Last week, Chester, aged six, announced he was leaving home to go to Antarctica.
He packed provisions (water bottle, Mini Cheddars, Pom-Bear crisps, satsuma, banana and six Cadbury’s Heroes) before pulling on his mud suit and wellies and declaring he was ready to go.
I was thankful he’d told us, my own “running away” aged six or seven involved a secretive escape to a play park in Charleston (alas no longer there) and culminated in my mum and gran’s frantic calling of my name as I made my new home under the chute (which doubled as a wooden enclosure) opposite a run of shops.
Now a mother myself, I told Chester I understood.
“You want to see the polar bears, darling.”
He looked at me with something approaching sympathy.
“Wrong place Mummy – that’s the North Pole. I’ll see penguins in Antarctica.”
Deciding to test his mettle, we all wrapped up and walked down the snowy road.
At the end, I told him this is where we must say goodbye.
Still he didn’t buckle, telling me not to worry, he would be back in two sleeps.
I supposed I’d have to break it to him.
So I explained the reasons – just as generations before me have done to their adventure-hungry children: he was too young, I’d worry too much, there are some bad people out there, if an adult saw him alone they’d call the police and bring him home.
He looked unconvinced and so I told him another, new truth.
He couldn’t because the flights or boats he’d need to get to Antarctica were banned due to coronavirus.
The wondrous pool of possibilities of what we can do – whether six or 106, is so much smaller now.
Or at least, for now.
But it’s the older kids who are missing out.
A six-year-old can hopefully bounce back and remember not too much from this whole sorry locked down episode.
But the teens who missed out on school leaving celebrations last summer, the 16-year-old who doesn’t get that sneaky first-love kiss with the boy she always liked, the “proms” (yes Americanised but quite thrilling I’d imagine, like a movie) and pretty dresses shelved, the exams cancelled and future in limbo, the first year uni students having anything but the riotous start they should . . . These coming of age moments are life moments.
We can’t get too down about it.
Chin up, we will tell ourselves, they are just postponed and they can all make up for lost time when things are safe.
But still, there are times you just can’t quite claw back – times that if you’ve had you may still remember wistfully. You may remember forever.
“OK,” Chester said, his wee face bravely refusing to crumple.
“I won’t go until I’m 10. But remember mummy, it’s not polar bears, it’s penguins in Antarctica. You really should have listened more in school.”