THERE were two of them walking up my street the other day, a little aimlessly, talking away while overhead about a dozen screeching lorrikeets gorged on the flowers of a tree that had just started blooming.
The two children, both boys of late primary school age, didn’t even notice the birds.
It was the first day back at school. On the weekend the boys were playing ball games with other children in our quiet street, despite the heat, a pursuit that was only made bearable by regular runs to the pool in the backyard of my neighbours’ house directly across the road.
For weeks over the holidays the kids in my area – ranging in age from toddlers to late teens – have been out and about in the vivid colours of summer gear, rushing to the beach, riding their bikes, throwing and kicking balls and playing hide and seek in games that have included everyone’s front yards, so that finding kids randomly crouching behind your garbage bins or car was not uncommon.
All a memory now. The kids were back in the bottle greens, gun-metal greys and royal blues of uniforms this week, backpacks hoisted on shoulders, resuming the routine of making their various ways to school.
There is a primary school around the corner and down the road a few hundred metres from my house where the hundreds of students include my niece and nephew. It only occurred to me this week that I can roughly pick what time of day it is from the sounds that float across to where I work from home.
Morning tea and lunch are easy to make out. Bird song is replaced by the excited, indistinct chatter of hundreds of children. The end of the school day is also distinguished by the sounds of children’s talk as they wander up my street and the next street down.
There were speeches on Wednesday as well for the first day back. I couldn’t hear what was said as the muffled sound floated across the rooftops but it sounded as cheery and upbeat as you would expect for the occasion.
The two boys walking along my street go to the primary school, hence the slightly aimless nature of their walk. They had plenty of time. Older kids who catch a bus to one of the high schools a few kilometres away are more likely to be seen running wildly, late, and occasionally trudging back home again a few minutes later, to cadge a lift from mum or dad.
My sons invoke the day quite a few years ago when I made them walk to their high school, “At least two kilometres away”, after they missed the bus.
It tends to come up when the conversation turns to strange, unreasonable or outrageous behaviour their mother has been responsible for, or has inflicted upon them, over the decades.
The “And what about the day she made us walk to school?” incident is provided as evidence of the deep scars they still carry from their childhood.
And when you read “At least two kilometres away” I want you to imagine it said with a pained, slightly incredulous, martyred tone, giving the impression that even while they’re saying it they still can’t believe their mother actually made them walk that extraordinary distance on their strong, hairy, adolescent legs. Once.
I tend to view it as one of those necessary lessons in resilience – for me and them – given by a mother after days of warning that if they kept stuffing around in the morning staying later and later in bed, and missing the bus after a mad scramble down the lane, they would be walking to school because there was plenty of time and I “WOULD NOT BE DRIVING THEM”.
And when you read “WOULD NOT BE DRIVING THEM” please imagine that delivered, forcefully, by a woman fully aware her teenage sons were pushing the envelope, and the day when the three of them would trudge back up the lane was almost inevitable.
And so it came to pass.
They trudged back one day after sleeping in, not responding to a couple of “It’s after 7.30 and you’re going to miss the bus”, followed by, “If you miss the bus you’re going to have to walk to school because I won’t be driving you”, and a mad scramble to throw down breakfast, grab lunches and run down the lane.
Two sons took one look at me eating my breakfast and reading the newspaper, after they watched the bus disappear over the hill and walked back home, and realised there was no point saying anything. I munched my muesli.
They knew that any appeal would result in a boring “There are consequences to your actions and I would be a crap parent if I warned of consequences and didn’t follow through blah, blah, blah” speech, so they trudged off. Even a five kilometre walk would have been preferable to one of those speeches.
They knew that any appeal would result in a boring “There are consequences to your actions and I would be a crap parent if I warned of consequences and didn’t follow through blah, blah, blah” speech, so they trudged off.
My middle son was a little less … how can I put this? … accepting of the idea there was a connection between him missing the bus despite warnings, wearing the consequences of that, and my failure to provide a back-up plan.
I can’t remember exactly what he said – yelled, really, if memory serves – but it was clear the chances of him nominating me as mother of the year were gone, done, over, not going to happen. O fickle fate.
I kept munching my muesli but noted he had plenty of time to walk to school across the golf course and through a nice, shady suburban area – hardly an onerous trek – and still make it to his first lesson.
He slammed off with a parting spray about what a completely unfair and unreasonable parent I was and how everybody else’s parents would have just driven them to school, blah, blah, blah, etc, etc.
But they didn’t miss the bus again.