How’s Ted doing? And how are you?

Well, it’s a beautifully sunny Sunday morning in October (anyone else old enough to remember ‘seasons’, ah those were the days, eh?!) and I’ve been prompted to post here once more.  People have been kind enough to ask how Ted and I are getting on, now that he’s away at school, and so I thought I’d tell you.

The two-hour drive to the school was fine, business as usual, we had the normal argument about what music we listened to.  (I’m not a massive Iron Maiden fan and he’s not keen on The Carpenters, for some reason.  We compromised with the Kaiser Chiefs.)  It was no different than any other car journey, except for one small moment when his great big hand clasped mine.

“You OK?” I asked.  He nodded, with a crinkly smile, and took his hand away to turn the music up.  I cried at the windscreen for the rest of the trip, and he predicted a riot over and over and over again.

He’s living in a house with eight similar 13 yr-old boys and a wonderfully tolerant and smiling houseparent, who is known as ‘Miss’.  There are three beds in his dorm, which has an ensuite bathroom.  There’s a massive TV downstairs, a computer, lots of squashy sofas, a kitchen for toast and snacks and they have a house meeting every Sunday night.  I think it’s probably nicer than being at home.

After a meeting with the senior staff and headmaster, I tried to hang round for a bit but Ted made it quite clear he wanted to get on with his new life now.  So I took a deep breath, and asked for a hug goodbye.  He refused.  He ran upstairs to his new bedroom instead.

Even though I know what he’s like, and that he didn’t mean to be mean, I was upset because it wasn’t the goodbye I had planned for us.  There were no speeches on a ‘thank you for all you’ve done for me’ theme, no whispers of being strong for each other, no dry ice.  Typical Ted.  Unpredictable right to the end.  I was hurt, but I shouldn’t have been.  That’s the thing with these children, nothing is as it’s supposed to be.  I nearly managed to laugh about it on the way home.

To an empty house.  I didn’t feel I could go in.  I sat in the car for a bit.  Eventually I dashed in, grabbed the dog, and walked him round and round the block until I felt ready.  Nobody there.  I can’t remember what I did, but the next morning I didn’t have to wake Ted up for school, I didn’t have to wake up at all if I didn’t want to.  I didn’t have anything to do.  I didn’t have to do anything.

My lovely daughter (@Molly_McQueen) is now 24.  So for 24 years, I’ve been a mum, first and foremost.  I am no Mother Theresa, I can assure you, my kids will vouch for that.  I swear too much, I am always late, I am not very good in a kitchen scenario.  (I once made Molly a pizza that still had the polystyrene bottom on it.  Luckily she noticed after a couple of bites.  She got me back by phoning a kids TV show and winning a competition called ‘My Mum’s A Rubbish Cook.’  They sent us a Chinese takeaway.)

But I’ve always taken being a parent very seriously, as any decent human being would.  It’s only now that I realise how much I’ve shaped my life around theirs.  Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t sacrificed everything for them; I’m far too selfish, and I abhor spoiltbratism with a passion.  And I’ve certainly not made either of them my partner – just reading the phrase ‘emotional incest’ put a stop to that.  But I think I found a way for us all to rub along together, and now I don’t have to any more.  And that feels most peculiar.

I kept in touch with Ted for the first week.  Or rather I tried to.  He wouldn’t respond to any texts, or answer his phone.  I had to phone Miss to find out if he was OK.  Was he showering every day?  Did he have enough tuck?  Would you mind cleaning his glasses for him while he’s asleep?

Back home, I couldn’t get used to the empty house thing, and so I became very Busy.  Having only ever walked to the car, I signed up to run 10K for Amaze in November, which means lots of training and complaining three times a week.  Mealtimes didn’t happen, I ate odd things at odd times.  I drank more coffee with more friends than I knew I knew, I made lots of lists about lots of things that had to be done immediately, I walked the dog so much that he hides now when I fetch his lead.  I tweeted so much that I tried to unfollow myself as I was clogging up my own timeline.

After about ten days of this empty nest mania, Ted began to communicate.  He texted ‘cm’ which means ‘call me’ in teenage monosyllabia, and to cut an already long story short, he came home for one Saturday night.  (Only to pick up his Games Workshop stuff, it turns out, but still.)

As soon as I saw him, I could tell he had already changed.  He was brighter, he held his head high, he actually smiled at me.  In the face.  As soon as we were away from the school, he gave me a hug.  A big one.  He told me he’d missed me, but he’d missed the pug more.  I was happy with that.

On the way home, he told me he’d learnt how to cook and that he’d like to make meatballs and mashed potato for supper.  “It’s much easier than you think, Mum.”  He’d been teased by one boy, and the school had sorted it out immediately.  There weren’t any hot girls in his year.  He was in the top stream for everything except Maths.  He’d lost all his pocket money the first weekend, shopping in Southampton.  He liked all the teachers, every single one.  He’d only had two showers.  For some reason, his glasses are getting much dirtier than usual.  He needs a laptop to play Minecraft on.  He feels really happy, all the time.  He really loves me but no offence, the food’s much better here than it is at home.

As anyone who has any experience of Aspergers will tell you, this was quite a speech.  I’d never heard anything like it.  Over the weekend, it became apparent that Ted’s needs are finally being properly met and that the fine young man I always knew he could be is being made now.  When I took him back, another boy ran out of the house to greet him excitedly, he was pleased to see Ted and Ted’s never had that before.  He’s never had a friend, or a sleepover, or any form of true companionship.  That boy came to stay for two nights last weekend, and the sound of them laughing at some nerdy geekfest on the computer was just heavenly.  I thought my heart was going to burst with gratitude.

And knowing this has given me permission to get up and get on with it.  I know it’ll never be the same again with me and Ted, my work with him is done, but it’s time for us both to move on with our own lives.  I’m finally enjoying the freedom that I used to yearn for, and so is he.  I’m doing slightly less staring into space and rather more stepping out into the world.  Stand back Martine, this is MY moment!

When I drove Ted back last Sunday, I asked him to mark the school out of 10.  “That’s easy”, he replied, “20.”

No wonder he’s not in the top set for Maths.