When your firstborn goes to Reading Festival – Mum’s side of the story.

Reading Festival. I’ve known it was coming for a few years. There’s been begging and pleading and wheedling and outright huffing and door slamming. Last year we deflected with a ‘next year. You’ll be 17 then. Old enough to go’.
Oh foolish parents. Be careful what you promise. Because before I could sit through four new 21 Pilots videos he WAS 17. And booking his own train ticket to Reading.
We stuck with the plan though – obviously the first instinct is to say ‘no, precious firstborn son of mine. You are too young. You are not wise in the evil and lascivious ways of the greater festival-going world. You are innocent, wide-eyed and still mine a little while longer yet.’

"Please may I got to Reading Festival Mummy & Daddy?" He may be 17, but in our heads it was this.
“Please may I got to Reading Festival Mummy & Daddy?” He may be 17, but in our heads it was this.

Stupid. He’s not been my precious innocent wide-eyed boy for about 10 years. He towers over my own 6′ frame, keeps his own hours and really hasn’t needed us watching his every step for a long time. He’s more than ready. Because he’s our first, we never have a reference for him. No reassuring past experience that equips us to handle the next step. We always wing it as much as he does, and just hope we’re not screwing it up too badly along the way.

So we fretted inside, and occasionally voiced a quiet ‘he will be okay, won’t he?’ to each other. To which we both responded with a bracing ‘Of course he will. He’ll be FINE!’ (accompanied in my case by crossed fingers and a quick nod to a long-neglected almighty being that if I say it, it’ll be true).

We dug the old rucksack out of the loft. We gave him a lesson in tent erection (well, to be fair, we just pulled up chairs and a glass of wine and sniggered and snorted at his rubbish attempts). We laughed at his insistence on taking an airbed and a camping chair (what kind of embarrassingly soft camper had I raised?), while lecturing him on drug safety again “don’t take any drinks from anyone. Don’t take a drug. Or anything that looks like drug. Or anything that could have drugs in it.”


I added a supply of trail mix and cheesy biscuits to my Tesco order. I internally debated the condom question – better to know he had a supply, or to save him the mortification of his mother buying them for him? In the end it fell out of my mouth while we were discussing which sweets to take, and he grinned, punched my shoulder and told me not to be stupid. He was a 17yr old boy and already perfectly sorted in that department, thank you. Phew.

And before we knew it the rucksack was packed, the train times triple checked, and he was waving a cheery goodbye as he sauntered down the platform. I managed to restrict myself to just one last ‘ stay safe!’ But rescued it with a firm ‘enjoy every second!’.

And I really really meant it. Of course I wanted him to be safe, but I want my children to embrace the experiences and adventures. To be bold enough to step out on their own and take the new stuff in their stride. So whilst my internal mother wobbled gently, I was ridiculously proud of that manchild striding down the platform, helping a girl onto the train with her bag before leaping in himself.

(click here if you want to see HIS side of how the weekend panned out…).

He’d promised an occasional ‘still alive’ message to let us know he wasn’t taken by child traffickers or stabbed by rabid angry festival people.

And so we waited…

* * *

Perfect child, he checked in as soon as he’d set up his tent, and made his initial foray through the site, had argued with his friends, had left them to go enjoy the first few sets totally on his own…

Wait, WHAT? What d’you mean you’ve left your friends and are all alone? Why? Return to them immediately! I don’t care if they only want to toe tap at the back of the tent and you want to get in at the front and embrace the experience so much you’re sweating it out of your crushed and joy-filled pores…
Oh. Okay.

Stay safe, yes?

* * *


I’m so glad you’re having the time of your life. But WHAT is with that mad-eyed selfie? Are you okay? Not drugged?

Okay, so you decided the front of the crush for 21 Pilots was the best place to be. It was ‘horrific but amazing’, ‘security going nuts’.
This was your best plan?
Well I hope the NINE passed out girls were grateful that you manhandled them over the barrier and saved them from a trampled death.
Am actually genuinely glad you loved every sweat-drenched best-experience-of-your-life second. Crazy boy.
Stay safe, yes?

* * *

What do you MEAN you’ve hooked up with three Americans? And you’re going back to their tent with them? What if they steal your stuff? Hold you down and beat you? Drug you? Oh, they’re nice? And have danced all night with you. And two of them are girls, and one of the girls is REALLY nice*.

Stay safe, yes?

* * *

Early the next morning 9yr old Bear and I sat and watched through the BBC best bits of the day 1, pausing every crowd scene to see if we could spot him at the front of 21 Pilots. We couldn’t.

first morning Reading festival 2016

Wow you’re up early! What do you mean you’re moving tents? I thought you said the campsites nearest the arena were where all the trouble was? Why would you move to one of them? You’re sure that’s a good move?
You’re leaving your old mates to be with the new? Oh, you had vomit and chinese food on your tent when you got back this morning, but the new campsite is much calmer and nicer, and your new friends have all shifted their tents around to make room for you?
And the two Swiss guys you’ve also befriended (WHO? When? What Swiss guys??) helped you pack up and carried your gear across the entire site to get you set up with them?
Stay safe, yes?

* * *

Oh, that’s brilliant the bands were so good! Parkway Drive? Yep, pretty sure they’re on iPlayer. Watch the mosh pit, you’ll be in it?
IN it?
What do you mean you’ll be IN it?
You do know people DIE in those mosh pits, right?
You’re not dead, but you are loving the exhilaration and the raw energy? You’ve “never felt so good, been so confident, nor talked to so many new people”?

Stay safe, yes?

* * *

Good to know you’re safely back in camp, sitting with your new friends-for-life mates. You’ve just had the best night of your entire life? You sound amazing. Thank you for calling to say goodnight. I love you.
Stay safe, okay?

* * *


I’m just about to serve Sunday lunch, your grandparents are here, no time to stop. Glad you had a fun morning showing your Americans and Swiss a full English breakfast. Okay, got it – busy day planned to see back-to-back sets, cramming as much fun as possible, speak later.
Stay safe, yes?

* * *

You okay? Haven’t heard from you for a few hours. 17yr old has died at Leeds Fest from drugs. Cue mild parental anxiety, and need of a reassuring ‘still alive’ message pleasethankyou…

* * *

Oi. No check in for 8hrs. Don’t want to disturb you, just checking you’ve not lost a limb in a mosh pit or anything.

* * *

Okay, it’s 10.30, I know you’re watching The Wombats. But a quick ‘still alive‘ would be REALLY appreciated now.

* * *

Midnight. Where the bloody crap are you? If you’ve lost your phone I WILL kill you.

* * *

Me, fretting? MUCH? Actually, it was mostly your Dad, did you get his message(s)? Well maybe it was me a little.  
Where the hell have you BEEN?
Are you still in one piece? No injuries? Accidental drug-taking incidents?

Oh, your phone’s out of power, you saved the last 2% to check in before bed so we wouldn’t worry all night. Thank you. Love you too. See you tomorrow, amazing manchild. I’m so proud of you. X

*it might interest you to know that the Americans went back to Germany, where they were on an exchange programme, stayed in touch with Cam and introduced him online to another girl in their exchange group. The friend and Cam met up that NYE – and have now been together for over 2years.

Author: Laura

A 70's child, I’ve been married for a Very Long Time, and appear to have made four children, and collected one large and useless dog along the way. I work, I have four children, I have a dog… ergo, I do not do dusting or ironing. I began LittleStuff back in (gulp) 2004. I like huge mugs of tea. And Coffee. And Cake. And a steaming cone of crispy fresh fluffy chips, smothered in salt and vinegar. #healthyeater When I grow up I am going to be quietly graceful, organised and wear lipstick every day. In the meantime I *may* have a slight butterfly-brain issue.

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  1. As a mum of teenagers myself, I’m guessing the festival thing won’t be far off for me now to deal with. I’m absolutely dreading it, but reading this made me smile so much, you sound just the same as I would. Thanks for sharing this with us, I really enjoyed reading it.

    Post a Reply
    • Oh thanks Jayne. I know what you mean – watching my teens grow always feels like watching a train hurtling down the track – you can’t do anything but shout at it to stop, but those damned trains are bloody stubborn in their refusal to not keep growing.
      Good luck – I can say with a voice of long deep experience (it’s incredible how long and deep just the one weekend feels…) that they’ll be fine. x

      Post a Reply


  1. First Time at Reading Festival - One 17yr Old's Story - LittleStuff - […] (click here if you want to see how MY side of the weekend panned out…). […]

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