It’s five days since I saw the Boywonder off at the airport and on his way to an new adventure in the Yarra Valley, just east of Melbourne. As I watched him go through security at Heathrow airport, I mused that the plane journey was probably the longest time he’d ever spent alone without talking to anyone else. The Boywonder does not do alone. Blessed with a quick wit, he relishes a performance. He was, to his own cost, class clown at school and it’s only recently that he’s become more reflective.
We’ve had a couple of cheery texts from him, and an altogether more downbeat exchange last night, where he admitted that he had been waking up at night stressing about all the things he had to organise. I feel very grateful that my friend Di, who lived here in Beckenham for a time, seems to have taken him under her wing.
We eventually managed to have a FaceTime session with the Boywonder this morning. The eleven hour time difference means that’s about the only time we are all awake. The Boywonder was sitting in his bare bones room, having moved today to his shared house lodgings. Poor thing is obviously struggling with jet lag and looks quite exhausted. He’s very disoriented too and fretting about exactly how he’s going to get to the vineyard tomorrow morning. He’s bought a bicycle since he’s too young to hire a car, but that means a 40 minute ride before a day of work in the sun. He’ll have to work this out for himself, I think.
It would appear that everyone around him in Australia is very friendly and they are all keeping an eye on him and giving him space. How can they know that he doesn’t really know how to cope with “space?” He’s used to his day being planned down to the last minute, to following (or not) the instructions of other people. It’s like he’s struggling to write his own code.
We asked him whether he’d eaten this evening and he said he’d had a Cup-a-Soup. The temperature in Melbourne is about 36 degrees. He’s bought a large box of cornflakes and some bread and salami for his sandwiches tomorrow but no butter or milk. Poor thing spent an hour wandering around the supermarket disorientated and not knowing what to buy to feed himself. Of course, he’s used to his mum making those decisions for him. If I want him to shop for me, I give him a list but he hasn’t yet learned to make his own.
I’ve never been over-protective of my children. I’ve encouraged them to work out bus and train routes, to walk home from school alone. I know plenty of other parents who wouldn’t dream of doing this, preferring to ferry their precious cargo everywhere. My contention has always been that you can’t possibly wrap a child in cotton wool until they’re 16 or 18 and then push them out into the world and expect them suddenly to cope alone. Parents who do this do it for their own reasons, I think, and it really doesn’t help the child. And yet this is what I appear to have done.
He’s worn the same shorts for three days. At home the Boywonder is a laundry generator. He likes to be clean and well-turned out at all times. This morning we suggested that he will have to buy himself some laundry detergent in order to use the washing machine in the house and this seemed like a novel concept. He seems frightened of spending money because, as he himself admits, he’s not good with it and now he has to learn to budget. To use a tired cliché, his learning curve is steep. To mix metaphors: he is very much in at the deep end. His absence means a huge reduction in my laundry burden. I had so little ironing to do today that I actually found myself ironing the OH’s shirts today for the first time in about 20 years.
It’s excruciating for me to watch, of course. We parents try to give our children as easy a life as possible, don’t we? We want them to grow up in comfort, without facing hardship, because we love them. I’m aware this might sound smug to some. I really don’t mean it that way. We try to make our children aware of how privileged they are but how would they know anything different from their life of comfort?
In truth, the Boywonder has never in his life had to face anything as difficult as what he’s having to accustom himself to now. The whole point of him travelling so far away from home comforts and people who love him is to discover his own inner strength and resilience; to realise what it is possible to endure and to learn to be resourceful. Of course, he is no Robinson Crusoe: he won’t have to fish for his own food and build his own shelter but he will have to plan his own life as an independent, unsupervised person and this will be difficult for him at first. I was pleased to hear that he had gone for a walk this afternoon and found the supermarket and the bus stop. We’ve encouraged him to buy tuna and salad and fruit and fruit juice. At least it’s Australia and not somewhere where daily life for locals is a real struggle.
I am sure that he will feel more positive once he has shaken off the jet lag and the lack of sleep, once he’s got himself through his first day in the vineyard and has more of an idea of his daily routine. One day he’ll look back at this and laugh. I hope he’ll be glad of these character-building experiences that seemed so painful at the time. Until that happens, though, thank goodness for Skype.