“It is a perfect drying day,” I say quietly to myself, as I walk back towards the house. Laughing inwardly, I remember how my mother had used that exact same phrase so many times. Every Thursday morning she’d be busy in the kitchen, keeping a watch on me and the weather. After all these years, I often think about her. Even though she is no longer here, she is still my mum and lives on in my memory.

I pause in the doorway, look at the loaded washing line stretched across the lawn and see something my mum will have never experienced. The warm air and gentle easterly breeze blowing across the garden have created such a wonderful sight that I think I could stand here all day and enjoy it. I am watching eleven teddy bears, dangling by twenty-two pegged, freshly cleaned ears. They are performing a magical dance. Moving together, like a professional, choreographed troupe of prima ballerinas. Twenty-one blue and brown eyes, twisting and turning, catching the glow of the lowering sun, as if they are searching the garden for their lost owner. Twenty-two arms stretching out, demanding one final hug. No, my mum would have never witnessed such a sight and, even if she had, I am sure she would have been far too busy to stand around and admire it. And being a mum myself, I realise that I will probably never witness such a show again.

When Henry arrived home from school last Friday, there was a crumpled letter squashed in the bottom of his sports bag. The note announced a local charity collection for newly arrived refugees. At the time I didn’t pay too much attention to it, but unbeknown to me, the appeal had hit just the right note for Henry. He had decided to clear out his childhood toys, claiming that they were “all things from my past.” When I heard him say those words, I wondered if that was the moment where motherhood begins to end; where ‘mother’ becomes redundant. Henry’s keenness to give away his history just seemed a little too speedy and, surprisingly, quite hurtful. Yes, of course I want him to grow up, but I’m not ready to lose that role of being his mother. Maybe I will never be ready for that.

Henry is not outside admiring the bear show and enjoying the warm autumn weather. He is in the house, upstairs in his untidy bedroom, playing with his old collection of Zerby Derby vehicles. As I step back inside the kitchen, I can hear him enjoying one final car chase over the carpet, under the bed and across to his bookshelf. One last race, before he permanently parks them in the box, alongside Lego and Star Wars characters of long ago. A concluding scene from his younger days, before he closes the lid and fastens it down with tape. He will certainly make sure that the red car wins; it was always his favourite. Some things won’t ever change.

I quietly creep upstairs and, from the dark shadows of my bedroom door, giggle inwardly watching him crawl around as if he is still five years old. How his friends from the six-form college would laugh if they could see him now, kneeling on the floor making very realistic engine noises, crunching through the gears and blowing a very threatening sounding horn. I’m also enjoying memories of the two of us racing those very same cars through the whole house, crashing them into the skirting boards and pushing them along the landing. Those halcyon days when we both so loved to play together; mum and son, simply having fun. Later, of course, the internet dissolved the need for me to participate in his games. Screens and keyboards quickly made me irrelevant as a playmate. Henry’s new pastimes came with their own sound effects, which only he could hear through a set of oversized headphones.

I slowly make my way back downstairs, leaving him alone to recapture that fleeting moment of his childhood. It could well be the last time he does. I start to wonder if he will miss being a child as much as I will surely miss being a mother.

The bears, hanging to dry outside, and the cars that are now being sealed in the collection box, have remained trapped in time. Henry has outgrown them. He has moved on and they have sat quietly neglected on his shelves, collecting dust. As time passed by, their colours have faded, so have Henry’s interest in them. Everything he is donating to the refugees today are things I have bought him. Gifts from a mother to her son; presents of the past. The bright red car was spotted in Morecambe, in a little souvenir shop’s rain swept window. It was a terrible day and we couldn’t leave the guest-house without plastic coats and umbrellas. Henry didn’t see me hand it surreptitiously over to the shop assistant. When he later opened the bag and the little Zerby Derby car fell out, you would think that I had given him the world. It instantly became his number one. Henry was so happy, whizzing it around the lounge area, making sounds that no real car would ever make. He soon forgot about the disappointing weather. The other guests’ feet made perfect obstacles and drawbridges. I don’t think that they were quite as happy as Henry.

Back in the kitchen, I pick up a white, flimsy waste bag and go outside to gather in the bears. One by one I unpeg them, bringing them briefly close to my face, before dropping them into the bag. They all smell so fresh, as if brand new. Eleven teddy bears, all laundered clean of Henry’s past emotions. Over the years these bears have been his comfort during fearful nights when he couldn’t sleep, or when he had suddenly woken up by the monsters hiding in the dark corners of his nightmares. The bears have also acted as his private doctors and nurses, always on call when painful cuts and scrapes needed immediate medical attention. And, most importantly, they were his best friends who helped mend his broken heart at times of sorrow or loneliness. Their clean soft fillings, now emitting a strong scent of lavender, are ready to soak up the worries and tears of their new owners. Mothers will tuck their children tightly in their beds, just like I used to do for Henry, reassuring them that their new teddy bear is resting nearby on the pillow, watching over them.

As I unclip One Eye’s ears from the sagging plastic washing line, a wry smile creeps across my face. I reflect on why this little one is special. I can’t quite remember how One Eye lost an eye, but I do remember the hospital bed that Henry built for him out of an old shoebox and what One Eye had looked like with the oversized bandage wrapped tightly, and not too professionally, around his head. Of course I also remember when Henry went to his first school camp and One Eye had to stay at home. That first night on my own, I had slipped into his bedroom and picked up One Eye. For the whole week Henry was away, One Eye shared my spacious bed; resting on my pillow, watching over me. One Eye absorbed my fears, suffered from squeezes tighter than a child could ever tolerate and listened patiently to my wishes for Henry’s safe return home. Today, One Eye has certainly been well scrubbed in preparation for his new journey, but my memories haven’t been washed away.

Henry pushes the kitchen door open with his foot and dramatically drops his box of toys. I can see by his face that pride is oozing from him.

“Unwanted toys ready for delivery,” he announces. “Surplus to requirements,” he adds unnecessarily, as if to wind me up.

“Good job, Hen. Let’s hope that the refugees kids will have as much fun with them as you did.”

Smiling, he strolls out of the kitchen into the corridor and, as he turns the corner at the bottom of the stairs, pulls the red Zerby Derby car from his pocket and waves it at me.

“I’m going to keep this one,” he shouts, then bounces back up to his bedroom. I laugh to myself, realising that he may well be a teenager, but that he is still a child at heart; and will be for a long time yet. I hear the bedroom door close and that usual sound of his computer being turned on.

I shove Henry’s box into the corner and lower the bag of bears on top. Looking down at the jumble of arms, legs and floppy ears squashed together, I put my hand in and clasp hold of One Eye. The stitched on smile seems to come alive as I pull him out.

“And I’m also going to keep one,” I say to myself.

I kiss his rough cotton nose and whisper a promise in his spotless, yet slightly chewed, ear.

“Now my dear little One Eye, I am going to buy you a new eye to restore your perfect vision. And when the time comes that I am also seen as surplus to requirements, you can share my room again and sleep next to me on the pillow.”

Henry coughs, just a little too loudly. I spin round to face him. We both immediately burst out laughing. Henry had heard every word I’d said.

“I’ll see if I can order an eye online for you, Mum,” he says. “ I guess you’d want a matching blue one.” 

“Well, please do, Mr Henry. I am sick and tired of only having one eye,’” I say in a squeaky voice, wobbling One Eye close to Henry’s nose, as if it’s the bear that is actually talking.

Henry steps back and gives me one of those looks that could only come from a teenager.

“Anyway Mum, when you have finished playing with my toys – what’s for tea? I’m starving.”

He moves even further away from me, but is still smiling. Closing the gap, I hand One Eye over to him and spread my arms out wide.

“I need a bear hug,” I announce. “My boy is giving away his toys; leaving his youth and mum behind.”

With more than just a little reluctance, Henry obliges. He wraps his arms around me and lifts me up. We both laugh at how easily he raises me off the floor. My feet are dangling, just like the bears’ were earlier.

“Put me down, silly. I have someone’s tea to make!”

Henry lowers me down, shakes One Eyes’ head and, in a far more convincing voice than the one I had used, says in a deep tone, “What’s for tea, Mummy Bear?”

“I don’t know yet, but I’m on it,” I reply, having no idea what I am actually going to put together.

As I walk over to the fridge, my vibrating lips create revving car engine noises, similar to those Henry had produced earlier.

He laughs as I open the fridge door, trumpeting out loud, reversing warning beeps.

“Hurry up, Mrs. Hall, your son Henry is starving,” says One Eye, in a clear, sonorous voice. “And he needs some help with his uni application form.”

On the day that I thought my role as a mother was coming to an end, I realise that it’s just a chapter that has been completed. A new page is waiting.

I really don’t need to worry for many years yet. The role of ‘mother’ seems to be a never ending script. One I want to keep on reading.

Now, what shall I make for tea?

Originally published: People’s Friend.