I dropped the boys at school. I remembered to take the camera to capture my four-year-old's first day. In most of the shots, he is looking unhappy but reconciled to his miserable fate; in one, he hides behind his six-year-old brother but that might have been because he wanted me to stop taking photographs. He was brave which made it more bearable; he wobbled only once when the teacher drew him away from me but righted himself. I was holding it together up to the moment it was time to walk out the door of the classroom and I was handed a packet of tissues and a teabag wrapped in a white silk ribbon. "Go home. Have a cry and make yourself a cup of tea," I was told by a cheery member of staff. Really, I was fine up to that point. They might as well have erected a billboard outside the school gates with the words: "He's not your little boy anymore, Mummy." And in very small letters underneath: "He'll forget your birthday, make excuses at Christmas. Eventually, he just won't call. And when you're really old, he'll put you in a home and never even visit." I looked for the billboard when I came out. I thought: "I don't want a cup of tea. I want my son back."
I could not bring myself to drive back home so the baby girl and I drove in the opposite direction to a market town. Not the nearest market town, another one. One further away so that I could kill more time. Within the 40 or so minutes it took me to get there, I changed from a reasonably sane member of society into the woman you sit next to on the bus who starts talking to you about the book you pull out of your handbag, only for you to realise, 30 seconds too late, that she is actually a complete lunatic. I told anyone who cared to listen that I did not live in the town, I was not supposed to be there, my son had started school and I did not want to go home when he was not there to fill it with his noise. Even my baby girl was looking embarrassed by the end of it. The nice lady who sold me blueberries and red exotic flowers knew how I was feeling. She had a six-year-old boy who did not like school, did not want to go back, felt he had no-one to play with. She said: "I would watch him in the playground without him knowing. I had to stop. It was making me ill." I almost gave her my tissue-teabag favour. I thought: "Been there. Done that." Instead, I said: "I know. You worry, don't you? I hope it goes well for him today." She smiled at me and said: "Yours too."