During the preceding weeks of my 18 year old sons departure to university we spent most of the time together. Me, being the principle domestic in the household and him being the classic ready to go to university lay about. We found ourselves in each other bubbles most days. I got used to it and I liked it. I liked looking at him and quietly praising my wife and I for the job we’ve done so far. I like feeding him because he enjoyed my attempts very much.
My daughter was 19 years old and she’d moved into her own accommodation some 10 weeks earlier. She only moved so far that I could throw a stone to her front door if I had a prevailing wind behind me. Its a lovely starter home and she’s settled well. A few ex-boyfriend teething problems occurred at the start of her new life but they were soon ironed out. She’s visits most days and is fed and watered as required.
The first few days of her not being here were strange. Her there, us here and space in between. Her room became a spare room. I couldn’t pack her stuff without bumbling out tears. I did manage eventually. Well you have to don’t you? Besides I had two more at home.
A few weeks later its big boys turn. He’s ready and he’s keen to go and experience what comes with being a fresher at university. The journey, just over a 120 miles, was as normal as any other. His 10 year old brother entertained us all the way. Arrival and excitement over the next few hours. Hundreds of other parents delivering their offspring to university. We filled his en-suite room, made his bed. Socks in that drawer, undies in that one, shoes nice and tidy then filled his section of the fridge. We met his fellow freshers and checked out the campus.
University halls these days are like big nurseries. Activities galore and plenty of protection. My sons campus has CCTV all the way from town centre to the Halls of residence. They are monitored by university security staff 24 hours 7 days a week.Very safe for those first years away from home for the first time. Settling too for the worried parents at home.
I noticed some parents were tearful as they departed. My wife too began to shed a few. It wasn’t until the final goodbyes hugs and kisses that it hit me. For the next 5/6 weeks life wasn’t what it should be. or maybe should be. I don’t know.
I felt as if there’d been a bereavement in my life. Emptiness, hollow, echoic and still. A gap appeared, a monstrous void I was unable to fill. Staring out the window first thing in the morning became the norm. Watching his younger friends getting off the school bus and having to speedily walk back into the house to prevent anyone from seeing me crumbling into a slobbering heap. There wasn’t enough tissue in the house. Then came his room. The dreaded room. Still today its half empty. He stayed with us this weekend and slept in the spare room and it felt strange. His younger brother has claimed the big room. Quite right too. It took me approximately 3 weeks to pack and clear not very much. I kept coming across his personal little notes to himself about being determined and how to ignore the negatives in life. His medals, awards, his Olympic Torch and track suit. All his academic work. Photo’s, socks, old trainers, empty deodorants, wrist bands, concert tickets, time-tables, bus passes, school uniform and much more. 18 years of him nearly all fitting in 3 bin bags. Job done, I got as far as outside his door and decided to put them in the attic, next to his sisters. I’ll keep them for some time yet.
I guess this is what being a responsible and loving parent involves. Its something my parents have never experienced, nor theirs or theirs before them. I broke the mold that was used by poverty to create me. I’ve made a new master mold and its being put to use consistently.
I’m not offering advice to anyone about this syndrome, I’m just sharing my experiences of it in the hope that it might allow others to realise that it’s perfectly normal for a loving parent to stop dead in the street and start to cry for what looks like, at first glance, no reason. I wasn’t warned about the effects of having a bright children, the admiration one feels for them or the heart ache at having to let go when the time’s right. There is no book, you have to experience it to understand. There’s nothing out there for the vulnerable neither. Lone parents must feel worse than I did. At least I’ve got my daughter down the road and my 10 year old and my wife here. Not forgetting my dog.
So there it is, my experience of Empty Nest Syndrome. Of course I miss him like an arm but I know he’s safe and well fed and prepared for any mishaps. It’s having the knowledge of what we’ve provided him with to deal with the world that allows me to sleep at night. No-one or nothing could ever take that away.