I officially have an empty nest, and not for the first time. With my daughters now in third and fourth year at Glasgow University, and Daughter No 1 having worked abroad before going to university, this is the fifth time I’ve done ‘the trip’. Believe me, it gets easier every time. It’s less a time for sadness and more of a time for celebration.
With term starting this week, families have been criss-crossing the country with cars full of clothes and bedding, laptops and chargers, and half of the contents of the kitchen. Students have been delivered to halls and flats ranging in style and cleanliness from ‘ghastly’ to ‘not too bad’.
The contents of your car, plus the spoils of an expensive trip to the supermarket, will have been dumped into a cinder-walled cell boasting hose-clean surfaces and strict instructions about the unauthorised use of electric blankets, candles and Blu-tac.
Then, depending on whether any other flat-mates have already moved in, you will either be ‘allowed’ to unpack, help make the bed and fill the fridge, or you’ll be summarily dispensed with. There might be tears during your drive back north. You might wonder when the first texts or phone calls will come – and how regular they will be during this first frantic friend-making term. It might also cross your mind to wonder how much studying will be done. And then you’ll get home, strip their bed and hoover their bedroom floor, and life will settle into a new, different routine.
I have just said goodbye in this manner, or something approximating it, for the fifth time. And I am congratulating myself that the girls are happy and settled, and that in spite of Mr Marr’s absence at work in Edinburgh, I am too.
Our first family farewell was traumatic, but I had an excuse – our 17-year-old was heading much further than a three hour drive down the A9; she was heading for a year-long teaching job in Central America. We had no idea when we would be able to speak to her again, and I sniffed through several box of tissues until we knew she had arrived safely, was happy, and loved her job.
It gets easier…
And since that first separation I have been fine. The girls have been deposited and settled in with few tears or trauma. In fact, as much as I love them, children leaving home is a moment to celebrate, and not an excuse to mourn, or to ponder what my new purpose in life might be.
As parents our job is to bring up our children to become self-reliant, free-thinking individuals, who can survive, no, thrive, without us. By the time they reach 18 they should be flexing their independence muscles and itching to get out there and find their own paths. This is their time to learn or earn (preferably both), to make their own choices and relationships, and to work out, beyond parental influence, what is important in their lives.
Letting go the first time is hard – there will be an adolescent-shaped hole in your life which can take time to fill over. For weeks you’ll listen out for them; you might absent-mindedly still cook for them too. It can be difficult to accept that this human, who until so recently relied on you for everything – nourishment, warmth, guidance and entertainment – is now managing without you. But congratulate yourself and enjoy the freedom.
With Facebook messenger groups, phone calls, Skype calls and occasional lunches when I’m in Glasgow, I don’t miss my girls at all. That’s not strictly true – I miss the physicality of them – their hugs, the chats over cups of tea, and their music seeping through the walls. But I know they are happy, and I know this is the natural order of things. Job done – at least for now.
I am still needed, of course – as students they’re not yet off the payroll, and there are still things I can apparently help with – recipes are the main thing, and my proof-reading skills are occasionally called upon too.
And then…the note.
I was congratulating myself this morning on having survived another start-of-term transition without shedding a single tear, but I hadn’t banked on the note. Shaking out a t-shirt my eldest had left in my bedroom, her note fell out. It didn’t say much, but it said everything. It said thank-you for our summer together, and that she loves me.
I don’t miss my daughters, but I do really. I can’t wait till they’re home for Christmas…