When my eldest started at Lancaster University, I cried when we drove away and left her.
When my second started at University of Liverpool, I cried when we drove away and left her.
When my third started at Newcastle University – I cried when we drove away and left him.
Yup, you get the general drift.
The run up to that point had been a mixture of trepidation as results day rolled round, followed by relief that they were heading to great unis (not without various issues along the way – but THAT would be the subject of a whole series of blogs).
I am a bit of a nest-builder, so I rather enjoyed the trips to Wilko and TK Maxx to get all the necessary gubbins for their rooms and kitchens. Mr J blanched at the ticker tape parade of receipts…
A special storage jar for spaghetti? 86 toilet rolls? 5 different saucepans? A garlic press? REALLY?
The kids were not as enthusiastic as I wanted them to be, either –
An emergency medical kit for when I get Freshers’ Flu? And what actually IS a garlic press? I won’t need those two dozen condoms, you’re just embarrassing me now
Again, you get the drift.
Boats were booked, as were Premier Inns for the night before. We arrived at each uni at the allotted hour, parked at least 23 miles away from their halls (they do that, to test your resolve and commitment), made many trips back and forth from the car, laden with laundry airers, plastic sets of drawers, random storage boxes and packs of pillows still in their M&S bags – only the best, natch!
*Apparently* there are supposed to be 2nd years there to help, and luggage trolleys, but all we ever saw were spotty 19 year olds hanging around in fancy dress, congratulating themselves on having passed first year. Nope – no bloody help at all.
We found keys, went to rooms, unpacked.
Mr J made *more* trips to the car for more items, most of which came home a year later totally unused. Not sure about the condoms – I have never asked.
I “nested” by proxy, making their bed nicely, sorting their kitchen cupboards, arranging piles of clean tea towels, explaining what a J-cloth was, and how regularly the loo needed to be bleached.
And then it was time to leave.
I am not suggesting I needed to be peeled away from them, sobbing (well, actually, I did). But it hurt. I mean *REALLY* hurt: a visceral ache inside, a longing to run back and scoop them up, to bundle them into the car and speed them back to the ferry.
All this emotional incontinence is a bit embarrassing: I do wear my heart very much on my sleeve, but even I was horrified by how deeply it affected me to leave them.
No matter what I told myself – or others told me – that we had done a great job getting our kids to that stage, where they were independent enough to “fledge” and fly the nest, it still kicked like a grumpy mule who was having a particularly frustrating day.
It passed, as pain will, and their absence became the new normal. At one point, all three of them were studying across at the same time which meant that their dad and I closed up the East Wing, and lived in three rooms… jokes, obvs, but we did turn the radiators off in their bedrooms 😉
We actually rather enjoyed our time as a couple again…
Without them there were no lifts to football or parties; no waking up as someone crashed in from The Courthouse at 04:27 clutching a kebab in one hand while rummaging for taxi money in our bedside drawers with the other.
No rowdy “pre’s” with mates at our kitchen table, with promises of “we’ll clean up in the morning, Mum” which clearly never happened (see previous point re 04:27 arrival and ensuing 12 hours sleep);
No sibling rivalry to referee; no nagging to wake up/empty the dishwasher/walk the dog/brush their teeth/stop waking us up at 04:27 – you get the picture.
Instead, we got into a little routine of our own: every night, we had our supper on a tray in the sitting room watching TV (where previously we had always eaten en famille at the table, strictly no telly, as it was sacrosanct family catch up time)
We started box set binging; we could buy food, Prosecco and beer and know it would still be in the fridge 45 minutes later; we could plan weekends away – usually to see them, naturally – and the volume of laundry shrank from Himalayan proportions to a manageable molehill!
But how we missed them!
Thank heavens for technology: a combination of WhatsApp, Facetime and Messenger meant that there was rarely a day when we didn’t catch up with the girls – less so our son, as clearly there is a different time/space continuum for the adolescent male.
We remembered how it used to be for previous generations – 50p in a phone box, quick call to the ‘rents once a week, maybe even the occasional letter home… fancy that!
So…it’s a strange time – a very strange time.
Be prepared for the fact that it will hurt – and that it will be expensive.
Be prepared for constant contact, or none at all.
Be prepared for regular requests to “borrow” more money, or for recipes for what to do with a tin of chickpeas or a pack of mince from Aldi.
Be prepared: this too shall pass, and before you know it they will have finished… all three of ours are currently back under our roof, being just as they were before they left.
I am now quite nostalgic for those quiet TV suppers and for sleeping past 04:27…