack - Wave Goodbye - Steadman