Autumn is here. Britain is being buffeted by storms and, in houses all over the country, families are bracing themselves for their own emotional tempest as their teenager packs a big bag and finally leaves the nest.
Already, mothers are sidling up to me, tears in their eyes, and confessing that the imminent departure is leaving them feeling devastated, bereft, and unsure how they are going to cope in the months that lie between now and the Christmas vacation. I can sympathise – really. My gorgeous daughter Lucy is leaving home herself, and heading off to study Art at a university which is over three hours drive, or a very tedious and complicated train journey, away.
I was so proud and pleased when, after months of sweating over her portfolio, she got her university place, but now I’m faced with the reality that, when she goes, it will just be me and a bunch of boys left at home.
My husband is a truly wonderful man, and my 14-year-old son is a warm and gentle giant, but lets face it – they are not going to be bringing home copies of Grazia or Heat for us to enjoy together over a cup of tea, nor will they have much of an opinion on whether or not I am too old to embrace the latest fashions in it. And, being boys, their musical tastes and mine couldn’t be more different. Whereas Lucy and I could hum together to a bit of gentle Laura Marling, or Mumford and Son, the men-folk are only happy doing air guitar to a bit of hardcore rock.
Even my friend Mia, normally a source of solace in my darker moments, has done little to appease me. “Gosh, just you and the boys left then,” she observed. “Have you not noticed how women who live only with men, often start wearing men’s clothes themselves?"
Great. But actually, despite the fact that Lucy’s departure will clearly leave a massive girl-shaped hole in my life, I still feel that I, and all the other Fresher mothers out there, should be celebrating, not crying as they wave goodbye. Why? Well, here’s my ten ‘reasons to be cheerful’:
1. Firstly, you should take pride in the fact that you have produced a son/daughter who has the ability and confidence to leave home and look after himself. Good parenting is all about preparing your child to be happily independent - so if your son is packing his drum kit into the car with barely a backwards glance, then feel good about it. You’ve done a good job.
2. If your teen is starting uni this year, they are avoiding the massive hike in tuition fees that will hit students in 2012. This may make little difference to you right now, but essentially means that they are saving themselves in the region of £18,000 plus. So thank your lucky stars that they are currently heading to the likes of Reading, Warwick, Bournemouth or Oxford, and aren’t packing for Goa in a quest to ‘find themselves’, and planning to start uni next year instead..
3. Feel proud of your Fresher’s ability to have secured a place at uni this year, of all years.. The rush to get into uni before the fees went up has meant even greater competition for places than ever before. Yep, all the kids who have been hanging out in Goa for the past two years, suddenly realised that this was probably their last chance to get to uni - so your clever child has beaten off applications from a whole bunch of 20-somethings, as well as their peers.
4 And, while we are on the subject of fees, bereft parents should also be celebrating the fact that their offspring are actually leaving home to study, and not heading to the local uni and living at home for the next three years (which will inevitably become more common in the light of the fee rise). Living with a teenager is one thing, but living with a student who is partying as hard as he or she is studying, is a whole other story. Plus, we’ve all heard the horror stories about parents who dream of entering a new stage once the kids leave home, only to find the ‘kids’ are still living there at the age of 30 or more..
5 At the risk of invoking wrath from all of you far, cleverer and better parents (who will tell me that I should never have been doing it in the first place) I also know that my daughter leaving home will mean I have to do less laundry/cooking/cleaning etc.. Hurrah.
6 With one fewer child putting demands on your time, maybe this is the year that you can find more time to do something for YOU. Add up all the hours you’ve spent dropping off, picking up, doing their laundry and so on… all that time is now YOURS - so make the most of it. Don’t spend it all sitting in the empty bedroom weeping..
7 Enjoy the peace. Not only will you no longer be woken up by your baby elephant returning home at 4am after a good night out, but if your family is anything like ours, you also won’t have to listen to any more grumbling and bickering between a) baby elephant and siblings and/or b) baby elephant and your partner/husband. I am particularly looking forward to no longer having to be the middle (wo)man who runs around tidying away the teen’s discarded shoes/bags/coffee cups, to avoid listening to the moans and curses from my husband when he falls over them.
8 Enjoy your wardrobe/make-up remaining intact. Ok, maybe this is not so relevant for those of you whose sons are leaving home, but I for one will find it a pleasant surprise to discover that my mascara is just where I left it every morning – plus my shoes, my velvet jacket, my hairbrush, the hair dryer, and so on and so on.
9 Empty house = more sex. Sex – remember that?
10 And finally… oh, who am I kidding..? All the above may very well be true, but lets face it, however wonderful it is that my daughter is about to start on a new and exciting future, there is no doubt that I will still feel a knot of emptiness in my stomach whenever I see that my mascara is still sitting on the windowsill where I left it, that there are no shoes cluttering up the hallway, that one of our bedrooms is sitting empty and perpetually tidy, and that there is an empty space at the dining table. I too will be fighting back the tears when I drop my daughter in halls and when I make the long car journey home with an empty back seat. Yes, even if my daughter is a hundred odd miles away, I am still a mother, I will always be a mother and, as a mother, that’s my job.