Ssssshhh. Listen. No noise. That’s unusual, as my teenage children always seems to have a gaggle of friends round. (I often idly wonder why they never seem to spend as much time at other people’s homes). On any given night, you can hear the sound of music and giggling from my daughter’s room, and muffled laughs from my son’s room as they play XBox.
But tonight isn’t usual. I’m sitting in a silent house. It’s nearly 1am, my husband and son are in bed asleep, and I am awake and grieving for the noise. You see, a few hours ago I helped my daughter Jo move into university. I’d always scoffed at empty nest syndrome. At parents who were poleaxed when their children started leaving home, and yesterday I was discussing it with a family friend at her 50th wedding anniversary. I wasn’t prepared for the flicker of pain that crossed her face when she commiserated and started reminiscing about her own children moving out. I’d always assumed mums and dads hung out the bunting when their offspring left home, celebrating reclaiming a portion of their lives. After all, we freely give up our love, time and independence to our kids.Why wouldn’t we want some of that free for ourselves?
Reality of course is different once YOU get there! I’ve realised I’ve spent nearly two decades weaving my life into a complex pattern around two individuals. Remove one person from that pattern, and you’re left with something that looks like my first attempt at knitting. I know in time I’ll learn the cosmic art of darning my life to fill the gap, but it still won’t look right. And then it hit me – from the moment you have them, you’re teaching your children to do without you. To cope with the big, bad world and stand on their own feet. That’s been one of the hardest lessons of parenting. (That and never leave two children alone with your makeup kit.) And that is exactly how it should be. I can only hope I’ve taught Jo enough to be as ‘wise as serpents and as innocent as doves’ when it comes to dealing with people, to respect others and remember to have fun too.
And of course, there’s the hope that a few months away from me will make her realise how funny, clever, intelligent, wise and hard working I am. Although my ‘empty nest syndrome’ friends have told me not to hold my breath. It may take a few years….and a few children!
(First published September 2009)