Matthew Munson: Half term fun and getting to grips with tricky homework

Bryan and Matthew

As you read this, Bryan and I are travelling home on the train, having spent a lovely couple of days further along the south coast visiting family. Bryan’s back to school tomorrow, so we had to leave in good time to get a train and make sure we were home at a reasonable hour. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed celebrating a birthday in our family; we’re content (and they are too), and I don’t think us parents could ask for more than that.

Talking about trains, I went to buy the tickets for this weekend and was presented with a couple of options; travelling along the south coast via Ashford, which would cost about £20 or so, or via London, which was roughly £55. As you might imagine, my eyes lit up at the thought of quite a significant saving, but then came the news; to get the saving and travel via Ashford, we would have to do four or five changes onto different trains, and significantly add to our travel time. I couldn’t face it, if I’m honest with you. I’m not a fan of spending money unnecessarily (who is?), but it gave me peace of mind that Bryan and I wouldn’t be train hopping every thirty minutes.

Half term has been lovely. I’ve endured the usual parental guilt at having to work, although I do enjoy working. Bryan hasn’t noticed too much; he’d have liked a few more lie-ins, I suspect, but that’s the trade-off – he’s had time with friends and family and a nice break from the usual routine. I’m now recovered from the trauma of technological breakdown – my laptop dying in front of my eyes and losing a load of work – and I’m able to do some actual creative work again. Yippee.

I’d like you to cast your minds back to your childhood, and your favourite subjects at school. I generally enjoyed my education, but I struggled with maths. I look at Bryan’s homework sometimes and feel my brain trying to back away slowly from the complexity of the problems. I don’t get on well with that subject; in fact, when I first took my GCSE, I failed magnificently by getting an “E”. I retook it the following year alongside my A-Levels and managed to get it up to a “C”, but I can’t pretend it was a particularly fun experience for me.

I try to help Bryan as much as I can, but there’s a limit to my abilities. Ask me to help on anything to do with English or history or politics, and I’ll sit with you as you study for the entire day, but ask me to calculate algebra or work on formulae, and I’m already thinking of any excuse under the sun to get out of it; I’ll even get out of the ironing board if necessary.

I’m now 41, and I feel the most comfortable in my own skin in this current time in my life. When I was 11 (the same age as Bryan is now), I couldn’t imagine life as a 41 year old. It seemed impossibly old – but, now I’m at that age, I see just how young an age it actually is.

Like most children, I couldn’t wait to grow up, but the weight of adult responsibilities can often be overwhelming when you first start taking those steps out into the world. But now, a few decades on, I feel far more settled; there’s no manual being a parent, that’s for sure, so I learn about that day-by-day, but I savour the opportunities I have now; work I can get my teeth into, the ability to be creative when I’m writing, and thinking about the next chapter of my life – with my son nearly a teenager and me finding time (I hope) for an activity of my own to start learning. I tried describing this sensation to Bryan – that at 41, I still felt energised about the future (our future as a family, and where life will take us), and he nodded politely and then asked if he could go and listen to music in his room for a while.

I guess – no, I know – that I was the same when I was 11 going on 12, but I am genuinely excited now; I’m having to adjust my worldview to the fact I’m parenting a pre-teen, and make sure I’m doing it well. Being a dad is definitely worth it.

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