The general

As a shared custody parent I have fifty per cent of the time with my kids, half the holidays, half the week and every other weekend. It is all written out in courier font in papers kept safe in my desk. Half the time. In the early years, my half of the time had to be filled with twice as much activity: making and doing, painting and playing, trips and walking. After a couple of years I began to realise how physically close I liked to keep the kids when I was with them, as though I could double my time through proximity. But gradually I began to give them more space, or perhaps more accurately, gradually they began to take it. One walk sticks in my mind. There was a heavy laden sky and much debate about whether or not we should risk the walk going to the beach. The breeze was warm so we decided to give it a go. We were in Norfolk again. My eldest came along. Hurling pebbles into the sea and skimming bouncers, scattering ladybirds with bomber attacks. Stopping to collect a shell then darting down to the water’s edge to skim a bouncer. Along the stony banks, against the greened sea, slowly waging his battle, along he comes the general of all he can see. Suddenly I realise he is 200m behind me. Has he ever been so far away and on his own? Impervious to the deepening rain he ignores every shout. Unmoved by the hardening wind I see him alone, silhouetted against the rising storm, beyond reach if waves should crush him. I feel scared for him but I do not run. He looks up. Not alarmed, swaggers towards us, his pace says, “I’m ok Dad”. He catches up at last. But just before the car, I feel his hand hard in mine, as if to say: “We both knew this day would come.”