I just couldn't get my head around why my son wanted to hoover the car, given that we were about to cram it full of boxes and myriad memoirs to be taken to university for this, his first big step into the academic abyss. That coming of age crevasse, where we parents find ourselves suddenly hovering on the edge, all a jitter, watching them take this first big jump. Then it dawned on me. My son was in fact nesting, and I, with my obsessive "take this frying pan, you'll need that", digging out piles of towels and bed linen, or buying endless amounts of shower gels and shampoo from Lidl, was actually deconstructing my nest. Twig by twig, it would seem.
given that this was my first to fly the nest, it was all starting to feel like a bit of a meta-moment.
Just as 18 years earlier, I had cleaned the house from top to toe, bought stuff to build a warm, safe environment for my baby, he was now taking the baton and starting to create his own. In my son’s case, it is quite far away, having chosen a university in Holland, and so I appreciate that not every parent has to deal with this distance. But of course, it isn’t the distance that really matters when it comes to this parenting moment. It is just the moment. And given that this was my first to fly the nest, it was all starting to feel like a bit of a meta-moment. And a magical one, and one that was definitely mirroring the time he came into this world.
Before having my babies, I did everything I could do to prepare. I read all the books out there, and continued to dip into them throughout the baby and toddler years to get my head around how to deal with each new phase. They all stopped at around age three, however, and few gave advice on the later stages. And certainly no one is out there to tell you how to let them go. You have to figure that one out all on your own. And of course, just as with childbirth, you can read as many books as you want, prepare the best ever birthing plan and have the most devoted partner there beside you all the way, but at the end of the day you are on your own. And until it happens, you have no idea what to expect.
Reins and rule-free
Same goes for this going off to college scenario. You spend so much time helping get them ready, 18 years or so in most cases, but also a few intense months of picking courses, supporting them through exams, sorting out financial options, getting digs, teaching them how to cook, and so much more, that you don’t really have time to think about how it will be when they actually get there.
I was 90 per cent excited for him, and 10 per cent terrified
All swaddled and sweet as ever in our eyes, yet totally reins-and rules-free in theirs. Friends asked me how I was feeling about my son’s going away, and my answer had become a fixed one over the last few months. I was 90 per cent excited for him, and 10 per cent terrified. Probably the reverse of childbirth in fact, with 10 per cent excitement very much upstaged by the 90 per cent pain.
And yet, in childbirth, we have options to make things easier. We have epidurals to ease the pain. Stitches to heal the wounds. We have gifts and outpourings of love and support. Celebratory champagne, post-partum parties. But what happens when they fly this well-prepared nest? I get home to a very empty house and one letter telling me my child benefit has been cut. Ouch. Where’s the gas and air now, when I need it?
And so, I write this in support of other parents about to send their babies off into the world.
And so, I write this in support of other parents about to send their babies off into the world. I celebrate you and send you a million metaphorical balloons that say “you bloody did it”, a cake with enough hundreds and thousands to represent the sleepless nights, the arguments, the birthdays, the advice sessions, the hand-holding and so much more. There may be no Hallmark cards to say it, or traditional celebrations for parents and carers to mark it, but I am marking it. I am sleeping. I am indulging in box sets. I am going for walks, treating myself to a few nights out with close friends and hanging out with my other son who is also missing his brother, big time.
What it’s really about
Thankfully, I took a week off work to do the trip, come home and have time to process it all. And I urge any other people out there to do the same. I would have struggled just going back to my desk like nothing had happened. Also, I am a single mum, and so it has been important for me to seek out other friends who have been through it during this time off. Consequently, I am now starting to hear the real stories of what it’s all about. Just as you don’t hear about the reality of childbirth from friends before you go in there, afterwards they are happy to share all the gory details. My friends admit to having felt bereft, at a loss, lonely, and in some cases depressed. And then there were the dreaded cracks in marriages which had now become gaping gashes with no young ones to act as Polyfilla.
I know, of course, that the nest will never be totally empty. We build those things so damn well they will never fall apart.
My other son has another four years of school to go before he too flies the nest, so I have time to get my head around that next phase. And plenty of years left to enjoy some quality parenting moments too. Less hoovering, more hanging out. I know, of course, that the nest will never be totally empty. We build those things so damn well they will never fall apart. But we parents are more fragile than we like to let on sometimes, and I’m all for letting on. If this new chapter were to feature in the parenting books, I think I would suggest the words of a close friend as an opener. One who listened patiently as I told him, tearfully, that I was starting to feel a little redundant. “You are not redundant. You are triumphant.” That was all I needed to hear. Hallmark is missing a treat.