It’s strange how it is often the smallest things that have the biggest emotional impact.
This week it was a calendar.
It started with me facing the inevitable fact that another year is almost over.
It’s not so much the time passing that I find demoralising as the fact that it means Christmas, with all its tinsled consumerism, must be right around the corner.
I was counting the weeks on the family calendar, looking at the 4 columns, one for each of the members in our family.
And that’ when it struck me.
After 20 years of shaping our days around the schedule of our children, next year we won’t need a family calendar.
Next year our lives will be reduced to 2 columns: mine and my husband Ninesh’s.
“What’s the matter,” asks Ninesh, glancing up from his computer.
“I’ve just realised,” I say, ‘that from next year we’ll be a two -column family.”
Ninesh looks at me and looks at our calendar scrawled with squiggly lines and crossings out.
“Great,” he says, ” not only will we be free to go out whenever we want, only have to cook for two but we will also have more wall space. . I don’t know why you’re upset, the rest of us never look at it anyway. We’ve been using the calendars on our phone for years.”
And he’s right.
The only writing on the calendar is mine.
But there is something comforting in writing down what we are all doing and when.
Something that makes me feel complete about knowing where everyone is and when they will be coming home.
It’s not the calendar I will miss, but the sense it gives me that I am still a mum.
Under our daughter’s name there is already mostly only a squiggled line. She is already beginning to make her own life, far from us, enjoying the independence and vibrancy of student life.
But I have written in big letters, the day she will come home.
Our son, still living at home for a few more months has a packed column, full of work and social life.
Ninesh has dinners and racquetball games, and nights out with friends written under his name.
I have meetings and book club and nights out with friends.
We each have our own lives but somehow, on our calendar they are all entwined.
It’s all there, on the wall. Proof that we are a family.
But in February Joss goes travelling and when he returns we only have him for a month before he leaves us to start a new life in Canada.
I’m not sure that I can justify a family calendar that has 2 columns of squiggled and empty lines. It will be too obvious a reminder that I have no idea what our children are doing or where they are or who they are with.
It’s not a family calendar but a family life that is hanging on our wall.
“Perhaps we can buy a picture,” suggests Ninesh ” or use the space for photos of the good times we are having without our children.”
At that moment a sound like the splintering of breaking glass echoes from all our phones and the words, “there is motion at your front door,” flash up on our screens.
It’s a present we bought Ninesh for his birthday. A front door bell with a motion detector and video and a link to all our phones. If someone rings our doorbell, wherever we are in the world, we will all know and be able to talk to them through the video screen and tell them that we are not in ( which they might have realised when we didn’t answer the door).
No longer can a postman hide a package under our doormat and pretend they rang the bell.
No more do I have to open the door to yet another charity persuader trying to guilt me into giving monthly deposits to a cause I have never heard of.
The days of curtain twitching are over, we just need to look at our phones to know who we are not letting in.
“It’s just someone delivering a leaflet,” says Joss, walking between me and the calendar and holding up his phone to show me.
“Won’t you miss our calendar?” I ask him.
“Why would I miss a calendar?” he asks, ‘ I never look at it anyway, I just use the one on my phone.”
I refuse to look at Ninesh’s I-told-you-so-smile.
“But isn’t it nice for you to know where we all are?” I persevere.
“I just text you if I want to know that,” says Joss, reaching for the Weetabix.
And I realise then, how ready I am to imbue a piece of paper four columned paper with a symbolic meaning it doesn’t have.
It is not the calendar I will miss but the identity it represents.
It’s time to re-define my life.
It’s time for our children to fly, I know that.
I did it when I was their age.
Stepped into the wideness of a beckoning world without a backward glance or a care for the breaking hearts I might be leaving behind.
A family is bigger than the lines on a calendar.
It’s not the knowing “where we are when,” that matters but knowing “who we are now.”
It’s not the columns on a calendar that bind us together but an unspoken, unconditional love.
I know, I really do, that just because our children are wandering so far away from where I can keep them safe, doesn’t mean that we are no longer a family.
But I know too, that “knowing where our children are not,” which is at home with us, is the beginning of a future of always missing them.
I pick up a pen and turn to December 31st. In capital letters across 4 columns I write: GOODBYE.
Ninesh sighs, that why-do-you-always-have-to-be-so-melodramatic sigh.
“No one’s leaving on the 31st December,” he says. ” There won’t be any trains.”
“I’m not saying goodbye to the children. I’m saying goodbye to the family calendar,” I explain.
Joss gives a derogatory snort and puts his cereal bowl in the dishwasher.
“It’s just a calendar mum,” he says.
I turn to look at him, trying to drink in his black, close cropped curls, his deep, almost- black eyes, the calm, kind certainty of his presence.
I force myself to remember how this feels, how he looks.
And I realise that I will never be ready for this 2-columned life.
Our phones vibrate to the sound of splintering glass again.
“It’s just a cat”, says Joss.
“How useful for you,” I say, ” even when you are in Canada, you will know when a cat is walking past our front door.”
And suddenly I am filled with the wonder of modern technology.
There is something that can hold our family together across the miles and oceans and dreams.
All you need is a motion-sensor bell and a video camera.
I will hang my heartache in the space where our calendar used to be.
And whenever I want to talk to Joss or Mia, wherever they are, all l will need to do is dance around on our front doorstep.
And I hope they will know that is it not the motion at our front door, but the love of a faraway mum that is making their phones vibrate to the sound of splintering glass.
“You could just WhatsApp them,” suggests Ninesh, ” the neighbours might think you were less crazy.”
I sigh my “yes-but,” sigh…because where’s the splintering -glass melodrama in that?