Kay explores the theme of growing up in this poem - mainly from a parent’s perspective.
Childhood is all too brief and soon your child is out in the
big, wide world. The image of the basket which frames the poem suggests both joy and a mother's instinct to protect her child. It suggests that for a parent, their child will always partly be remembered as an innocent, vulnerable baby.
As much as the ‘Gap Year’ is about Matthew’s adventure into maturity, Kay herself must also ‘grow’ to accept that she must let go of her urge to follow him around. She must embrace that he is away exploring without her. By the end of the poem we get the impression that Kay has accepted this, despite the fact she cannot believe how quickly he has grown up.
The fact that the poem is dedicated
for Mateo (the Spanish for Matthew) shows that Kay embraces her son's new identity, as an adult exploring Spanish-speaking countries.
Kay's love for her son pervades the whole poem. Her affection is expressed in the initial nicknames like ‘Tumshie’ and the way she stares longingly at the Moses basket. A loving bond she has established even before he is born.
This is then developed by the portrayal of a very close relationship as we move into Section II. She charts all his travels on her atlas and recognises any changes in him -
a new haircut, his
eagerness to explore.
She paces his empty room imagining his
soft face - it is clear that she misses him. But through her love she is able to let him go. Kay finds herself exuberant at the end of the poem, contemplating her son
out in the big wide world, despite the fact he has delayed his return. Her feelings are no longer about herself, but her son and his adventure. This suggests the ultimate selfless act of a mother to put the needs of her child before her own.