It’s been an emotional week here, with my eldest child leaving for University. Along with the huge pride, and sense of this being exactly the right thing, there’s been sadness, and I know I’m not the only mum feeling it, so I thought I’d write about how it feels when your child leaves home.
Over the summer we had not one, but two incredible exam results days. First Maddie, who got A* in every A-Level subject she took, then Evan, who brought home all 9s in his GCSEs, apart from Spanish. (I was as proud of that one as I was of the rest – he told me long before he sat the papers that he wasn’t going to revise because he hated it and “couldn’t be arsed”. I love that he’s only academic when it matters to him – in my mind, that’s so much more human than being obsessed with a perfect score, and it means he’s prepared to sacrifice things that aren’t important to him for the sake of a bit of time out and peace of mind). And he managed one point more than his sister two years ago, which was apparently the most important thing to him. Nice to know that sibling rivalry is still very much alive here!
But back to those perfect scores of Maddie’s. I’m proud of her too. So proud that I haven’t been able to work out what I want to say about it until now. Back in January, Maddie was offered a place at Cambridge university. We went out and celebrated straight away. An Oxbridge place is so rare I thought it worth celebrating, irrespective of what happened next. What happened next was that she spent the next two terms working harder than she’s ever worked to get the grades she needed. Then came the summer of stress as we waited to see if it was enough. (To be fair, Maddie said she would have been happy with her second choice of Leeds; given that she’s a party animal, Leeds may have been more fun than Oxbridge!) It was more than enough.
So why now?
Tomorrow, we make the drive to her new home in Cambridge. The boxes and piles of her things (and some of our old stuff) have been piling up on the floor around my desk for the last few weeks, and now it’s time. After tomorrow I will be able to get to my desk without tripping over spatulas and fairy lights. There will be no swearing as I stub my toe on the fan that should have gone in the loft 2 weeks ago (essential in all halls – apparently it gets hot). No mess. But no Maddie.
The feelings come in waves for me. I can’t listen to ABBA any more – that song is every mother’s nighmare, it’s ruined for me now! There’s something about Mondays. Last Monday I cried on and off all day. The rest of the week I was fine. Even when we had a ‘final’ trip to the cinema together as a family, I was happy with my pick ‘n mix as long as she sat next to me. Today we’ve got her bike ready and she’s packed up her medical kit. Today I’ve been tearful again. I’ve promised a roast dinner tonight but I’m struggling to get started. Instead, I’m writing her a letter. She may not spend much time reading it, but the writing of it will help me process the impossible mix of feelings I have.
And now it’s 3 days later and she’s gone. Which puts a much more positive spin on what I wanted to write. 3 days ago, this would have been super emotional. Today, I hope it says all the same things, but with a dose of responsibility for my feelings that I may not have been able to muster before. Here’s hoping:
I loved you before I met you. It’s a cliché, I know, but Savage Garden were pretty good, so I’m going with it – much as I will go with Lee Ann Womak later on in this missive – don’t knock it! You know there were fertility problems – I suspect because I sucked up stress like a sponge in my twenties and didn’t treat my body right. I ignored my ridiculously off-schedule periods and accepted the fob-off of a contraceptive pill to my detriment. Don’t do that, my beautiful girl. If your periods are out of whack, look at your lifestyle. Figure out your stress. Get some counselling.
My point is, a year of hellish pills (who needs all those hot flushes before the perimenopause?), a failed IVF, a ton of blood tests and 2 early miscarriages made you the most important thing that had ever happened to me. It would have happened anyway – you were my baby… What that means is that every time your mum gets nostalgic and tearful, there’s a lot of history there. Try and remember that; it might make you cringe a bit less.
As a result, I wasn’t a laid back mum. You were more precious than the average baby. But let’s not avoid the obvious (obvious to parents, anyway) you’re all precious. We all think our kids are the best things in the world ever. What I need you to know is that it’s unavoidable. Imagine the most pain and grief you’ve ever felt – your diabetes diagnosis, for example, or some time when a love interest dropped you (I don’t know, you don’t tell me much!) – and that’s what us parents feel when our children leave us.
Not that you should feel guilty – far from it. You’ve done everything I ever wanted you to do, and more. (And you would have been enough had you sat at home rocking in a chair and making slime – that would have been fine by me, because you are fine in my eyes, whatever you do). I wanted you to leave home. That’s the irony of how I’m feeling now. I wanted you to be independent, free, finding your own way in life, not relying on me. I wanted all of that, I gave it to you, you grabbed it with both hands and ran with it, and made it your own. And I couldn’t be happier.
But it hurts. I hear a car on the street and think its you. I expect you to come in and plonk down on the floor next to me, playing with the dog. I wait to hear your music in your room, you singing out loud, happy – or trying to make yourself so. I miss your frequent trips to the kitchen, where I’d join you, just to get 5 minutes in your company. I even miss the flasks of random concoctions in the fridge you created to make your coffee, or you breakfast taste the way you wanted it.
I don’t miss the empty cartons in the fridge and the cupboard. It’s quite nice to know there’s honey, not dregs, and sugar in the jar. I don’t miss the fruit flies in your room, drawn in by little bowls smeared with ice-cream or peanut butter. I don’t miss the roughly torn envelopes, abandoned with their contents in the hall – adult post is boring, and you don’t want it. Only I do. I do miss all that. Because that’s the chaos that comes with you. And I miss you.
I love you. I miss you. I’m so proud of you. I’m excited for you. I’m sad. I’m missing out on your life now and I wish I could be a fly on the wall. I also don’t; there are things you need to do without me now. But I will never forget how you held my hand and said “I love you mummy… I love you (Do you love me?)” You needed the reassurance. The roles are reversed now. I love you, and I’m now the needy one.
I will let you go. I won’t text too often. I won’t pester. I never want you to feel obliged. But I will always be here. I will always want to be in your life, in whatever way you allow. I will always be here when you need me, but I will always be proud to be on the sidelines. I want everything for you still, and I know you will go out and grab it. So I will be content to watch.
And when you get the chance to sit it out, or dance – I hope you dance.