‘Time for me to let go’: A letter to my son on his last day of school
As thousands of students approach the end of secondary school, it is a bittersweet time for some parents
Una Clifford and her son Sean. Photograph: Sally O’Herlihy
Thu May 18 2023 - 12:22
And so it approaches. Fourteen years later we will join you on your last ever school day. Joyful I think for you, bittersweet for me. The sense of hope you will feel for the future, the escape of the rules and rigour of the school system and the comfort of friends made, to carry you to your next adventure. For me, the sense of pride in who you have become but of another ending, this one more final.
I remember still your first day at school. We walked up hand in hand, you clutching tightly, peering suspiciously at all the new faces, new teacher, girls, new boys, a new place. You were slow then to let me go. But I was even slower. I walked out, looking back, hoping to find you looking too. I cried all the way home. Surprised to feel such a sense of loss, resentment of someone else taking charge of you, dislike for new friends you might make, a sense of mistrust for other enthusiastic parents I may have to befriend. It was a big day for you and a big day for me in other ways.
The first eight years we were tight. I was your world, running to join me at the school gate after school, asking for help with homework, discussing friends, not having friends, me being your only friend, and then there was the girl at age 8 that you told me you loved. Then you told her you loved her. How I smiled, how I laughed but not with you. No, I told you that she was lucky. I surprised myself in those years, made friends with those enthusiastic parents who it turned out were just like me. Worried for their kids, concerned if they had no friends, struggled at school, praying for the end of the day, kids in bed, and perhaps a welcome glass of wine.
The dial was slowly turning. I was no longer your world; your friends were your world and that was good. That is how it should be.
And then those eight years were gone and change again. New uniform. Big boy books. An iPad for learning. All very grown up. That first day in secondary school there was no holding hands. There was a lot of grumbling about your mother even driving you in. There were high fives with familiar faces from friends already made and no glance back at me, staring onwards with a sense of relief that you had friends already, your uniform looked well, and you seemed happy. A very different kind of first day.
The first four years dominated by teenage angst, girlfriends, break ups and, yes, school and new subjects, homework. Arriving in at half four, telling stories of teachers, friends, a trip. I was listening, driving, making food, providing a stable ear. I was needed. I was there. And then the pandemic, no Junior Cert, stuck at home, difficult days. With age, came trips away camping with friends, drinking, vaping, me at home worried, texting “are you safe”. The dial was slowly turning. I was no longer your world; your friends were your world and that was good. That is how it should be.
And so now it concludes. This part of our journey together is ending. Your last day in school is here. We will join you to watch you celebrate with your friends and teachers, joyful, sad, lonely – another emotional day. You have been lucky thus far. Many of your peers not so much. Stymied by illness, familial death, marriage break up, mental health concerns and all that those worries, losses and concerns bring. You have escaped thus far. The game of life is like that. Embrace your luck for now. Time for me to let go. Time for me to rethink for me, join those friends I made and contemplate new chapters. The dial has finally shifted. I will be here, not trying to hold your hand. I will listen, laugh, encourage. But for now, grab it all, take what you can, live, laugh, have fun and, oh yes, there is the Leaving Cert. Do your best … It will all be okay and, remember, I will be here.