Rebel Eldest takes her leave

Meg should be setting down in Berlin any minute now. Easyjet from Glasgow to Schonefeld.

Berlin Schonefeld Airport

Glasgow International Airport

The weekend has been a big party of bon voyage drinks and friends and food.

We spent Friday night in Maisie’s Pub. Shovelling coal onto the fire and getting unco fu’. So fu’ in fact that last orders triggered a ‘party at my house’ shout and the die-hards made their way to New Lanark for the champagne and whisky and Glayva – and a few bites of pakora.

R and Ana and I drove her into the airport at 9am this morning Meg had fretted non-stop over baggage restrictions and hand luggage. She had worried over what to wear and had a last minute change of mind over clothes. She had reassured me that the mobile phone bill won’t really be that expensive. And decided that she wouldn’t wear anything more than mascara on her eyes – because I’m going to cry when I say cheerio Mum.

In the end she and I did cry a bit.

My eyes filled when she walked away from us – up the one-way to Security tunnel. The sight of her setting off on her own. Fur hatted and slender in leather. Gorgeous but vulnerable but determined. Having a last minute panic but settling her own nerves and not looking back.

We say goodbye to them so often now. It seems I’ve entered that stage where my life as a parent is a long round of preparation for departure and then of farewells. This is good and as it ought to be. I just need to toughen up – have my heart go where my mind already is: that separation and independance is the endgame of parenting.

I also need to apologise to all those middle-aged and greeting parents whom I scoffed at as they waved goodbye or spoke of their ’empty nests’.There is pain in this thing that we are fortunate enough to go through.

Of course my ‘nest’ is far from empty. So I am aware that I’m being a bit of a drama queen. But still. With Meg now away and with Lou buying his own car and driving himself through to his new promotion (2nd in charge at a large store in Kilmarnock) I’m aware of how quickly it all passes. That one minute you are changing nappies and dropping from lack of sleep and the next waving goodbye to an adult.

R reminds me of the consolations. A New Year trip to Berlin to see Meg and a staff discount on the planned bathroom from Lou’s store. And I smile.

Truthfully, I cannot understand why I am feeling this way. I was always focused on the objective of the job – to get them safely through to departure. I was always a ‘selfish’ parent who built a large life outside of home. Who did not teach her children that they were the centre of the universe (or the centre of her universe).

But maybe – all along – with my parenting emphasis on independance, I was really doing it for my own benefit. Knowing that one day they would not ‘need’ me, I was preparing myself for the final umbilical cut. The time when my own axis, my centre of gravity, would need to shift.

All the time I was telling myself and others that ‘I had a life. My life was not all about the kids and being a Mother’ I find that actually, my role as Mother is central to my sense of Self.

I also find that whilst you worry when they are little – you ‘worry’ even more when they are grown…

How inadequately I prepared for ‘letting go’. How inadequately I really knew myself.

Anyway… ‘Onwards and upwards’ as my Mum says.

I trust them to look after themselves. To love and be loved. To contribute and be of use. To take pleasure from life and to hurt no person. All will be well.

And as R reminds me, I’ll get my trip to Berlin and a new, reduced price bathroom.

22 thoughts on “Rebel Eldest takes her leave

  1. I know now how my mother felt when I headed off to Hamburg at the age of 18 for my six months working abroad before university. Somehow having the sea between you feels so much more definite than miles of motorway.

    You've done a great job and prepared them well.

  2. Thanks so much Perpetua. I did my best – you just can't help wondering if it was enough. But – it's up to them now. Their father and I can help and support – but we cannot live any part of it for them…

    I've been looking at flights for the New Year… I'm strangely excited about Berlin now!

  3. I was talking to an 'about-to-be- new Dad on Friday when in the pub and he asked: Does your life really change? and then: Do you ever resent what you lost (ie a carefree childfree type of life)?
    I smiled at it.
    That's how completely you don't know or understand before you have them – that your life not only changes – you are transformed so much that you pity your pre-child self. You cannot imagine a life without them – however much you might long for rest or peace or for someone to just stop crying or…
    I said that your life changes so completely that you don't recognise who you were before. Nor do you miss that person. And that even in your tired cranky 'I want to be alone' moments you would never wish them away.

  4. You've done the essential thing for your children…they know they are loved.
    And if you know you are loved you can get through anything.

    So they're all right….your daughter has just proved it to you by coming through a terrible time in her life and yours.

    But you won't be happy until you've seen her in Berlin…

  5. I've always said that, Fly. Mum used to say it too. Love was what mattered. With that knowledge you could move mountains. It's true.
    And it's also true that I'll only be happy when I see her in Berlin.

  6. All leave-takings are hard, yes. Even if it is simply dropping the kid off at the daycare center in the morning, all the way to watching them drive off to college in a rusty, decades old vehicle.
    Now you got me teary-eyed!

  7. You have reminded me of Meg's first day at Nursery… Yes, it is all about learning to let go – incrementally – as they find the confidence and develop the skills to go out into the world…

    Good to hear from you. Hope all is well. Yx

  8. That so summed up things for me – it is more central to my core than i care to admit, despite an active external life.
    My youngest, 21 yo son returned from a long OE this weekend – and another leaves for 18 months pilot training this Friday – a busy household.
    My daughter is fuming over our attitude to a rather aggressive boyfriend – and is going to move in with a girl friend – I am utterly shattered with concern and yet will be relieved to have the unpleasantness removed from my home. She is 28! I hope the friend will help – as I cant seem to!

  9. I've said it before Yvonne. Berlin is the most vibrant, fabulous city I know (even though my experience is years ago it was thorough and I wager that my comment still stands).

  10. The Family's 18 year old son leaves his home here in NZ for Scotland, Switzerland and China for his YO in 13 days time. We all know how you feel. Being a father I feel rather differently ('of course' I hear people say) and see it from the offspring's point of view more easily without the maternal instinct/ties. Play the Glad Game: their YO is not a World War! They are not marching to potential oblivion.

  11. Hi Fi – and welcome. It's good to have you here (apologies re the other comment – I did mean to respond!).
    I'm sorry you're having a rough time with your daughter. Our own journey with Meg has been far from smooth – in fact probably more than similar to your own experience just now.
    I've come to the conclusion that as we increase exponentially in irrelevance (to their lives) so our anxiety increases ever more… It's the powerlessness and frustration of watching them take decisions that we almost 100% know are going to be negative… Argh! Though my mum tells me it was ever thus…!

  12. Our pal said in riposte to me and my moaning: 'Try being a father. Now there's irrelevant' I thought he was being unfairly cruel to himself. But maybe it is very different.
    Your GG – yes. You're right. They have the world and all its positives at their feet…

  13. I think I've been preparing for these moments for years. I knew, when they were small, that they were 'borrowed' as they say, though I prefer to look things in the eye and say that , like me at twenty, they will leave. Thankfully we all get along swimmingly in the household, despite the many insane things I have done to this family structure. Thanks God we didn't go down the sink! Now, like you, I think I'm ready for the slow shift towards not worrying about their every moment – it's a slow process, eh? Now I no longer know need to know everything, the panic is about different things – bigger and ugly even – but I'll be fine when they go, hell I'm even looking forward to some planing and movement myself.
    I'm sure Meg will love it, you will have a great trip over there, and your bathroom will be smashing. Xcat

  14. Yes, Yvonne, it's not that we don't feel it at all as fathers it's just that we feel it differently. I've been having a lot of this recently because Gaz has been home at the same time as a close friend on the Island, Pat's, daughter who is the retail manager on one of the high end luxury cruise liners. She is away 6 months at a time. Pat is a Mother. I am a Father. She cannot understand that I don't feel bad when Gaz goes away and I get the impression that she thinks it's a coldness or callousness on my part. The difference is, I think, that I can understand where she is coming from. I just don't feel the same. This may sound terrible but I think it's analogous to when people die. We are not usually sorry for them (if you have a faith then you believe they are better off and if you don't then you believe they don't feel anything anyway) but we are sorry for ourselves: for our loss.

  15. Thanks for that explanation GB. I do know that what I am feeling is 'sorrow for myself' – grieving the loss of something – at some point this will become welcoming the birth of something new…
    I have reflected on R's very different experience of the kids and their gradual independance – and wondered whether it's because he has spent a lifetime with his focus primarily on the world 'out there' – thinking about providing the material where-withal etc as opposed to being primarily focussed on the domestic sphere. I don't know there is any explanation that I can offer myself or anyone else that doesn't sound sexist! I used to believe that mothers/fathers – we were parents and there was no gender-based difference to our experience of being parents – but now I am fence-sitting. Mind you I am not sure the difference is gender-based so much as down to the type of role which we respectively assumed when we had them. For me this was clearly a more traditional 'mother-nurture-focus on the domestic' role (even though I was completely certain I hadn't!!) and for R it was the old traditional 'hunter-gatherer'! Mmmmmm… I sense we could really debate this for ever…!

  16. I always loved that explanation of our kids – as 'borrowed'.
    My very dearest friend (now dead) was a wonderful practical and pragmatic Child Protection Social Worker. She really taught me so much – helped me to become the parent I am. She always said – 'your job is to get them to a point where they can leave you behind'.
    And I could see that they are doing that all the way along. Nursery; the increasing importance of their peer group friendships; the first sleep-over; school; college/work… and then they are all grown and away – returning occasionally to lick wounds or draw breath and be cared for and fussed over.
    I empathise with the 'many crazy things I have done' statement. I've done a few myself. But we've survived.
    I am just at that transition where their going is not yet become the next stage in my life. I'll get there…
    Anyway, my own Mother tells me that much as she loves me she got to the stage when she really loved seeing me but couldn't wait to say goodbye!!

  17. I cannot wait to get over there. Meg emailed this morning and told me she had already organised her monthly travel ticket and was planning some trips!

  18. This struck many chords.

    There is something so touching about the back of a person you love as they walk away from you.

    I always think of myself first and foremost as a mother as it has been the most profound experience of my life. Just the one daughter, 26 now, and she always comes to me with her news good or bad but most of the time she gets on with creating her life and being a loyal and loving person.

  19. This really stopped me in my tracks. The one and only son is in his final year at school so I am having to prepare myself for his leaving the nest. As a consolation it might be delayed for a year as there's a portfolio preparation course in the local college which he hopes to do. Another year to teach him to cook, to fend for himself, to make his way in the world.

  20. Your daughter sounds such a credit to you Chloe (not that that surprises me in the slightest!!).

    But yes, the back of someone you love as they walk away – there is such a pang – such vulnerability. I wonder why that is? Maybe it is the desire to protect – and the sight of that tender vulnerable self walking away just brings it all to the fore.

  21. And he will be stronger than either of you could ever imagine Mairead. And so will you.
    But there is such a mix of feelings – all warring with one another as we see them go out into the world without us. We have done our job – but have to re-shape our own lives. We are proud. But for a time feel lost.
    My Mother has always said: if you let them go then they will always come back to you. She's been right so far…

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