WRITTEN BY FRAN TRACEY
Hazel realised she had to just go with the flow
“I’ve added a few things to your uni list, Ben,” Hazel said. “Shall we go over it together?”
Lists were a distraction for Hazel, preventing her becoming too outwardly emotional.
Hazel’s son was hunting zombies on his gaming computer, which was his default setting now exams were behind him. Fair enough, he’d worked hard, and his results had secured him a place at a university a three hour drive away. There was stuff to sort out before he went, though.
Hazel gulped, trying not to think about the distance. She remembered what a rock Ben had been when his dad had been in hospital earlier in the year, despite his exams looming. Luckily his dad had recovered well. Ben was the family clown, always joking and teasing, especially his younger sister Tara, in a fond way. They were close, all of them.
Hazel gulped again. Her son was growing up, changing… leaving.
The date was nudging closer. There were the long holidays to look forward to, but he might want to travel then, or get a job close to uni. She tried to keep her feelings hidden – all this was inevitable – making lists instead. Pete knew; he’d hugged her more since the exam results came out.
“I’ll miss my weekend cycle rides with Ben,” he’d whispered. “Lots.”
“Yeah! Got one!” Ben cried, making Hazel jump. “What did you say, Mum?”
Ben was getting older, but was he growing up in terms of taking responsibility for his future? She wasn’t convinced.
“Could you have a look at the list I’ve made for you,” she repeated. Hazel shook her piece of paper as evidence.
“You’ve written it down, Mum? With a pen?” His voice sounded incredulous.
“Yes,” she replied, engaging in the kind of eye roll the kids gave her if she asked them to tidy their rooms.
“I’ve got ten minutes. Said I’d be on with Mahin in a mo.”
Ten minutes, Hazel thought. It would have to do.
Ben sat next to her, looking like he was trying to show he was interested. Hazel persevered. She wanted to give him the best start at uni, although they weren’t buying everything new. His gran had donated towels, and they’d pulled together lots of bits and pieces from around the house.
Hazel had even printed off a list of stuff students needed to cross check against her own list.
“Would you like to take the sandwich maker with you?”
Ben loved a toastie.
“Not sure we’re allowed them in halls, Mum.” Ben’s knees were jiggling, a sure sign he was anxious to be off.
Well you could find out, she thought, feeling exasperated at his lack of interest, wanting him to take some ownership.
“Can I go now, Mum?”
“If you like,” she said, turning the list over and, laying the pen on top of it, breathing deeply for a few minutes.
They hadn’t made much progress. What she needed was a strong mug of tea. She’d have to go on a mug hunt in the kids’ bedrooms.
As she reached the top of the stairs she heard voices. Ben and Tara were chatting in her room.
“Gonna miss you, little Stinker,” Ben told Tara.
“Guess I’ll miss you, too, Lowlife,” his sister replied. “Mum’ll make me do the washing up from now on.”
“I think Mum can’t wait for me to go.” Ben’s voice was quiet. “All she’s doing is organising my departure. I wish she’d chill. It’s not like I’ll never be home to pick stuff up, or that I can’t pop into a charity shop if I notice I’m missing something.”
Hazel tiptoed back downstairs. Never mind the mugs; she’d have a glass of water instead.
On the day they dropped Ben at uni Hazel was pleased she made it back to the car after saying their goodbyes before the tears began to roll.
She was going to miss Ben desperately, but this was his adventure. And he was right in saying not everything needed to be perfect from day one. It wasn’t her role to micro manage his life.
She was glad over the last couple of weeks she’d put some essentials aside, then torn up the list.
Instead they’d gone to the cinema, walked in the woods, and Ben and Pete had cycled together.
They’d banked lovely memories. And when it was time they’d let him go, knowing they’d always be there to welcome him home.
Hazel’s phone pinged just as they were pulling up on their drive. It was Ben, messaging on the newly created family WhatsApp group.
Thanks everyone, for all your help. Missing you all already. D’you reckon I can put a sandwich maker on my Christmas list? Turns out we are allowed.
Hazel smiled. Course you can, she replied. Proud of you Ben.
And she was.