The joy of a road trip with my teenage son

"Maybe we should let our boys be boys."
"Maybe we should let our boys be boys." Photo: Louise Kennerley

It’s been a long while since I’ve shared a bed with a man.

I’ve forgotten what it’s like to hear someone fall asleep next to you, syncing your breathing, the rise and fall of your bodies.

To be woken in the middle of the night by a snore, a deep rumble, content in the idea that there’s someone who cares about you right there, falling back to sleep without a worry.

My boy and I are on a road trip. We’re not sharing a bed, but a bedroom, his presence, his clothes, his smell, god bless his teenage self, permeates my day and night. And I’m loving it.

Falling asleep the first night was a joy.

He’d left his teddy downstairs. Can you go get him mum. This boy who swears too much (I have no idea where he gets that from!), who listens to too many songs about girls in nightclubs, who runs the football with aggression (I know where he gets that from), this boy who still sleeps with his teddy. Of course I’ll wander down in the dark and get him, and tuck you both in with a kiss on the forehead. Good night.

When he dozed off I watched him longer than was probably appropriate. Like I did when he was a baby. Watching his chest move under the blankets to assure me he was still alive. Like his sister, his long eyelashes threw me for months. Their eyes deep pools in the deep of night, so black I couldn’t tell if they were open or closed. And when I finally knew he was fast asleep I too dozed off thankful that my boy still likes to take road trips with his mother.

We had four hours in the car talking about all sorts of things. Friends, family, feelings, gossip, sport, world news. We fought over music, over where we should stop for a break, we laughed and sang Adele at the top of our lungs.

He opened up about all sorts of things he wouldn’t have if he had the chance to be distracted by something else. But with just the open road and his mother for company, he gave me his full attention and he had mine.

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And now we’re sharing a room, and I’ve vowed to stop nagging him to keep his side of the room tidier, to make his bed, to put the toilet seat down, to put deodorant on. For inbetween he’s playing with his little cousins, helping his uncle build a chicken pen, running on the beach, surfing in his board shorts in the middle of winter, making me cups of tea.

For inbetween he’s reminding me that the little baby I used to watch sleep is growing up to be a fine young man.

I read this week, or was it last, I’m on holidays remember, about Peter Alexander withdrawing some children’s pyjamas from sale because they were emblazoned with the slogan "Boys will be boys”, a slogan that’s been hijacked by the cause.

For here’s an idea, maybe boys will be boys. And maybe we should let our boys be boys. Not for one reason am I condoning any behaviour that’s not right. It’s not about making excuses. But let’s give them some space.

Let’s allow them to smell and leave their clothes on the floor and smile at girls in the surf and not wash the sand out of their hair. How about we let them find out who they are instead of telling them who they can and can’t be. How about we place a little faith in the job we’re actually doing, in the job that the good people around them are doing, how about we place a little faith in our sons, that they will find their place.

I used to sleep with him as a baby. He was a terrible sleeper. Remember those days when you’d wonder if your children would ever go to sleep and now you have to drag them out of bed every morning. Where did those years go? But he was a good sleeper when we slept together and for that very reason I didn’t give one thought to all the things people said about co-sleeping. It was working for us and that’s the only parenting trick I’ll ever pass on. If it works for you do it.

As he grew he’d come up every now and again, awoken by a storm, by a loud noise, by a dream, we’d squeeze into what was then my side of the bed. It’s been good having a little extra room.

For a while in those early days of sleeping alone again he was a constant companion. Again, it worked for me, for both of us really. I’m here. And for tonight at least I’m not going anywhere.

Since he was a baby, there’d always be some part of our bodies which would touch during the right, his little foot on my calf, our hands clasped under a pillow, sometimes a slap across my nose with his forearm in the darkest hours. There you are.

And so now on our holiday, we’re here. Roomies, mother, son, mates, hanging out, talking and laughing, sharing meals and a room. Sharing memories.

It’s a journey that I know is going to take me a lifetime, to get him where he needs to go, but

I know at some point I’ll need to let him take the wheel. Til then, surf’s up.