Time to let go
For the best part of 5 years when I was in my 20s, I was in a relationship with a much older man who had a young son, barely 2 years old. The split between his parents had been amicable with the mother still being very much on the scene for co-parenting. I wasn’t married to the father, but we did cohabit. We were partners. It was during this time together that I fell in love more deeply than I had ever fallen in love, I fell in love with their little boy Felix.
Being the ‘girlfriend/partner’ is a great position to hold. Once Felix understood the dynamics of the relationships, and being a gifted child, it was easy for him to grasp roles and responsibilities by the time he was three. He interacted with each of the adults in his life appropriately. I wasn’t mum or even an alternative mum, but I was still special. I was Jane.
I never pretended to be his mother but when I was mistaken for it, I loved it. I was proud to take this highly verbose, slightly precocious child out with me, exploring life, every visit, every trip to the supermarket, a visit at my parents or a walk in the woods. Every moment was a time for exploration and excitement. He was a little boy who loved to discover anything from a new word to the inhabitants of a creek. Open and trusting, beautiful and kind, this little boy stole my heart.
On early mornings, when he was three and a half, he would wake me, his father sleeping deeply beside me and together, in our pyjamas and wellington boots, we would creep out of the house, take my bull terrier-cross and explore Thetford Forest which bordered the end of the garden. With me he learned to climb trees, recognise and avoid poison ivy, how not to be afraid of the bugs and critters of an English countryside and he grew in confidence and our bond grew deeper. His parents wouldn’t let him roam the forest or climb trees as they were overprotective of their only child. To me, he was blotting paper, ready to soak up the majesty of life. They were townies, (London and Paris). Living in the Norfolk countryside, I was very much the country girl. I could pluck and cook my own pheasant, I could skin a rabbit and make delicious stew. I wanted Felix to develop a love of the land and trees around us that scared his parents so deeply.
At night I would prepare his bottle, (he had a bottle of juice at bedtime quite late into his childhood) read him stories and put him to bed. I comforted him when he missed his mother and kept the harmony between the adults so that his mum could join us at the house when he needed her. But this list of ‘things’ and activities are just that. They are not descriptive of my devotion and unselfish, all-consuming love. It goes without saying, I would have died to keep him safe. Of course, I could never stay angry with him when he was naughty, instead, loving his passion. I was a teacher, becoming an expert in classroom management (student behaviour) and I quickly realised that discipline was to be gentle and instructive. The lessons I learned from him played a crucial part in my own choices as a teacher all through my teaching career.
Felix’s parents and I never used baby talk and as a result, Felix acquired an unusually large vocabulary for his age and although he didn’t quite understand all the words in context, he had the ability to vocalise his needs and thoughts quite accurately. By the age of five, we could discuss basic logic premises as a game and he could get to the bottom of any decision anyone made with regard to him and his well-being. This didn’t stop him from being a child falling into deep ponds and getting covered in mud with the dog on rainy days.
Once I had left his father, finally agreeing with the ex-wife on the father’s lack of ability to maintain a relationship, I could not see Felix, even at his mother’s house. Felix no longer went to stay with his father and the only time he got to roam our forest was when his mother would take him to visit the cottage in the summer for a break from London’s claustrophobic lifestyle. I would work a long day in South London, take the Northern line on the Tube and walk through the streets, even in the bitter cold, to see Felix. I just couldn’t break up with this little boy, who, by the time my relationship with David was over, attended school. He would melt my heart each day in his tiny grey blazer. long socks and woolen school cap.
We would play and chat until about a year after I had broken up with his father. Felix was 6 and well established at Prep School. Melody, his mum, sat me down and said – “I think it’s time.” I hadn’t the faintest idea what she was saying. “David has a new girlfriend and it’s getting a bit confusing for Felix where you fit, into the family.”
My heart broke. Instantly, I remember stumbling out of the kitchen, trying not to show my tears, but tripped over a chair and felt a deep pain in my heart and watched my love drain, overflow from my head onto the floor in the largest teardrops you can imagine.
Melody sat wisely in her chair at the head of the table. “It’s time to let go,” she said, kindly and softly.
“Can I go and see him sleeping? I asked through my tears.
“No”, she said. “I don’t want him to see you crying if he wakes up.”
The world had ceased to be calm. A high pitched squeal in my ears pierced my consciousness whilst my subconscious woke up to lick my wounds. I left the house that night and never returned. For a couple of years, Melody would send me Felix’s school photos but that stopped too. I grieved like I have never grieved. I self-medicated not because of the loss of my relationship with David but on losing the child I had learned to love absolutely and without ego or agenda.
I lost touch with them and in time I moved abroad, partly because I couldn’t function without Felix in my life. For all the fun I was having as an adult, there was a searing gap which couldn’t be filled, a sorrow which couldn’t be soothed.
Melody is a novelist/journalist and years later, I was reading a prominent newspaper online when I saw a links to an article by her. Curiosity bit and I clicked on the article. I read an eloquent but horrifying article about a mother losing her son. Felix, at the age of 18, who, one night, had told her he loved her as he bid her goodnight and then gone into his bedroom next door to hers and committed suicide.
A high pitched squeal once again filled my head and shock sat inside my muscles, preventing me from taking a breath. As I gasped for air, the darkness of grief filled my jawbone and my head started to spin. The love I had never lost fell in my tears down my face. I lost him all over again.
What had happened in the intervening years, in my absence? Had David failed so absolutely as a parent that Felix had never recovered from the split? Had David had a new family? Had Melody been overwhelmed being a single parent? Had he not managed at school? Was he too bright for his years? Why had he lost hope? I wondered if my disappearance had been part of a list of factors which had ultimately contributed to such tragedy.
At this age of 51, I am childless but I consider those few years with Felix to be one of the main blessings in my life. To be able to share the life and love of such a pure human being, filled my heart and mind as if he had been mine. On speaking of this to others, I have discovered there are some women who insist that the special love of parent to child can only be felt by those who have physically given birth. This highly toxic opinion deserves to be put into the garbage. What of foster mothers, mothers of adopted children and step-parents? What of the love of fathers, is that any less? I held none of those positions and yet, every bone in my body screamed out unwavering love, protection and that thing you just can’t put your finger on — that instinctive bond between child and adult where love is clean and unspoiled. If ever I had a maternal instinct, that indescribable attachment, that special love, I felt it for Felix.