Nineteen years ago this week our youngest child was born; and on almost the same day years later, she’s flown the nest to university. And so the next stage of all our lives begins; an exciting, sometimes scary, emotional rollercoaster of readjustment.
I’ve had SO much advice from friends, acquaintances and even strangers about how to cope with ’empty nest syndrome’ over the last few weeks but I think I’m more prepared for this than for any other event in my life so far. I’m prepared for the quietness, the abundance of food, the tidy house and the space that the two of us have for the first time in twenty two years. I’ve abandoned myself to the inevitable waves of grief that will wash over me. (I’m a Celt. My feelings are never too far from the surface.) “Grief is the price we pay for love,” my own mother told me, long before the press were quoting the late queen Elizabeth. Grief comes with the realisation that I am no longer part of my children’s day-to-day lives, that one or other of them will not be here to share a joke, or a moan or a funny anecdote about my day when I come home from work and that the old days of #teamsmart are in the past. I’m even at peace with the fact that we didn’t get to do half the things I wanted to do with them all, despite having twenty two years to accomplish it. Robert Burns was right about what happens to plans.
The natural rhythms of life prepare you for the changes ahead. Children grow up and spend more time with peers than parents before they move out. Temporary loss of those you hold dear prepares you for final partings. I have a faith and I’ve had a practice run with the boys. Now that the last of our chicks has flown the nest, I know how to trust that all will be well. We have nurtured strong, independent humans with good sense; they provide mutual support for each other rather than leaning on us; they know there’s a warm, safe space at home but they also know how to build a home away from home and that it isn’t always easy but it is worth it, because it is yours.
I won’t be turning bedrooms into sewing rooms or renting them out any time soon; neither will they be shrines to their childhoods. I won’t be initiating contact every day but I will answer queries straight away about black mould in showers, washing disasters and budgeting. I will enjoy being a couple again and never forget that we are parents. I am not defined by being a mother of three but it is the most important job I have ever done or will ever do. I have plenty to fill my time, some decisions to make and some changes to initiate but I am a Celtic mother. The Christmas pantry is already underway for when we are all together again in a few weeks’ time and I’m sending favourite recipes to three corners of the British Isles on a regular basis with handwritten notes. They are special postcards from the plot for three much-loved young people who are striking out on their own.