So it is almost here.
The end of an era is knocking on our door…and I am pretending not to hear it. Thinking perhaps that if I do not answer, if I do not let it in, our son, Joss, our youngest child, will not be leaving in two short days to begin his travels of the world and our time as full-time, hands-on parents will be over.
Like his sister before him, he is taking a gap year.
Like her he has worked hard to earn the money he needs.
Like her, part of his months away will be spent in SE Asia.
But unlike her, when he returns, he will only be back for a month before he leaves to begin his studies and a new life in Canada.
It is not the travelling that is filling me with sadness, but the knowledge that this, the first of his big adventures, is the beginning of his leaving, the beginning of a life that will no longer include me.
” It’s a sign that you have done things right,” says one of my friends, trying to comfort me with tea and croissants. ” That your time as parents has been successful. We wouldn’t want our children to grow up afraid to leave our sides. We want them to be inquisitive and adventurous. We want them to be brave enough to live their lives without us. We want them to fly higher than we ever dared to dream. That’s what Joss is doing.”
And I know she is right.
And I am so immensely proud of our fiercely independent children.
But I will miss our closeness.
I will miss the possibility of reaching out just for a moment and touching the unshaven cheek of this “man-boy,” who has been so much a part of me for so many years.
I will miss watching the gentle way he talks and laughs with his friend Pierre.
I will miss waking up in the morning to a house full of slumbering teenagers and listening to their chatter as Joss makes pancakes for everyone.
I will miss his over-confident statements that leave no room for dispute, even when he is wrong.
I will miss the patient way he tries to explain incomprehensible IT problems to his grandparents.
I will miss his decisiveness and his quick-witted banter with his friends.
I will miss his drive and his energy and his ability to warm the hearts of all he meets.
I will miss.. him.
In the street acquaintances stop me and ask. “How are you coping with Joss leaving so soon?”
And I want to say “I’m not. I’m not coping at all.”
But that’s not cool.
Being a “cool” parent takes work and effort and sometimes a lot of lying.
Being a “cool” parent can be emotionally exhausting.
So instead I stand on the street and shrug and smile vacantly:
“I’m fine,” I say. ” You have to let your children spread their wings. Life is a big adventure waiting to happen…Joss’s wait is over. He’s ready…”
And he is..ready…. it’s me who’s not.
How un-cool is that.
18 still seems so very young to be starting the rest of your life.
When I was 18 I left England to au-pair in France. I remember the tears I shed at the thought of leaving my boyfriend, the sadness I felt that I wouldn’t see my friends for so long. But I don’t remember caring about what my parents felt.
When you are 18, the future is all yours. It lies in front of you, a pool of glittering potential, your past and your parents, a-hazily-dispersing reflection.
When you are 18, life is yours to make of what you will. Not to worry about what your parents think.
And as parents, it’s our job to give our children the courage to jump into the glittering pool and to start to swim without looking back. We have to understand that our role must change, that instead of being the centre of our children’s universe, we become onlookers, standing on the sideline, cheering them on from the shore.
We must smile and wave and pretend that we are happy with our new-found lack of importance.
But the truth is, however far from us they may wander, however “other” their lives may become, our children will never stop filling our hearts and heads
Being a parent is not time-limited nor presence-dependent. The moment our children are born, we sign a contract with forever. No small print, no loopholes, no get-out clauses.
I remember a mum once telling me that the thing they don’t warn you about when you become a parent, is that you will never, ever again be able to put yourself first. And she was right. Our children will never stop being the most important thing in our lives.
In front of me, Joss’s backpack stands ready to go. It looks so small, too small to carry a future in its zipped compartments. I always thought tomorrow should be bigger than today but I forgot that dreams and excitement cannot be carried on your back.
He and his dad are at an Arsenal football match together today. They ( and his sister Mia) have been going together since Joss was 3 but this will be the last one for a long time. Our days seem to be full of “last ones” at the moment – last days at work, last evenings with friends, last meals with family…..or perhaps that is just a mother’s lonely and melodramatic mis-interpretation of the truth.
What I do know to be true, is that Joss will leave behind a space far greater than himself, a hole in our home and our hearts and our lives that can never be filled.
Go well my Joss. Come back safe
And know that if you ever feel sad or lonely or confused, our love, that is endless and always, is travelling with you and will not ever let you be alone.