When your child leaves home

You knew it was coming. Months of planning went into it. Choosing, visiting, waiting, packing, registering. Leaving.

Leaving. Years really.

You dig deep to find the best you you can - not too clingy, not too distant. Appropriately helpful without being controlling. Cheery, hopeful, upbeat. All goes well right until the end when you hug your goodbye and it all suddenly gets real.

How is this happening? When did he get so tall? So grown up?

You feel suddenly small. There’s a warning tug in your gut and your mask crumples. Tears sting at your eyes. You hug a little tighter, just for a moment, just in case…

And then he’s gone, a little uncertainly, towards the 'welcome zone'. A last look, just to be sure, then you walk back to the car, step in and it’s over. The door closes and it’s suddenly quiet.

The journey home is a hazy memory; it's amazing what you can do on auto pilot. You get home and have a conversation that goes something like this:

“How did it go?”
“Fine. Well. It went well.”
“How are you feeling?”
“I don’t know. Bit numb. Strange. Just tired. I’ll be fine after a night’s sleep. Change, you know. It’s tiring. But he was fine. I think. He’ll be fine. He’ll love it, time of his life…”.

Sunday night is a restless night - fragments of dreams, half-asleep, half-awake. A nagging feeling you’ve forgotten something.

Monday dawns. After the build up to leaving there’s nothing pressing to do. You wander round the house listlessly. Straightening, tidying, definitely not going in his room but you pass it. Duvet’s gone. Bits of paper, clothes, gadgets on the floor that didn’t make the final pack. A small sigh and you carry on down the hall, down the stairs. You seem to be in slow motion, zoning in and out. You catch yourself staring out the window a lot. In the kitchen you decide to make a start on dinner even though it’s not even midday. As you chop onions and add tomatoes you suddenly realise there’s way too much food there! And that’s when it hits. Right there, in your stomach like a whompph. It almost has a sound and waves ripple out like you see when the mushroom cloud goes up after a nuclear bomb detonates. A shock wave. Yes, a shock wave. It passes through you and you cry, a little, but mostly it’s the feeling of something big happening beneath the surface. A shifting of tectonic plates.

Nothing will be the same again.

You speak on the phone later that day: “How was your first day?” “Ok, thanks. I met most of the guys in the house and they seem fine. I can’t get my card to work, but the office was helpful and I have a temporary one. I’m really hungry. I didn’t realise how late it was. There’s still loads to do. Actually I have to go - there’s an induction thing…”. His voice sounds strong, elsewhere, and you realise slowly the twine that has bound you since his birth is being lengthened, loosened, a few threads unravelling. Another tectonic lurch.

Now weeks later he returns for Christmas. The conversation flows, the hugs are warm. The ground shifts a little again. He hasn’t gone for good - this is still his home! But you know it’s the beginning of the leaving. It may be in two, three, five years’ time. He may come and go, but you feel it inside - the twine stretching each time he leaves.

Over time you realise that the twine will never break. It lengthens, tenses, flexes, tugs at your insides, but never breaks. The twine that binds you touches you deeply, reminds you of the years when you were his world, but now his world is out there and you are a satellite he returns to when the orbit brings him close. You watch the skies for those orbits, each one bringing a change in him.

Tentatively you emerge from the dust of the nuclear cloud that marked the first leaving to evaluate your surroundings. You recall the person you once were, but what stirs you now? What takes root? Where next? The ground seems to heave beneath you. You need to make sense of the you you were and the you you hope to become. Clear the ground and start to set the foundations for your future. You need to talk…

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