So, I think we have made it through parenthood.
A week ago our son, our youngest child, turned 18 .
We are now officially the parents of 2 adults instead of 2 children.
“Does this mean we can return to our pre-children lives of sex-and-drugs -and- rock-and-roll? ” I ask my friend Cath.
“Something like that,” she replies, but I sense disbelief in her answer
Not disbelief that we won’t be able to return to pre-children life but doubt that it ever involved much “sex or drugs or rock-and-roll.”
And she is, of course, right.
Our past is rarely as wild as we would like to remember it. (“Except for the sex,” my husband, Ninesh, wants me to make clear).
Last weekend though, our son, Joss, compensated for our lack of wild living. .
He started partying on Friday evening and finished at 8 o’clock on Sunday morning after dancing, drinking and clubbing his way through the weekend.
I watched the exhausted teenagers piling off the train on the Sunday morning, face paint smudged, club clothes crumpled….and couldn’t help being very glad I wasn’t them.
I am sure, I too, used to be able to pull an “all-nighter,” and just carry on the next day.
I am definitely, almost completely sure….
It is summer after all, nights are barely dark.
“Being born in August is rubbish,” Joss has pointed out many times in the last year as all his friends turned 18 and partied without him.
He has waited long and impatiently for legal entry into clubs and bars, he deserved his weekend of wildness.
And he seems able to balance it all: wildness, work, fun, family, life..
I stand in constant awe of this son of ours.
He is one of the kindest, most caring people I know.
I find myself wondering where he came from, this thoughtful, big-hearted and determined boy.
He is interested in all that is going on in our damaged world, capable of seeing the bigger picture and yet able to make the most of the smallest moment.
And there is one thing he is heart-breakingly sure of… he does not want to spend his first years as an adult in our Post-Brexit England.
Unlike his 19 year old sister, he has not been the victim of the constant, sometimes soft, sometimes harsh racist words and attitudes that seem to have become suddenly acceptable.
What has made our son Joss, so angry, is the way those who voted for Brexit ( which he couldn’t do since he wasn’t 18) have limited his future.
His sense of disempowerment is tangible.
I don’t think that he has ever felt defined by his mixed-race ( Sri-Lankan, Eastern European, English) heritage. But I believe he has always felt himself to be part of a modern, wide-horizoned, European community.
Last year he lost that part of his identity and his belief in the country he was born in.
But as always, he didn’t sit and moan. Instead he took action,.
Tomorrow’s “A,” level results permitting, he will work and travel for a year and then begin his biggest adventure yet, studying in Canada.
And when I think of that: of him making a life so far away from us, from where I can keep him safe, from where I can hold him tight and soothe away his sorrow, of his life becoming so distant from ours., I realise that you never make it through parenthood.
Being a parent is not something that has a beginning, a middle or an end.
It is a “forever,” state of being, an inherent part of who we become.
It is not something we can separate out when our children leave home and continue their journey without us.
Instead we must let them go and try to keep secret from them, the little part of our hearts that they take with them
I will wrap it carefully in the silver threads spun through years of laughter and tears and exhaustion and pride and love and slip it into his pocket when he leaves.
And hope, that if he is ever sad or lonely or feeling far from home, he will chance upon it and know that I am always there, that a part of him is always here, that the enormity of the world can sometimes fit into a single beat of your heart…
But now is not the time to be sad.
Now is the time to tiptoe around the sleeping teenagers on the living room floor.
Now is the time to practice being those cool parents who never ask too many questions (although we are dying to know) or irritatingly offer to make cups of tea (although we are itching to be nurturing hosts).
Now is the time to enjoy a house full of teenage chatter and laughter and yesterday’s snapchat stories.
Because unlike the wildness of my youth, these moments are real and now and full of tomorrow’s potential.
“Would anyone like a sausage sandwich,” Ninesh and I ask tentatively, as though by saying “yes,” they will make us the happiest people on earth..
We are neither of us, Ninesh or I, unconfident people but there is something about a roomful of teenagers that creates displacement.
Suddenly we are the least important people in a crowded room.
There is a vibrancy and energy created by teenagers that seems to surround them in a swirl of noise and colour while we, the generation-before, seem to become black and white and muted.
And that’s the difference…it is not that we ever stop being parents, it is that the definition of our role as parents changes.
We are no longer expected to have all the answers, instead we are mostly seen as the problem!
We are no longer the centre of our children’s universe, instead we orbit the edges of their world – just in case.
We are no longer the comfort blanket they wrap around themselves at the end of each day, instead we are a rarely-needed safety net.. and a sometimes useful cash machine.
But what remains unchanged is how much we worry about our kids, how much we dream and hope of their happiness, how unconditionally we love them..
Being a parent is “relentless,” one of my friends told me, long before I was a parent myself..
And I have never found a better word to describe parenthood.
When people have been shown an anonymous job description of everything we do as parents and have been asked how much they think someone doing that job should earn, the response was usually between £60,000 and £100,000 a year.
Personally I think we probably deserve millions.
Being a parent is priceless (and pricey).
It is the most exhaustingly fulfilling thing any of us will ever be lucky enough to do..
It is the never-ending journey that is worth every step…
It is a lifetime commitment however far away our children wander.
The first 18 years are but a drop in the parenting ocean.
So here’s to you Joss .
Your future lies shimmering before you.
Your adventure is just beginning.
Our job now is to watch you fly.