You sleep through the night undisturbed by the crashing of doors and the flushing of loos. No loud American sitcom filters into your dreams, nor any repeated guitar chords. You go out to work and when you come back the house is just as you left it. No clothes or half-empty cups of coffee on the floor. The kitchen is clean and tidy, the magnum of ketchup lies neglected at the back of the fridge. The empty nest is a grimly silent and soul-less habitat.
I prepared for the fledglings’ flight by shifting my own nest, moving to somewhere I’d always wanted to live, but also moving to escape the memories in the empty rooms of the old family home. A therapist would be proud of my efforts: a new life, a new career direction, new friends, many of them a lot younger than me and determined to prevent me wallowing in melancholy or growing old, gracefully or otherwise.
But since both my sons left home, there’s a big part of me missing. Pretentious platitudes about our children only being on loan to us until they create their own futures pass me by. Let them fly the nest? There’s no way of stopping them. You just have to cope, and it’s not easy.
At least, that’s my experience. Friends have said how they appreciate time for themselves, time to “do their own thing”, but having spent almost 40 years doing my own thing till the boys came along, there’s little novelty value there. My life became exponentially better, happier, more fulfilled and more fulfilling with them around.
Sometimes I envy those around me whose kids live in the same street or the same town or even the same county, and they can meet easily and regularly, without consulting diaries and thetrainline.com. But I’m proud that my lads are in London, that they have taken to city life better than most country-reared ducks to water, that they are fulfilling their own dreams and ambitions with ferocious independence.
Pride, though, doesn’t compensate for the big, empty hole that’s left behind; for the all-too-brief visits and the joyously received texts and emails. The house is too quiet. No singing practice at the piano. No tap dancing on that piece of hardboard that lives under the sofa.
Skype is wonderful, but you can’t smell their socks. Yes, that’s what I miss most, the mess, the smelly socks, the muddy shoes. Doing their laundry. Picking up their discarded clothes. Feeding them and the rest on loaves and fishes. Dishing out the Calpol and the hangover cures. Parenting is all about putting others first, doing things for others, not for reward and not out of duty but out of love.
Writing this might be cathartic, but I’d also hope it was taken as advice (or warning) to all parents, to make the most of your children’s time with you, to share as much as you can, before the time flies and they do. A wise friend once said that the best we can do for our children is to provide them with happy memories. It’s not only the children who benefit from that.