A story of grief by a man and a boy
Jackson’s first school year flew by despite it being so hard at the start. Waving him off on his first day felt like another small bereavement – or at the very least evocative of moments of our major loss. Whichever comparison I draw, I was certainly left feeling bereft for some time afterwards.
Fast-forward to ten months later and I feel completely differently about it. We’ve found our rhythm and I now have a confident child who can just about read and write, and who has gone from loving playing quietly with trains in the corner to wanting to fight constantly with his newfound superhero powers. He’s brilliant company: funny, inquisitive, honest and incredibly open. It makes me proud to see how far he has come.
Raising kids is never a complete task, though. One minute you might think you’ve made it and the next there’s a whole new challenge. Last week that challenge was his school sports day. He’s only five, so how competitive could it possibly be? I wondered. Well it transpires that while the day itself might not be, my son is. This took me by surprise because I have never been that bothered about winning or losing – but according to his maternal grandmother, Jackson’s mother was.
The tears and tantrums started almost immediately. Two boys in his class beat him in the first race, and as a result his sports day had dramatically ended before it had even barely begun.
The over-analysis kicked in straightaway: It’s because there are so many mums here, I concluded. He’s not upset about the race at all, it’s just his excuse to cry about how he really feels. He can’t enjoy himself like the other kids because of what he’s been through. Look at how my torture never stops, I thought as I acknowledged everything going through my head, so why would his?
Once he had calmed down we talked briefly.
‘Jackson,’ I began, ‘you can’t win a race if you focus all your attention on looking around to see where everyone else is in it. You need to keep your eye on the finishline and your energy in your legs. If you win, then great, if you don’t then you’ll get another go anyway. This is just the start.’
He came first in his final race and he was overjoyed. I was happy for him too, but I was also distracted by what had been going through my head when he was upset.
Before we got to the park, I had gone to his school to help walk Jackson and his classmates there from the playground. They were all paired up hand-in-hand with their little pals. I could see adoration in the eyes of the little girl he was buddied-up with.
‘Jackson’s in the blue team,’ she told me pointing at the colour of his shirt, which she clearly admired, ‘his top is very smart.’
‘Oh, yes,’ he pretended to agree, ‘I’m a real smarty-pants.’
She howled laughing as he sang a song about being a smarty-pants repeatedly.
He’s funny, I thought – kind and confident too. His classmates seems to really like him. It was the first time I’d really seen a window into his own little world – one that I miss out of every day while we’re apart.
Within just a few minutes, however, I’d already abandoned these positive thoughts for insecurity. As a result I felt a little sad with myself when he won that race. We might all want to be superheroes sometimes, I now realise, but we’re only ever human – and with our species comes a full spectrum of feelings and emotions.
That, I believe, is what makes life so hard at times and also such a joy at others. And it’s what makes parenting so challenging and so fulfilling, too – you just never know when you’re going to win or when you’re going to lose. But both winning and losing play important roles in making us who we are in life. And that’s the lesson that I really want to teach my son.