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London - She tied her scarf five times on the way to the station, nervously checked her rucksack three times and asked me repeatedly if we were on the right Tube.
Other than that there were no obvious signs she was worried about leaving us (me) for four days. “No kissing,” she commanded when we arrived at King’s Cross station. “It’s embarrassing in front of my class.”
It was only when I hugged her tightly for a little too long, waved her goodbye and watched her walk away that I noticed a momentary flicker of doubt in her beautiful blue eyes.
She’s nine years old, but in those few seconds she looked like my tiny toddler again. It was all I could do to stop myself grabbing her and shouting, “OK, enough of this school trip nonsense. Let’s just say we did it, shall we? I’m her mom, I’ve got rights. Hand her over so I can put her in this giant papoose I’ve had made.”
But I didn’t because Gracie would never have spoken to me again, obviously.
So right now Gracie-in-the-middle is on her first residential school trip. She’s in York living like a Viking child (which, as her godmother pointed out, is much the same as the chaos she endures at home, except we don’t do the weaving, bread baking and dreadful Nordic haircuts here).
The children are not allowed to phone home (and we can’t call them either). It’s like going into the Big Brother house, Gracie explained patiently before she left.
Is she homesick? Actually, I don’t think she is. She’s a confident number two child. Her elder sister went to York last year. She knows the rules.
Are we “parent-sick”? Does sniffing her pillow and looking at pictures of her on the day she was born count?
The Vikings gave their babies a Thor’s hammer charm when they were born to protect them for life. I am beginning to wish I’d found a modern day equivalent for Gracie to pack (but I won’t buy her an iPhone yet).
When I took my first trip away from my Cornish home at the age of 12, my mom left notes in my suitcase wishing me luck and encouraging me to be brave, one for each day of the trip. I kept those notes because even then I realised what a rite of passage a school trip is.
But times have changed and Gracie’s school advised against such emotional hand grenades.
It’s all about “normalising” their experience, according to the child psychologists I looked up on the oh-so-reliable internet. “Don’t voice your doubts by saying things like ‘I don’t know what we’ll do without you’ - tell them they’ll miss you but that it’s a sign of love.”
This is neither useful nor practical advice but I’ll take what I can get as a million “what ifs” swirl around in the hurricane of horror that is my imagination when my children are out of my sight.
Mr Candy wouldn’t let me write our phone number on her forehead in permanent marker before she left so I can only pray that she doesn’t get left behind on one of the day trips.
A friend tells me that when she went on a two-week school trip aged ten, parents were asked to send regular letters to their children. But her mom and dad forgot until the last minute and sent her a letter that was so late that it was returned to her home.
“Look at me,” she exclaimed after laughing through this anecdote. “I survived, I am fine. It’s character-building.”
And she’s right. While I feel bereft without Gracie, she is taking yet more steps towards independence.
And if you believe the “nature winning out over nurture” theory, as I do, Gracie will more than cope, given her confident personality.
Her three siblings have given her absence little thought. When I try to have a family discussion about how much I am missing Gracie they look at me quizzically. They have little to say on the matter. “She won’t miss you,” the eldest comments bluntly.
Then she adds, “But she will be quite cross about missing You’ve Been Framed.”
“Really?” I answer, racing off to make sure we record it for her. - Daily Mail
* Lorraine Candy is editor-in-chief of Elle magazine.