It’s the memories that arrive suddenly and squeeze at your heart that hurt the most. Recently watching my son organising his new home, his new chapter, he is 27, when I remembered taking him to school one cool autumn morning, many years ago.
I was holding his hand, as I always did both on the way and often to help him out of the car and chatting about important things like what would happen if one of the dogs morphed into an elephant in the night.
Then one day, he saw his friends in the school car park he immediately pulled his hand out of mine. The movement was so sudden and so overpowering that I could feel the emptiness in my hand where his had just been. As he got comfortable and the first feelings of Mum being a bit ‘embarrassing’.
The moment marked one of the many little steps on my son’s bittersweet journey to independence. October 2018 has presented me with the biggest step of all. He had of course, been away from home before, Uni, his first job down South, and the back up North, but my husband was still alive, he had the most wonderful attitude and positive outlook, I was the worry nag, the what if Mother.
I confess that I spent some of the week leading up to his move departure in tears. He has not moved far away, and because of his work commitments, has not entirely decamped, so there are reminders of him in his office, full of the most chaotic essentials he professes, which I would, if he were a lodger, put in several black bin bags, and tell them to get the room sorted, but my boy is organised in chaos, so I neither dare move them or really want to yet. Last week he was away on business, the house was silent, no 6-foot muscly body bounding down the stairs, no odd socks in the washing machine, fridge empty. I tried to see the positive, having the draughty old family home all to myself. It wasn’t a relief at all, it was a wrench, but one that had to be made.
I know it’s madness. I have no right to feel this crushing sense of grief. I’m proud that he’s going, and in awe of the lovely young man that he’s become, but I’m also terrified to the core of my being.
Watching your child start a new life is the best of times and the worst of times.
I’m sure it’s harder to watch a boy go off into the world than a girl because so much is expected of them.
Boys are incredibly soft and vulnerable, despite their gruff exteriors. Sure, they look big and strong, but inside the tough armour there’s a whole tangle of insecurities, love and confusion.
The girls his age look more fragile but they’re tougher. It’s as if girls toughen up from inside out and the boys from outside in.
In many ways I worry as much for my strapping young man as I did for the tiny baby handed to me 27 years ago.
As a mother, you always worry. From the moment a child is born, the whole world is a more terrifying place.
I’ll miss him not just because I love him but because I like him a lot – I enjoy his company.
I find him bright, challenging and overwhelmingly intelligent. He’s the best person I know.
I’m lucky and hugely blessed that he has worked hard enough to be incredibly successful, independent and to me now fearless, but it was a rough journey, especially through his teenage years, and as much as I despaired sometimes about the tenderness of this boy, it also made me feel useful, a pivot, that held the wheels on. Now the wheels are fine, and he is ready to drive solo. Am I? I will have to be, and he has taught me that, and if empty nesting terrifies the life out of you, but at the same time gives you back the choice of being the mistress of your own destiny which probably has not been the case for many years, please see that this is the time to be as strong and as capable as the children you successfully brought into the world.
So many empty nesters like me turn more and more to the ‘comfort’ of a drink or 4 to deaden the feelings, and sadly my drinking did ramp up dramatically. I knew I needed to stop, I was beginning not only to miss this child, but because of positive moves on his part, I began to self-harm, logically it was insanity. I was not by cutting my arms, not popping anti-depressants, but via the wine aisle. I needed help, the right help. By a friend being so open about her difficulties with drinking too much and having the courage to seek help via Sarah at the Sanctuary, I decided to take the plunge, or rather get out of this rut of what was ostensibly self-pity. I had never felt like a victim, but I did feel like a lost soul.
So I braced myself and met this woman, who has such a straightforward, often dogmatic attitude, but also a compassionate and often dark sense of humour on this subject. She is not at all mainstream and would be horrified if she was classified as such. Simply, she is a one off. Her methods probably would not suit those would want to fill in forms or box tick, but her intuition, knowledge of this subject is second to none.
The fear of stopping initially was immense. But as the six weeks passed by, I began to see that my freedom now was a joy, a blessing and that I could be whatever I wanted, and I never wanted to be a drunk old soak self-pitying alone at home. She inspired me, she was always there, even late in the evening, and so humble that it almost reduced me to tears, I wanted her to say that she was great, but only would ever tell me that I was the star, she was just the oily rag! I you have any doubts at all about chucking out this toxic substance from your life, get hold of her, it was the best lifestyle choice of change I have ever made.
It’s all good honestly, it only goes horribly wrong if you believe you are now surplus to requirements, you don’t love yourself, take care of yourself, and not be conned into thinking that wine time will be a salve, and make all the fear and worry go away, it doesn’t. It truly will make your next chapter a very dark and isolating place. Sarah taught me that, and thanks is just not enough.