The First To Fly The Nest

As I write this my oldest child, my firstborn, is in another country. We drove her there yesterday, left her there and drove back. I was so excited for her new start at Aberystwyth University in Wales, but it also felt so strange and wrong to be driving back home without her. Now I’m sat in the kitchen of my startlingly silent house. The other three children are all at school or college. I’m typing opposite the space my daughter has always occupied at the kitchen table and she is not there. She is not in her room either. She is not in the house. Not in the country.

Image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

I was fine yesterday. I actually surprised myself. I was more worried that she would get an attack of nerves or anxiety, so I tried really hard to stay upbeat and I was genuinely so excited for her. I still am. My firstborn has flown the nest I went into overdrive preparing for her over nineteen years ago when she was still in my tummy. I remember those days. Nesting. Cleaning the flat we lived in, setting up her cot and her nappies and her toys. Feeling so excited while I awaited her arrival. Not knowing if she would be a girl or a boy. I feathered the nest and made a home.

And now she has flown. Which is exactly what she should do. And I am so excited for her as she starts this new, far more adult stage of life. I am so proud of her and I am confident that she is tough enough and capable enough to survive out there on her own.

She will no doubt fly back to the nest for Christmas and I will have to restrain myself from fawning all over her, crying and generally annoying her! That is something to look forward to. But for now, I sit here and all I can feel is loss. This is truly something they never prepare you for as a parent. You get all the advice and warnings about sleepless nights, endless nappies, teething pain, potty training, tantrums, childhood illnesses and more. You get an onslaught of smug grins and rolling eyes from those who have done it first. They make it sound like a nightmare, but it’s not. But no one ever tells you about this bit. The bit where you get left behind and they fly off to start their own life.

I was fine until I drove home from the school run this morning. I was listening to one of her Mother Mother CDs. She got me into the band and they are now my favourite. She’s kindly let me keep all the CDs here as she just uses Spotify these days. I shouldn’t have put the CD on, but I did it out of habit, and then suddenly out of nowhere I was in floods of tears. And it hasn’t really stopped yet. I know it sounds silly, and I blame my perimenopausal hormones for a lot of it. I am all over the place at the best of times!

But I suppose it just hit me. She’s gone. She’s not here. She’s a five hour car drive away. I was listening to the music she used to play endlessly in the kitchen, or in her room. I came home and opened the fridge and there was her soya milk. I looked at her bedroom door and realised I could not bear to go in it. I laughed as I cried for being so emotional but I think my husband was feeling it too. Yesterday we were too busy and too hectic to really feel it.

Now, we learn to adjust.

And I can’t help thinking about how fast it all went. How she was the best thing that ever happened to me. How she changed my life in more ways than she will ever know. How she stayed awake all night in the hospital after her birth…these big blue eyes staring at me so seriously, as if she was trying to work out who I was. I was so proud to carry her home. A trio of elderly ladies stopped us on the way out of the hospital so they could see the brand new baby. She was so tiny. We walked into our flat and into our new life as parents and she promptly threw up all down my back. I was so happy. So in love. So excited for the adventure ahead. She always seemed older and wiser than her age. Always. She was a good baby but she only liked me. As a toddler she would cling to me relentlessly and push my husband away. She hated being in the buggy and I’d usually give in and carry her instead. She cried if I walked out of the room. It was an amazing and humbling thing to be loved and needed that much and like I said, it was the best thing I ever did with my life.

She walked early, talked early, argued early! She was so independent by the time she was three. She never stopped asking questions, she never stopped talking. It was exhausting but so funny. She loved school and soaked up everything they taught her. I remember walking back home after dropping her at school and feeling like my heart had been ripped out, but I was so relieved I still had the other kids with me, and I feel a bit like that again now. I’m going to hug the hell out of them all when they get home later.

She was always so bright, so smart, a bookworm from the start. A writer, like me. A sweet natured and shy girl as she went through school and got older. We’ve never really clashed. We’re alike in some ways, very different in others. Like me, she enjoys her own company and knows her own mind. She has always had a fierce sense of injustice and morality. She loves books and TV and film and will talk about it endlessly.

I can still remember the moment, aged six, when she pulled her hand out of mine and ran ahead to catch up with some friends. I remember thinking oh, you don’t need me anymore. And it was true in some ways, but not in others. They never stop needing you really. You just have to wait in the background until they do.

I’m going to miss her so much. There is a hole in the house today, a hole in my heart. I know it will get easier but for now I am accepting that this is a mourning period. A big chunk of my life has just changed. I had a little baby girl, I fed her, clothed her, loved her, carried her, played with her, taught her everything I could, wiped her tears and picked her up when she fell. In a matter of moments that feel like dreams, she has grown up and all of that is now over. I just feel so, so lucky that we did it. That we had that life and that time and today my head is just crammed full of all the funny things she used to do and say when she was my little girl, my little friend, my sidekick, her hand in mine and all the world before us. I blinked and it was over. But I do remember every little thing.

And now I get to watch her fly.

And there is nothing wrong with the tears I’ll cry. They are tears of love and loss and pride of a job well done. She will always be my little girl. And I hope she knows how very, very proud of her I am and always will be.

To Be A Boy Of 7…Part 2

A million years ago, but also, only yesterday, I wrote this piece for your big brother, Dylan. https://chantelleatkins.com/2015/04/08/to-be-a-boy-of-7/ A million years ago, but also, only yesterday, he was seven like you are now. When he was seven, you were just a tiny baby, so you didn’t know him then. He was all stick arms and legs and tons of white-blonde hair. In a tiny blink of an eye, he grew older, he grew up and now he is a gangly fourteen year old with a sweet, wry smile.

But you, what are you like at seven? What is being a boy of seven like, for you?

I think to be a boy of seven must still be a glorious thing. I think your heart is as full and free as his was.

Yet being seven, is not as easy for you as it was for him…You’re more intense, more sensitive, more questioning and less able to sleep. Your brain never lets you switch off…Night after night, no matter what effort I’ve put in to wear you out, you delay sleep, you fight sleep and your mind fills with worries. You tell them to the worry dolls, Sam, Shepherd and Raven and you write them down in letters for me. You tell me that bedtime is too long, that you have to lie there for hours, that you feel like crying, that your stomach hurts or your eyes are sore. I try to be patient. I talk you through it. You listen, and you try what I suggest, but it’s like your mind just keeps on spinning. I sometimes wish I knew what was going on inside there.

I wonder if I am too soft on you…but do I really want to make you hard? I say it sometimes when you are being too sensitive, when you have exclaimed ‘ow’ for the thousandth time that day, when you tell me you are getting your ‘cry feeling’. I say you need to get over it, it doesn’t hurt that much, you will be okay, stop worrying, stop making a big deal, please, please, just go to sleep. Toughen up. I tell you this sometimes because I worry that your worries will drag you down.

Know this. I wouldn’t change you though. I wouldn’t change a wiry strawberry blonde hair on your head. Your hair that always smells like the rain. I wouldn’t change a thing about you, because you are one in a million. Sometimes people describe you this way, a real character they say. If you were not real, I would want to invent you!

The little boy who stops to say hello to woodlice and bumblebees, the little boy who always takes one sock off at some point during the day, the little boy who always says please and thank you to everything and everyone, the little boy whose stomach hurts when he gets his ‘cry feeling’, the little boy who just cannot stand to be told off, the little boy who does not like to play alone, the little boy who always brings home ‘good sticks’ and ‘cool stones’.

I love watching you walking along with a good stone or stick in your hand. Sometimes they end up in my pockets, but mostly you hold on to them. The kitchen window sill is full of your finds. The garden is littered with important sticks and several of them have residence in your bedroom. And every time when you walk the dogs with me, you ask if we can pretend to be in a zombie apocalypse. You’ll give me a stick and tell me its a machine gun. You’ll have a sword or a shotgun or a bat. We’ll take down the zombies together whilst searching for supplies. We’ll look for a shelter, or a community to join. We’ll rescue each other, again and again and again.

You want to be a builder or a vet. I see both in you. You play with bricks and blocks every day, creating towns and communities and car parks. You are kindly to animals, to even the smallest spider or tiniest caterpillar. They all deserve a friendly hello and protection.

At the moment, I see you are changing fast. It feels like seven is the bridge between little boy and big boy, and there you are, perched and teetering. You are outgrowing all your clothes and shoes. Every time I look at you I am shocked. Your face is thinner but your hair even wilder. Your legs go on forever and your appetite is huge. I try to fill you up but you are never satisfied. You are a small, warm hand in mind but you are getting too pick to pick up. You like to snuggle. You ask if I have time to snuggle with you now or later. You ask for me to snuggle you up. You tell me you love me about a million times a day. You also tell me I am pretty and you tell me off if I get cross with myself. You are my biggest fan.

Today we walked the dogs together and as we approached the road I felt your hand reach out for mine. I felt its smallness and softness and I felt the belief from you that I will always take care of you. We had to pretend we were leaving our base to get supplies and when we came back you begged me to play real army with you, which meant I got some of your best sticks as swords and you got your toy guns. You laid out all your weapons on the sofa in your room and told me to upgrade mine when I had enough points. You showed me your upgrade pose – blowing the top of each gun and then pointing them while you tipped your audience a wink. You made me laugh. You always make me laugh. Every day, there is something you say or do that sets me off. You’re just happy that I’m playing with you and as you say, I’m ‘getting into it’. I keep reminding myself how little time we have left of you wanting to play like this. How I must grab it with both hands, even when I’m tired, or not in the mood.

Because it means so much to you. You hate to play alone. Unattended, you wander around and make noises and get told off for annoying people. It’s like you don’t know how to be alone, not at bedtime, nor play time. I tell you all the time to play with your toys but you hate to do it alone, even though you have the most amazing imagination. But it pleases me that you read alone at bedtime, because reading is how we learn to be okay with being alone. I tell you you are never really alone, because you are full of memories, and dreams, and hopes, and you are full of all the people who love and adore you. I hope one day you will believe me.

My noisy little boy who can’t sit still. Watching a movie with you is like being on a trampoline. You ask endless questions we can’t possibly know the answers to. You live for the details. You want to know everything about everything. A little frown creeps onto your forehead when I answer you as best I can. You are my last little one and not so little anymore. I guess in some ways you will always be my baby boy, no matter how tall you grow, and I am sure you are going to be taller than all of us. Lately I’ve seen the changes that seven brings. The self-consciousness when you realise you’re the oldest one in the park. Telling me a park is too busy for you to play in. You have always been obsessed by parks, but now you are put off easily. You tell me you don’t want to embarrass yourself. You seem too aware of what big kids and little kids can and can’t do.

But at home, you are you. Our little wild thing, with one sock missing and always with a smear of food on your shoulder from wiping your face. You get in the bath and turn the water brown and I laugh and say, that’s how you know you had a good day. You write me little notes asking me to play with you. Little wish lists of things I’ll try to fit into the day. Army men. Playmobil set-ups. Zombies. Lego. Bricks and cars.

I’ve tried to hold onto you from the start, knowing you were the last and sometimes the knowing is like being unable to catch a breath. My God, it goes so fast. A chubby baby fills your arms, gets down and toddles away, climbs a tree, runs down a hill and then finally, one day, pulls their hand from yours and leaves. Parenthood is always letting go. One small step at a time. Parenthood is always being left behind, waving, smiling, crying, watching them go. And it’s a privilege and a joy, my sweet, funny, complicated, non-sleeping little boy…You are a joy, my boy of seven, you are glorious.

Hello Home…

Hello Home…

Here we are in lockdown again with you, dear home. Only allowed to work outside the home if our work is deemed essential. Only allowed to leave the house once a day for local exercise. Not allowed to let anyone else inside our home. These are all sadly familiar rules and in some ways, it feels a little easier this time around. What makes it undoubtedly harder are two, sad, cold facts.

One, the virus has mutated and this new strain spreads faster and easier and is now hitting younger people. The NHS is under incredible strain as the peak threatens to outgrow the last one. Quite simply and horrifically, even more people are going to die.

And two, this time our isolation at home happens in the bleak mid-winter. January – the Monday of all the months.

Photo by Chantelle Atkins on January 10, 2021. Image may contain: tree, sky, outdoor and nature.

So, here we are home, back within your safe, warm walls. Me and the children huddle within you, with extra socks and warm jumpers and numerous cups of tea to warm our cold hands. Even without the heating on, even without a fire lit, you still withhold the warmth we have built in you.

Each morning, I leave the house to let the animals out. The grass is covered in thick frost. Every blade and every branch, twig and leaf in the garden is sparkling with a layer of icy frost. It’s beautiful. And freezing. I rush about, from one end of the garden to the other, filling the watering can to provide the hens and ducks with fresh water. Stuffing fresh warm hay and straw into their hutches and houses. I let the rabbits out but keep the guinea pigs indoors until the frost has melted later in the day. I watch my breath form in the air around me. I, in turn, am watched by the horses in the field at the end of the garden. I say hello, but I don’t know their names. Jesse pup skips about with me, keeping me company, while you shelter the children, all now home from school until we-don’t-know-when.

When the early morning jobs are done I rush back inside, grateful for your warmth and stability. House, you are our home and I have been grateful to you since the moment we first stepped inside your gate. I remember I worried that we could not afford to rent you, yet we also knew we were getting an incredible deal. Your garden plot was more than I could have dreamed of and my head filled with pictures of shrubs, trees, flowers, vegetable plots and livestock.

Even now, in the depths of a freezing, frightening winter, I am grateful for this little bit of land, with its fir trees and sycamore, with its buddleia and holly hedges, with its bramble and fruit trees. The largest trees were here when we arrived, the rest I have planted myself over the years, to say thank you.

  • Photo by Chantelle Atkins on November 04, 2020. Image may contain: tree, plant and outdoor.

Your front garden used to be a square of gravel surrounded by holly hedging. It’s now a jungle of shrubs and trees and flowers with a path winding through it. We keep the birds fed so we can watch them from the kitchen windows. I love this garden, I love this house, I love this lane and all the land, the fields, the common, the woodlands and rivers that surround it.

And during lockdowns the road falls silent and all we can hear are the clip clop of horses as they pass up and down the lane, the haunting cry of the buzzard as she hovers above, the chattering of crows roosting in the Oaks, and at night, my favourite, the constant calls of tawny owls. I sleep with my window open because of them and so that I can fall asleep to the sound of the green river rushing by.

Home, we are so lucky to have you. During the first lockdown, I could have cried with love and gratitude. Some people had small houses and gardens, some people had no gardens, some people had no homes. We are so, so lucky to call you home.

Those warm, sunny months, we ran, hid, climbed, hopped and played on every inch of the garden. We set up bases and camps with army style tarps and netting, we dragged branches around to make walls, we gathered fir cones for bombs, we lit tiny fires and roasted marshmallows, we made mud pies and had scavenger hunts. The garden was our PE lesson, with running, jumping, skipping and our favourite The Floor Is Lava!

Photo by Chantelle Atkins on July 17, 2020. Image may contain: one or more people, tree, plant and outdoor.

We planted new things and watched them grow.

We ate nearly all of our meals outside, surrounded by green. And without people bothering it and abusing it, Mother Nature gained ground all around us.

But the human race and the powers that be seem incapable of learning anything…and so we find ourselves locked in and locked down. And I find myself counting my blessings once again. This lockdown is different. We are inside more than out. We have fires and drink hot chocolate. We eat cheese on toast and scrambled eggs to keep warm. We never venture far without a hot drink in our hands.

Darkness falls early and the tawny owls come out to call to each other. I know that Spring is just around the corner and already I see the smallest signs. A camelia in bud. Daffodils poking through the earth. And we are already planting new seeds so that we can watch them grow.

Home, you keep us safe, you keep us warm, you are steady and true. Every day I place my hand on the wooden gate and smile at you. My family is nurtured inside you – despite the coldness and the fear beyond your windows. Staying home keeps us safe and we fill our time with home-schooling and new lockdown projects.

Photo by Chantelle Atkins on March 21, 2020. Image may contain: plant, tree, sky, house, grass, outdoor and nature.

We lose track of days and time is strange, a bit like an extended Christmas. Tensions rise within your walls – the teenagers feel trapped and isolated from their friends – they are missing out. We pull away from each other, desperate for space and time alone, and then we pull back again, needing comfort and laughter. The youngest fills you up with laughter and silly noises – the loudest child that ever lived! He bounces around your rooms, thunders up and down your stairs and races from one end of your garden to the other. I hope in years to come they all look back so very fondly on you, Home.

Guest Post #9 Dreaming Of Another World

Dreaming of another world is a new feature on my blog where I welcome fellow writers or bloggers to talk about their experiences of Covid 19 and lockdown. I wondered whether other creatives felt like me – that another world was possible and could just be glimpsed once we were forced to stay still. I’ve had a great response and each week I will be publishing a post written by a guest -sharing their thoughts, feelings, hopes and fears during this strange and unsettling time. This week please welcome Suzie Ankers to The Glorious Outsiders. Suzie is a member of my writing group (Chasing Driftwood Writing Group) and is currently working on her debut novel, a thriller. The stresses and strains of lockdown prompted her to write the following poem.

My Daughter Turns Fifteen

It approached like a dark circling tornado,

Full of the threat of violent destruction and menace,

We watch the news in nervous anticipation whilst around us other deny its very existence,

We become doomsday preppers gathering our medications and food to withdraw from society,

Then we wait and life for a while, continues unabated.

Two weeks later and the landscape of the world has changed,

The once busy shopping centres lie empty as a silent killer stalks their aisles,

Our airports and ports keep inviting further unbidden guests to our homes and families,

The doors to my own business remain resolutely shut but my shame escapes,

There is a huge sorrow and fear in the air as my colleagues prepare the NHS for its onslaught,

They are being sent to war without shields and weapons,

Those low paid workers are now the new heroes of our society brought to its knees.

I watched your silent anguish as everyday you swallowed pills which you knew increased your vulnerability,

Whilst your brother and sister railed against the injustice of their false imprisonment you had no such complaints,

The creases in your forehead an indicator of your climbing anxiety,

The news spews forth the dire nature of the battle we have entered into and the fact that we are unprepared,

As we watch our prime minister, an expectant father, now fighting for his life,

I guess you wondered if this is what Corona had in store for you.

Fortunately, the storm abated,

The blue skies of summer heralded the way of greater freedoms, but we didn’t realise we were in the eye of the storm,

Still you hung back and waited until we could at last change your medication,

Fearful of the very thing that makes us human, social interaction.

Your brother left for university,

He partied his way to newfound freedoms,

I saw you watching and shaking your head and yet there was resigned joy in the fact that he had managed to get some semblance of normality,

Beneath that we held a knotting fear in our stomachs,

Would he pay for wanting to be like everyone else?

What risks would he have to navigate in his future career as a Physiotherapist?

Your sister, the most sociable of her family had missed groups,

As soon as she could she reclaimed the reigns of her social life but guided her horse skilfully around the hurdles of the new rules,

Even she was chastened by the virus for wanting normality,

Her boyfriends brother tested positive for Corona after returning from holiday and we missed out being in contact by a hair’s breadth,

I questioned my boundaries and yet I knew this is not the summer she sought,

She had plans of festivals, illicit alcohol, boys, and music. Parties on the beach.

Instead she got family time and more family time,

Yes, we tried teaching her to drive but how could we replace her peers?

Finally, you return to school and I am so proud,

You are the only child in your class to wear a mask,

I see the worry though in the dark circles around your eyes,

I hear the anger as they confirm cases at school and still walk around the corridors without masks,

I sense the rising frustration that people are not taking things as seriously as you believe they should.

I watch you attend your first interview wearing clothes that make you look like a middle-aged woman,

I realise what a warrior you have become and how you have had to wear an old head on young shoulders,

My heart swells with pride as you patiently explain yet again that you wear a mask to keep vulnerable members of society safe.

The interviewer nods yet I wonder if he really understands

I lie in bed at 3am unable to claim sleep worrying about the future,

That’s when my husband holds me and I hear his heart beating deep inside his chest,

It marks the rhythm of time passing and I think how we have made it this far without arguments and together,

He whispers to me that I am a good mama but not even I can protect my children from the air,

My heart does a somersault and my eyes search the ceiling for answers that just are not there.

Thank you so much to Suzie for sharing her words with us. Suzie’s bio is below.

Suzie joined the creative writing group a year ago. For her the act of writing is akin to the joy of reading and transports her into another world. She has three teenage children and works as a Therapist supporting children with Autism, ADHD and Sensory issues. She lives with her husband and children plus their energetic cocker spaniel named Beau. This piece was inspired by her daughters return to school post lockdown and it proved cathartic to write down all her anxieties.