One Year In – Reflections from a Mum whose Kid Left Home for Uni

My kid has been gone nearly a year. By my reckoning, we both got kind of used to the new way of things about six months in.  I felt she got settled then, which made me get settled then.  

And my kid left two siblings behind, so I am not an empty nest candidate. But even having these two wonderful creatures still with me did not negate the profundity of seeing my first born walk away, with bags and a one-way ticket. And as someone who loves change and takes it in her stride, I failed to ready myself for this spectacularly large event.  There had been no great angst at the thought of her leaving – it was always a possibility, she comes from a family of travellers.  And we had clearly signalled we’d support the move, her father in particular encouraging applications to Uni across the country. ‘Choice is freedom’, our common mantra.

But I cannot deny the deepest, deepest wrench of losing my first born to the world when it actually happened.

It felt sudden, and I guess we are a bit last minute in our house, so the whole process was rapid.  To go from everything to nothing overnight, to lose the daily presence in one sleep, was slamming.  Powerful, flooding nostalgia of the baby years washed over, every time I opened a cupboard and saw something stashed away for memorabilia, or glanced at shelves in her abandoned room. Teddies, nic-nacs, toys. Towers of books that fed and nurtured her relentless enquiring mind. Uncertainty came – should she have gone, was she too young, have we let her down by letting her go?

Yet, I was totally on board with her going away for Uni, and beyond proud of her choice. Flying solo. East for adventure.  But the departure of the first child (and maybe all the children?) does things to a mother!  Wrenches back to tiny – warm, curious, hugging, compliant, loving, determined, questioning, guileless, sublime small person. Random, visceral memories of evening bath and cuddles, and milk and stories.  A little paw grasping one finger down the road. Hunkering down to examine the smallest fleck. Mindfulness manifest. The transitions to big bed, big school, multiple houses, bedrooms, pets.  Then arriving where we were always headed, at year 12 and conversations about what to do with life.  So quickly it comes. So short the journey. The details blur, the challenging bits subdue, the snapshots of key moments transcend, with the face (THAT face), imprinted forever.

The year since she left has flown by, and for all the times parents of growing kids are challenged by the pervasiveness of social media, this is where it comes into its own.  Almost daily chats, gifs, memes, advice, lols, guidance (in both directions), tips and tricks and tales of nothing, transport and nurture our long distance relationship.  Video hook ups from the kitchen, the car, the cafe, the dining table, the desk, the bedroom, HER bedroom (aka my office, aka my creative studio), the garden, the heart.  Taking her down to the river and port when she missed home.  Pulling faces, talking crap. Being together apart.  

Sometimes, if we hadn’t skyped for a while, I would then see her face and my heart would lurch. A physical pull. I come back time and again to the question, how did previous parents cope without technology? (I guess you don’t know what you don’t know. )  The fact is, we all survive, and most of us very well.  The stories of suffering and struggling are true too, but the stories of adjustment and success also abound, of course they do. This is the natural course of things after all.  

There is great beauty and pride in watching them learn the ropes in the real world. Training wheels off. 

I have, from five hours flying time away (or 3,606 km), watched my baby girl master new city, new home, new rules and expectations, new uni, new relationships, and old, including extended family (!) and friends at home. She’s survived hardcore study (success with stats!), finding a job, and mastering it. Washing, shopping, cooking, and better, caring about washing, shopping and cooking. She’s created a beautiful room for her own private sanctuary, made great decisions from hard ones, and she’s kept it all simmering, rarely a boil over, rarely an empty hot plate, totally knowing what needs to be on the back burner, and what on the front, and when.   She is, in short, amazing.  

One comes to see the magnificent convergence of influence from all aspects of their life to date.  Family influence of course, but also all those lessons from the massive, separate life they have at school (of which we really only ever know a part of). The challenges of the friendship groups, the school yard, negotiating with teachers. Playing on teams, running for council.  Part-time jobs. Planning, practicing, doing, succeeding, failing.  Repeating it all. Fronting up, over and over. Now it all comes to bear. It’s a very profound and beautiful thing.

So to my daughter I say, “thank you”. Thank you for giving it a go, giving it your best, and giving the world YOU.  Thank you for making it easier for me to let you go, to see you grow, and to now, after nearly a year, relish this new chapter of our life.

And to parents about to go through it I say, “embrace it!”  It has to happen, and it can be a shared journey and a mutually wonderful and nourishing one. It’s your call how you play it.  

Conclusion: it really is all good. 

PS I can’t wait to have her back for ten weeks of summer, featuring all her favourite dishes (basically everything I make is now a favourite), and places.  Then she’ll be off for round two, and we’ll be better prepped and happy to see her go. In a good way.

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