He comes out of school squinting beneath the rim of his battered sun hat, his cheeks touched by lunchtime sun. His white polo shirt looks like it’s been used to wipe the floor, a job it is destined for after today.
“I’ve got my report,” he says, holding up his book bag.
“Oh, no,” I say, stuffing the bag in my bike basket, “we’d better sit down.”
This summer will be imprinted boldly in his mind. The sun lights memories up, giving them a unique longevity and vividness. I remember the hot summers best: daisy chains, hosepipe bans, Neapolitan ice cream eaten in the garden on a scratchy brown and orange tartan rug. We haven’t had one as good as this for a while… Not since he was a baby and I pushed my pram around in circles, wondering what would happen next. Or the one before, much of which I spent sobbing in bed on account of the fact I was pregnant and therefore doomed.
We walk to the park he toddled through with some friends of mine when he was just learning to walk. There’s another sunny memory: him cherubic in a blue striped romper suit and a pair of grown-up’s sunglasses, kissing everybody, making us laugh.
My bike won’t fit through the gate into the picnic area, so we sit down in the long grass and I open the brown envelope. He moved schools earlier this year, so I don’t expect it to be perfect, but I know he’s been trying his best. When I flip open the bright white A4, I can’t believe what I see. Those neat rows of black blocks fill me with a pride that freezes me, so I have to look and look again.
I ring Mum and I read the teacher’s comments out while I’ve got one arm wrapped tightly around him and I’m crying and I hope no one comes. Tom and I carry on sitting in the grass going through the levels and the comments for every section, both of us plucking at grass seeds and sprinkling them over the paper and letting them fall. Something comes and bites me and leaves a stinging red mark on the back of my arm, but it doesn’t matter. Tom asks if he can climb the baby oak tree close to us and I tell him he can. He gets up to a high branch and pretends to surf on it while I read the report another two or three times.
“Watch yourself surfing on that branch, a broken arm would really ruin this moment.”
“What’s the best thing about this moment? The sunshine or my school report?”
“The school report, closely followed by the sun.”
“Look Mum I am surfing, surfing USA.”
“Yeah but get down will you?”
“Because I want to hug you and buy you a blummin’ celebratory ice cream.”
I don’t think he realises how good it is so I tell him how important today is, how proud I am am and how he must never forget it.
We’ve all seen the reports about children being raised without fathers. There was one out last month, timed beautifully a few days before Fathers’ Day, warning of a ‘tsunami’ of family breakdown. What those articles say, in a roundabout way, is that single mothers are doing a crap job and are partly responsible for the demise of Britain (never mind the ones who run away; they’re well out of the picture.)
So, in response to all those reports, here’s a different kind of report, straight from a “fractured family” / “man desert”. What those press releases need to say is that single mothers are actually trying their hardest. Even though we’re knackered and making it up as we go along and we might be going prematurely grey, most of us are doing a bloody good job. It’s been said before, obviously, but it needs to keep being said, because the other, misogynist stuff about single mums goes on. It’s why there’s a place for boasting, sometimes.
(After this we went home and I felt like I had run a marathon, fell deeply asleep while he was watching telly, then woke up and blearily ordered us a pizza, which we ate straight from the box in the back yard.)