herald

Tuesday 21 August 2018

So proud to ruin our son's first day

WE'RE driving across the city to surprise the second eldest on his first day of college. It's a long drive - the entire life cycle of a caffeine high, as it turns out.

The landscape peels away past the window, gradually revealing the city as we go from humming enthusiastically to the radio and hammering the dashboard in time to the music, to hunching listlessly and squinting at the windscreen as a DJ duo squawk hysterically at each other over absolutely nothing.

"Long old way," I yawn irritably, reaching from steering wheel to radio and stabbing the DJs to death with one finger.

"Hm, not that far," says my wife, who now has her shoes and socks off, bare feet propped up.

"Hm," I say doubtfully, wriggling to free a seam in my trousers. "Does he really have to do this every day?"

"Well, obviously he doesn't drive," says my wife, tilting the passenger seat back.

"Well, obviously," I say.

She calls him on her mobile. "Hello?" she says. "What are you up to?" She pauses. "What do you mean 'why'? Because I'm your mother and I want to know!" She pauses again. "Hello?" She plucks the phone away from her ear and blinks at it. "I think I've lost the signal," she says.

We arrive to the general vicinity of the college, then trundle around the perimeter looking for an entrance, eventually finding ourselves where thousands of young adults mill around clutching books.

"They all look quite happy," I observe.

"Which one is ours?" says my wife.

We find a place to park, squeezing our great hulking family car into a space between tiny students cars.

"How are we ever going to find our way back?" says my wife. "Um," I say, glancing above her head at the huge water tower that's visible for miles but not wanting to say anything. She follows my eyes. "Shut up," she says.

We plunge into the torrent of students. "Keep an eye out for him," says my wife. "What was he wearing today?" We're surrounded by jeans and hoodies.

"Jeans and a hoodie?" I try.

Incredibly, I spot him, propped up against a wall in the sunshine and looking splendid. Suddenly excited, we run at him but he spots us and takes off walking, head down, in the other direction.

We eventually catch up.

"It's us!" shrieks his mum. He scans the crowds behind us as if to see if anyone's looking. "Why are you even here?" he laments.

"We're taking you to lunch!" glows his mother.

"I've eaten," he says, still scanning the crowds, shoving his hands deeper into his pockets.

"Then you can show us around," she beams.

"I have a lecture I need to get to," he says.

"He has a lecture!" I grin, thumping him on the back. "How cool is that?"

He sighs. "God."

"Not until three," says his mother. "Not for an hour."

"Forty minutes, actually," he says, looking down at his watch.

"Perfect!" says his mother.

"Can I just give you a map and you can show yourselves around," he says, unfolding a piece of printed paper.

"There's a map?" I marvel. "Wow." He looks at me and sighs again.

"Then we'd miss out on the personal touch," smiles his mother.

lecture

We take turns prodding him as we shuffle between the vast university buildings, eventually ending up outside his lecture hall.

I peer in the little porthole in the door to see an amphitheatre of empty benches descending down to the lectern with a vast blackboard behind that's straight out of the Coen brothers movie A Serious Man.

"Group selfi e?" I say, turning around and producing my iPhone.

"God, please," he begs, clutching his face.

We settle for a snapshot of him sitting on the floor by the door, shielding his head with a book, on the strict condition that we never, ever return.

"Just once every few weeks then," concedes his mother. "We'll all do lunch again."

"I already ate," he mutters again.

We make our way back through the crowd, stealing one last look behind to where he's hunched over his book before the image is lost among the thousands once again.

"I think that went well," says my wife.

"Yes, I think he was happy to see us," I agree, adding: "Inwardly, at least."

"Such a long way to travel each day though," says my wife and we conspire to at least make sure he has a lift to the train station in the morning. "Make sure we wake him in time," she says. But the next day, when we get up and go downstairs, he's already gone.

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