And In Your Place, An Empty Space… (another one flies the nest.)

Isn’t it weird and somewhat comforting how music fills our souls when emotions get the better of us? This time last year I could not get Slipping Through my Fingers by Abba out of my head after my firstborn child left home to start university in Wales. That song (and I am not an Abba fan!) has hit me hard so many times over the years of parenthood. It just nails it, doesn’t it? It rang in my head for weeks as I came home each day to the space she had left behind. I couldn’t even look at her bedroom for a while. I kept crying when I was alone. But it got easier.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Now, here I am again. Last Saturday we drove our second oldest child to university in Plymouth. This was in no way easier because we had already been through it once. Children are so different and because of that, you respond to them in different ways. This one hit equally as hard because this lovely young lady had endured a very tough two year period prior to finishing her A-Levels. At one point, I didn’t think she would get through college, let alone make it to university as she appeared so fragile, so young, so confused and afraid and emotional. Instead, we have stood back and watched in awe as she picked herself back up and battled through to come out the other side. In many ways, it made the moment, that last, tight hug, even more bitter sweet. I got emotional and so did she, and I told her that it wasn’t because I was worried about her coping, it was because I was just so very proud of her.

Her moving into halls could not have gone smoother. The university deserves a lot of credit for how welcoming it was, and how well organised. Street signs helped us find where to park and there we were greeted by an army of student ambassadors. One helped our daughter get her key and showed her to her room, while another helped us load her belongings onto a wagon. Brilliant! Then when she returned, we followed her to the room and two students helped carry her things up the stairs to her new home.

The flat was lovely. Warm, and welcoming, clean, fresh carpets, everything very spacious and light. She started grinning when she saw her room, which although a standard university hall room, it was just lovely and felt very homely. Almost instantly, she was greeted by one of her new flatmates who made her feel really welcome and showed her the kitchen. She then met another friendly housemate who just happens to be on her course. My husband and I thought it was probably time to go. We didn’t want to linger and get in the way of her making new friends. So, we had the hug. Tears flowed. We smiled, we laughed, we said goodbye and then we left her and walked back to the car and drove home without her.

I can’t tell you how weird that feels; driving away from your child and leaving them to start the next chapter of their life. We were fine until we turned the corner into our lane and saw our house. Then we both welled up. She wasn’t going to be there. Our little girl, always tiny, even now, she wouldn’t be there. I almost didn’t want to go inside.

Since then, we have had had numerous messages about how much she is enjoying herself. She seems to have settled in really well, made friends quickly and is really excited to start her marine biology degree. Of course, I’ve been worrying about what she’s eating and whether she will be all right using the washing machine, but mostly, I just miss her.

She has left a hole behind. A space in our house. Her bedroom, usually full of music and teenage giggles and conversations with friends late at night, is silent. Inactive. She is a real hugger and I miss that more than anything. And I’ve had The World Has Turned And Left Me Here by Weezer in my head since Saturday. That’s obviously the song I’m going to associate with this moment! Because that’s sort of how it feels, when they pack up and go. Like the world has shifted, moved them on, taken them away from you and as a parent, you’re left at home, still doing the same things, the same chores, work, and the rest of it, but with this empty space lingering around you.

The house seems so quiet now that two of them have gone. My shopping bill has halved. There are only four toothbrushes in the bathroom, instead of six. At one point I used to do a load of washing every day, now it’s two or three times a week. I feel a little lost without them and a little scared by how quickly my babies turned into grown women starting their own lives. My girls were born nineteen months apart so in my early twenties, my days were a whirlwind of constant nappy changes, feeds, naps, playgroups and tantrums, but oh, how I loved it. My proudest moments were pushing my double buggy around town with my beautiful little girls sat inside.

But life goes on, despite how left behind you sometimes feel. I still have my boys at home, I’m still needed by them and the girls moving out makes me appreciate even more how fast life goes, how we should hang tightly to every precious moment and soak it up the best we can.

And I suppose the feeling I am left with the most is pride. The girls still have to finish their degrees, start employment, find homes to rent or buy, and so much more, but they’ve both taken that first step into independent adulthood and I couldn’t be prouder. And I suppose it’s okay to stand back and bask in a little bit of genuine pride. I did my job. I’ll always be their mum and I will always be there for them, but now, most of it anyway, is up to them.

One Toothbrush – A Tale of Days Gone By

At my mother’s house, there is just one toothbrush in the bathroom. And I think about that a lot.

I noticed it a few months ago and it hit me hard. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. It’s become a sort of marker in my mind of life, death, time and family. I realised that one toothbrush is my future.

My mother brought up four children, five if you count the one that wasn’t even hers. At one time she would have brushed her teeth at the end of the day, weary, perhaps frazzled, and there would have been seven brushes in the pot. Then six. Then five when my oldest sister left home. Then four when my father left. Then three, two and then finally, one day, (surely a day that was hugely significant and heartrending for her, but didn’t seem to register at all in my mind…) there was one.

And one day, this will happen to me. Assuming I outlive my husband, after all my children have grown up and left home, it will be just me. Where once there were six toothbrushes, there will only be one. Mine.

And now I think about this every time I brush my teeth and look at their brushes, one less already since my eldest left home for University. One less again when my next daughter leaves in September… One by one, they will all fly the nest and one day, it will be just me.

I think about how that will feel…

Sometimes when I’m really tired, when the demands have come thick and fast, when I crave just a few peaceful minutes to myself to pull myself back together, I look forward to being alone. I’m quite a solitary person and I don’t mind my own company at all. As the years go by I find myself becoming even more introverted, and even less likely to socialise or mingle with crowds. I imagine what it will be like to wake up to a quiet, still house. To go to sleep at the end of the day alone. Sometimes it doesn’t bother me at all. Other times, it fills me with shock and dread. Shock because it slams home how short and fleeting this one life really is, and dread because I sometimes feel motherhood has defined me, so who will I be when they have all gone?

I guess I will find out, just like my mother did.

That single toothbrush caught me off guard. Made me see my mother in a new light. I had never stopped, not once, to think about how she must have felt as we one by one drifted away. I had never, until that moment, stopped to wonder if she ever feels lonely, living alone. Waking up alone, going to bed alone. I felt a surge of guilt and then a surge of fear. That solitary toothbrush stood for so much. A life lived in love, giving more than taking, nurturing, protecting, feeding and clothing and then at the end of it all, sitting alone in a small house, with one of everything.

I wonder how often she looks around and thinks there used to be lots of pairs of shoes in the hall, lots of coats on the hook, lots of mugs in the cupboard, lots of voices and songs and footsteps and calls in the night. I wonder if she wakes up in the morning and thinks, what shall I do today? Who needs me? Is it liberating or lonely? Or both?

I will one day find out.

I have loved being a mother. But I have also understood that a big part of being a mother is learning to let go, almost as soon as you hold them for the first time. They grow so fast and growing is always a form of leaving. They start to crawl, then walk, then run. One day they pull their hand out of yours in case their friends see. One day they tell you not to kiss them in public anymore. One day they ask if they can go out on their bike without you. One day they leave home and you have no idea where they are or what they are doing most of the time, and you have to live with it. Because they have to do it.

At the moment, my eldest is almost twenty and living in another country. I miss her but I want her to do exactly what she is doing. My second eldest will be leaving soon too. My household will shrink again. My eldest son will be going into his final year of school next month and will be making decisions about what he wants to do with his life next. He doesn’t need me for much these days, but I am very lucky that he does still want me. My littlest baby is no longer a baby, no longer so little. He grows taller every time he walks in the room. He has started to strive for independence lately; taking showers by himself instead of me running him a bath, riding his bike down the lane alone, rushing ahead of me to prove he can do things. It’s even harder letting go of the littlest one, but let go I must.

And what I must also do is prepare myself for the time when they have all gone. When I wake up to a quiet, still house just as my mother does. When I go to bed alone and hear no voices or footsteps in the night. For a time when I barely have to run the washing machine. For a time when I only buy the food that I like. For a time when I no longer walk around the house picking up stray shoes, bags, books and toys. For a time when I don’t find random piles of stones and sticks in strange places. For a time when at the end of the day, there is just one toothbrush and me.

I hope the way I feel is pride tinged with sadness, a dose of nostalgia mixed with relief that my time is my own. Imagine how much more writing I will get done! I hope this is how my mother feels at the end of the day when she reaches for that solitary toothbrush. I hope she feels a surge of pride for bringing us into the world and then sending us on our way, fully equipped. I hope she knows it was a job well done, despite the hard times and tough times. I think that I should tell her how hard that one toothbrush hit me, how much it made me think of the speedy retreat of days gone by.

Come Back To What You Know

I’m feeling nostalgic.

I don’t look back on the past with rose-tinted spectacles. I think every decade in human history has been seeped in tragedy, usually man-made, of some kind. But there is something in me at the moment constantly yearning for simpler times.

I wouldn’t do away with the internet or mobile phones, but only for one reason. I’d never sell a single book without either of them!

But I find myself tiring of it all. I suppose everything becomes tiring after a while. Everything loses its shine. Sometimes though, we go back around again, we go full circle and return to things we once turned our backs on.

For me lately, this has been bringing some unexpected comfort in an increasingly fraught, depressing and uncertain world. I’ll just talk about a couple today; things I have returned to and how they are helping me navigate these seemingly endless difficult times.

Walking

I’ve always liked walking. I feel I have some sort of affinity with it, like it is something I am supposed to do. I like how it is so solitary and gives me time to think. So many stories and ideas came from walking when I was a teenager. I thought nothing of walking an hour or more to get to a friend’s house and I hated buses. I would always rather keep walking. I used to run too, mostly in my late teens and my twenties when I got rather caught up in trying to control my figure. But these days, 44 year old me is a bit kinder to myself (most of the time anyway,) and I worry about falling over or hurting my back or my knees. So I think my running days might be over but my walking days have begun again in earnest. I now walk to save money on petrol and I feel good about this. It’s good for my wallet, my body and the planet. I also sort out all my plot holes and writing struggles when I am walking.

Letter writing

During the lockdowns of the pandemic my eldest sister who lives in a very rural location a few hours away from us, started writing letters and cards to my youngest son. He loved this and wrote back every time and they have kept this up ever since. A few months back I decided to join in, so now me and my sister converse through letters. Of course, we text, phone and Whatsapp each other too! But there is something so calm and patient about writing a letter, posting it and waiting for one to fly back to you. Whenever I receive one, I wait for a special moment to read it. I need peace, quiet, a comfy spot and a cup of tea. I have also started writing letters to two friends. It’s not something you do instantly. It’s something you wait until you have time for. And then you go back over everything that has happened since you last wrote and make sure you also address and respond to all their news. This all takes time and that’s what is so nice about it. Knowing that someone took time over doing something for you, knowing the extra effort that went into it – it really is lovely and I feel like people talk differently in letters too. It’s interesting.

Wearing a watch

I got my first mobile phone when I was 19. I think that must have been the last time I wore a watch. I can remember that last watch too because I had it all through my teens and I really loved it. It was a chunky silver Timex and rather than a strap and a buckle to fasten, it was attached to a stretchy silver bracelet. Weird, I know, but it made taking it on and off easier! Gradually it started falling apart and I really missed it. I think I kept the clock head for a while somewhere. After that, phones took over and recently I realised that whenever I need to check the time, I check my phone. I think we all do. But carrying a phone everywhere is getting annoying. They’re not just phones anymore, are they? They’re mini computers we lug around with us, which means we have the entire world in our pocket weighing us down. It’s annoying, especially in the summer when you are less likely to have good pockets! I also thought about all the post-apocalyptic TV I watch and books I read. In that eventuality, phones become useless but watches return. My husband bought me a lovely watch for my birthday and I’m in love with it. I absolutely adore it. I don’t have to take my phone everywhere anymore and I am prepared for the end of the world. Win, win!

Childlike curiosity

There are so many things I don’t know about. I am 44 years old and I still can’t identify that many birds, trees, or plants for example and I know barely anything about the Universe or space… As adults I think we stop being curious. We stop asking questions. I am sure you have all experienced the incessant questioning from a young child who wants to know why, why, why…. I am trying to get back to that. If I don’t know what something is, I am trying to find out. Mostly nature based things! For example, I have a plant identifying app that has helped me learn the names of a lot more plants and trees lately. And I just got this cool app that records and identifies birdsong for you! It’s really addictive.

Collecting stones

Walk around my house and I can guarantee you will find a pile of stones in every room thanks to my youngest son. Like most young children he still has the habit of picking up natural objects that look or feel nice. Sticks and stones mostly. There are sticks everywhere too, though of course really they are guns of various sorts. But stones… I looked the other day and found a pile on the kitchen window sill mixed in with fossils. Another pile on the table. A few more on the side. Some on the stairs. A few in the lounge on the coffee table. A whole gang of them in his room which seem to have been decorated with various spots which apparently mean different things. This stone obsession reminded me that when I was his age I had a whole shoe box of them under my bed. I wasn’t as good as he is at finding cool ones though! He really does have an eye for it. The other day I emptied his school bag and found a whole pile of smooth brown pebbles at the bottom. They were all almost identical in size and colour. Today he brought home a big stone which had been sheared in half at some point, so we could see inside it. My son is right about stones. They are fascinating – apparently pebbles on a beach can be as old as 4 billion years! It’s not like we often get the chance to hold something so ancient in our hands… They can be beautiful, colourful, smooth, jagged, tiny, large. I recently found one with a sad face but then I lost it again, which was sad. Anyway, thanks to my son, my love of collecting random stones just to hold them for a bit has been well and truly rekindled.

Longhand writing

If you follow my social media writing updates, you will know that I often write in longhand. This is also something I have returned to. As a kid I wrote in notebooks of all sizes and shapes. I wrote on anything I could. I was very excited when I got my first electric typewriter! Years later, and it’s all laptops and Word and Google Docs and so on. I still use these things, but I love starting a story off in a notebook. It means I can carry it about with me, write in it at weird times, like when cooking dinner or waiting in the car. Sometimes I end up writing the whole thing in a notebook, just like Black Hare Valley I blogged about last week. Sometimes I’ll get so far then start typing it up. Short stories and poems nearly always start their lives in notebooks these days. There is something about holding a pen in my hand, scratching words out on paper that returns me to me, that makes me feel more connected to it.

What about you? Are there any ‘old-school’ things you have returned to? Or any you never gave up in the first place? I’d love to know so feel free to leave a comment!

A Very Merry 80’s Christmas

When I wander through the memories of Christmas past, I inevitably recall the Christmases of my childhood. I was a child in the 1980s and I think, looking back, that there was something very innocent, magical, garish and unique about Christmas back then. I suppose everyone must have a kind of classic Christmas they look back on and feel nostalgic for and sometimes I find myself hunting for things that made Christmas special as a child, such as retro 1980s things! Here are some of my memories from Christmas in the 80s.

  • Fairy lights – I loved fairy lights as a child! I still love them now but they’ve all become a bit sophisticated and high tech. They are LED now or battery operated, which is great, because I can still remember my parents breath held when they switched on the lights, because if one bulb had gone, none of them would work. They’d then have to try and hunt down the faulty bulb and replace it! But I would love to find those kinds of lights again, with their little lantern style heads. They were so perfect.
  • Foil garlands – oh my, I loved these so much. We had loads of these as a kid. I remember my mum and oldest sister standing on stools in our lounge and using pins to attach the ends of the garlands to the ceiling. As they attached one end, the garland hung down to the floor and when I was very young I thought they would stay like that. My sister soon put me right and the garlands were draped in loops from one corner of the room to the other. Gorgeous! I’d love to find some again.
  • Quality Street – in later years we would enjoy Cadbury Roses, Celebrations and Heroes but in the 80s it was Quality Street that dominated Christmas. We would have one tin to last the holiday and even the tin was exciting! The smell when you pulled the lid off and the sight of all those chocolates wrapped up like shining jewels. I loved all of them so choosing one when it was my turn to pick was really difficult! Everyone loved the green triangle so they went first. My second favourite was the big purple one!
  • BabySham and Bucks Fizz – neither of my parents were big drinkers but at Christmas they did like to get some bottles in. My dad enjoyed a whiskey or two and I remember the women enjoying glasses of Babysham or bucks fizz. To me they looked very inviting!
  • Christmas Hampers – hampers are really popular these days. Hampers for dogs, hampers for vegans, wine hampers, sweetie hampers, you name it! But when I was a kid in the 80s they had a different meaning. All year my mum would pay into a hamper scheme. Then a few days before Christmas two large cardboard boxes would arrive. One was the meat hamper which was boring. The other, much bigger box was the fun hamper! It was so exciting to unpack and it always felt like Christmas had truly started. There were tins and jars; I remember things like Spam, Campbells Soup and silverskin pickled onions. There were boxes of sweets, such as Black Magic, Roses or Dairy Box. There was packs of custard and jelly and angel delight as well as chocolate fingers, nuts, and crisps. All of it so enticing!
  • Studio Catalogue – anyone remember these? Are they still around? One would turn up in our house every year and each of us would spend ages poring over the Christmas gifts, toys, decorations and food you could buy to make the holiday just perfect. There would be pages and pages of wrapping paper alone!
  • Family get togethers – When I was a kid, every New Years Day my grandparents would have a house party. I absolutely adored these parties. We would get dressed up in our new Christmas clothes, grab a few of our favourite presents to show off and pile into the car to get to their house. On arrival, we would be greeted by various relatives dogs first! This was a big deal for me because I was obsessed by dogs and wasn’t allowed my first one until I was 10. I adored my Uncle Colin’s collie Laddie the most and would spend a lot of the party fussing over him and taking him outside to play! My Nan had six kids and when they all turned up with their kids, it really was a houseful. I never remember any grumpiness or arguing. Us cousins would run around excitedly and my Nan would leave a present for each of us under the Christmas tree. It felt like Christmas was not over yet. Superman or James Bond would be on the TV and the men would congregate there with my grandad. The women would fill the dining room and kitchen with good food and laughter. The table would be piled high with party food and treats and I used to love sitting on the window sill which overlooked the garden, with my brother and sisters alongside me. The best thing though was our Uncle John and the games he set up for us. He would gather us around and convince us to dunk our faces in flour in search for elusive pennies! He was absolutely brilliant. I also remember us cousins sitting on the stairs, filling every step and gossiping. Great times! I never wanted it to end.
  • Toys – of course its the toys I remember the most. Waking up on Christmas morning with my stocking lying across the bottom of my bed, heavy on my feet. There would always be a soft toy poking out of the top! Once my sisters and brother were awake we would pile downstairs, dragging our heavy stockings behind us! And then on to the big presents under the tree left by Father Christmas in the night. A truly memorable Christmas for me was when I was eight years old and we spent a month in Florida, staying with my mum’s Aunt Julie. Not only were we extremely lucky children to be visiting another country at Christmas but they made it even more special when they woke us up on Christmas Eve to say there was a visitor to see us! We shyly entered the lounge and there was Father Christmas, or Santa as they called him in America, with these sacks of toys for us! Me and my sister had wanted Cabbage Patch Dolls forever; they were the toy we desperately wanted and guess what? That’s exactly what he had for us! I can still remember that moment of perfect joy as I unwrapped the box and my very own little boy (Dean Emery!) smiled back at me. My mum managed to catch a photo of me and I think it sums up how magical it was. Over the years, I also remember many toy dogs, a Charmkins house, and My Little Pony beauty parlour among others.
Image by Andy M. from Pixabay

How about you? What decade brings back the most Christmas memories for you? If you were a child of the sixties or seventies, what kinds of food, drink, decorations and toys stood out for you? I’d love to know. Feel free to comment and share and I do hope you all have a wonderful Christmas!