‘Hello,’ I shout into the empty space. ‘I’m home’

Hilary Fannin: They used to emerge when I brought food back to the house. Now it’s just me and the cat

Hilary Fannin: Maybe I’ve finally stopped trying to hurl myself on the tracks to stop the train sweeping the children into an unknowable future. Photograph: Alan Betson

Hilary Fannin: Maybe I’ve finally stopped trying to hurl myself on the tracks to stop the train sweeping the children into an unknowable future. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

As a family we seem to have moved into some new phase. I come back into the house now, lugging a couple of bags of groceries, and find myself shouting hello to the cat, to the empty stairway, to a jacket slung over the banister and a crumpled sweatshirt on the step.

They used to emerge from watching Football Focus or Football Football or what ever kick-it-in-the-back-of-the-net programme they were umbilically attached to, like zombies from a lake, when I arrived home with food. You couldn’t get as far as the kitchen counter without one or other of them eating the contents of the canvas bag while you tried to fight them off with a breadstick.

“Hello,” I shout into the empty space. “I’m home.”

The cat looks at me like I’m delusional.

“You foolish woman,” she whispers. “They’re gone.”

They come back when they’re hungry or need to charge their phones. My youngest son is still only 15, so it’s not as if I don’t still spend significant portions of my time crawling around under the kitchen table, looking for escapee bolts from his metalwork project, but something fundamental has shifted; the penny has finally started to drop.

It’s all about encouraging independence now. It always was, of course, but I was wary, way too wary of the world. I’ve think that maybe I’ve finally stopped trying to hurl myself on the tracks to stop the train sweeping them into an unknowable future. It’s kind of odd to find oneself upright and vaguely coherent at this particular level crossing.

I have friends whose parenting now consists of Sunday Skype calls and of tea and crisps winging their way to Calgary

I have friends who’ve negotiated this border already, people whose parenting now consists of Sunday Skype calls and care packages of tea and crisps winging their way to Calgary or Perth. I have friends, too, whose adult children continue to live at home, with no prospect of being able to afford the independence both parties crave; young men and women infantilised by economics, dreaming of escape under their faded Batman duvet covers.

“Hello,” I call to the cat.

“I hope to God you remembered my oh-so-meaty chunks,” she answers.

My brother is very fond of telling me that we all live in prisons of our own making. He is an adventurous man, throwing himself at the earth like a shower of hailstones. He left Dublin when he was 15, escaped the violence of school and the fragility of home, got on a boat and kept going. Recently he cycled over the Alps on a rickety bicycle, with a tent and half a liver, having just survived cancer. He’s writing a book about it, ostensibly a travelogue. Essentially, though, he’s looking at the way certain dark and pivotal moments in life can push us forward, like chips on a dice table.

He emailed me a couple of unedited chapters, which I read without unpacking the shopping, or turning the oven on, or kicking myself around the kitchen for indeed forgetting to buy cat food.

“Why did you cycle over the Alps on a mangy bicycle with half a liver inside you?” I asked him later, midway through another rambling telephone conversation. (He lives in the UK). His answer was layered, but, basically, as soon as he feels the edges of his life soften or curl inwards he feels the need to challenge himself.

“That’s some kind of prison, too, though, isn’t it?” I asked him.

The cat sighed and rolled her eyes. She was flicking through my purely decorative copy of Slim and Healthy Vegetarian

The cat sighed and rolled her eyes. She was flicking through the recipes in my purely decorative copy of Slim and Healthy Vegetarian. If she’s going to manage the changing dynamics in a household that no longer peels the potatoes on time and randomly eats bread and butter and withered pears for dinner, not to mention having the temerity to offer her leftover takeaway pizza for supper, then she’s going to hit back by embracing the quinoa revolution. I’m glad one of us has a plan.

Maybe he’s right, my restless brother. Maybe we do live in prisons of our own making.

Now, when I begin to push at the door, and think of life beyond parenting, I find that it is surprisingly willing to creak open.

“What will we do next?” I ask the cat.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she replies, a tad scathingly. “Maybe you’d like to join a choir, or take up golf, or knit yourself a chicken coop, or maybe you’d like to scoot your baggy ass back to the supermarket for some oh-so-meaty sachets of pulverised goat hoof.”

I put my coat back on. Liberty might take bit of getting used to.

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