Annabel graduated from Oxford University with a degree in English Literature and an ambition to be a children’s author. She had a variety of jobs before deciding to travel the world and focus on writing. Annabel now lives in Yorkshire with her husband and two young sons.
My sons absolutely love me. I don’t think it’s boastful to admit that. Most four and two-year-old boys love their mummies. And mine… wow. I have never known love like it. My eldest tells me regularly that he wants to marry me. And my youngest lovingly runs his hand over the prickles of my unshaved knees, cooing ‘nice hedgehog.’ At this one, wondrous moment in time, I am their whole universe.
Recently, when I was ill, I went to bed in the middle of the day, and they couldn’t stand the change in routine. They both stood in my bedroom, asking when I was going to get up. ‘Why are you being sleepy when it isn’t even dark yet?’ my four-year-old wanted to know. It was as if the sun had gone to bed early. They were unsettled until I was back on my feet and all was as it should be in their little world.
It won’t last. God, I am painfully aware of that. The job of any parent is to slowly, day-by-day, make themselves less important so their little ones can survive without them. My role in their lives is to make myself obsolete. I have to convince them that I don’t matter, that they are capable of walking, eating, going to the toilet, going to school, getting a job, having an opinion… without me. It is going to be the greatest joy and tragedy of my life to watch that unfold.
They are going to realise that my stubbly knees are pretty gross, that my botched birthday cake is not ‘the most deliciousest cake in the world’, that I am not the ‘best mummy in the unicorn’ and that I have, in fact, made more mistakes than I care to remember. In short, I am going to fall off the pedestal I am currently enjoying, in the same way my parents had to fall off their pedestal, and their parents were equally toppled. My sons are slowly going to become aware I was once a child, and a teenager with very bad dyed blonde hair, and a student who got into trouble at university for not doing enough work in her first year. They’re going to know that I lied, got drunk, had ill-advised flings and hurt friends. All of a sudden, I’m going to become a three-dimensional person.
But they’re going to become three-dimensional too. When I was pregnant with both of them, I imagined who they might be, but the image was flat. I could see only the job they might do, or the things they might achieve at school, or the sports they might excel at. I could never have pictured these two, squishy, funny, exasperating, mischievous, wonderful little boys, who have already surprised me in countless ways. They are their own people and I don’t own their futures any more than they own my past.
This is where acceptance, tolerance and celebration of diversity begins – right here, in my home, as my boys start to become whoever they are meant to be. My job, I think, is to guide and protect them, but to know when to stand aside too and allow them to discover their destiny for themselves. However wonderful it is to be on this pedestal, I wouldn’t want my boys to grow up without knowing the real me. I wouldn’t want to stay just ‘Mum’ for the rest of my days. I want at some point, much later, to be a friend. And so my boys too must be allowed to be more than just my sons because that label comes with a myriad of subconscious expectation. Our roles will change as my sons grow up, but our relationship, I hope, will become more real and rewarding as a result.
It is something I was keen to explore in my latest book, The Last Days of Archie Maxwell. I wanted to turn the traditional ‘coming out’ tale on its head, so it is a nervous father who is coming out to a disappointed son. Archie isn’t homophobic – far from it – but he never imagined that his own dad might one day leave home to live with another man. The revelation rocks his world and makes him question everything he thought he knew about his father. It allowed me to examine what it is to be a child and a parent, and how we expect so much, and how essential it is to allow each other the space to grow.
Dads leave home all the time. It’s not that unusual, really. Leon’s dad walked out. So did Mo’s. But Archie’s? Well, that’s a different story – a story that Archie must keep secret at all cost. Archie knows he should accept Dad for who he is, so he hides his turmoil until he can stand it no longer. With nowhere else to turn, he finds himself at the railway track. The track has been calling to him, promising escape, release. The only problem is, it’s been calling to someone else too…