Not for another ten years – he’s only eight – but today it began, the leaving.
On Saturdays I wake up early (nine, but it feels early because everyone except Small is still in bed) and creep downstairs to make breakfast for Small and me: our Saturday Toast Together. During the week everyone breakfasts separately, shoveling cereal in between getting dressed and hunting down PE kits, but Saturday breakfasts are sacred, a weekly ritual my youngest son and I have shared for years. Even if his dad gets up before I do, Small defers his breakfast until I come down to share it with him. I make us a big pile of jammy, buttery toast, and we snuggle up on the sofa and watch Spongebob while we scoff it.
Except this morning we didn’t. I’d thought it would be something else that would go first – the cuddle in bed in the morning, perhaps, the hug at the school gates, the spontaneous kisses. I hadn’t expected it to be this innocuous rite. And I knew it would hurt – I’ve been through it once already, with Tall – but I had forgotten how brutal it feels, how lonely, this casual but so necessary sloughing.
‘Toast please, Mummy. But not Together, okay?’ He sees my face. ‘It doesn’t really matter, does it? It’s not important.’ There seems to be something in my throat. I can’t make a reply, and I bend my head to the toaster.
Unreasonably, I am angry, and I slam the plate of toast on to the table, leaving him on his own with Spongebob.
I spend all day feeling aggrieved and resentful, and do not respond when he tries to hug me.
Later, eating pizza all together on the sofa, he takes my arm and drapes it around his shoulders. ‘Oh, I love being home,’ he says. ‘I love telly. I love the sofa. I love my family.’ I kiss the top of his head, and his hair smells of cherries and autumn leaves.