“I’m a big boy now” he says. He will be four next month. I look at his earnest face and see how important this is to him.
“Of course you can. I’ll just walk behind you in case you need anything.”
We set off up the hill, a few paces apart. I wonder if he will look back, but his head doesn’t turn. He is but a pair of legs beneath a duffle coat and enormous backpack. As we approach the first crossing I clench my fists to try and release the tension which would see me sprinting forward to hold his hand. I creep forward by a few paces just in case, as though playing Grandmother’s footsteps. He waits patiently by the white stripes until a car stops for him, then checks both ways and trots across to the other side, waving his thanks as I have taught him to always do. He still doesn’t look back.
I’m gripped with sadness that this has come so soon – that before too long this journey will become a daily walk to school, completed solo or with friends. No need for my guiding hand or my chatter about the day ahead. It seems seconds since I took this path pushing him in a pram – since I panted my way up the hill with a bump weighing me down. It will be mere minutes before he walks this way with children of his own. How can time go so quickly?
Another crossing and we are nearly at the nursery. I can hear the early arrivals playing as they wait for the doors to open. I catch up with my grown up son and help him open the gate he is too small to reach.
“How was that?”
He thinks for a while and I crouch down to see him at his level. His green eyes are flecked with brown, like mine, and they carry wisdom beyond his years.
“It was okay. A bit lonely. You can walk with me tomorrow, if you like.”
He slips his hand into mine and we walk into nursery. I have him for a while longer, then.