She's Leaving Home

Sunday morning at seven o’clock as the day begins…

7.15 to be precise. I stood there in my dressing gown blowing kisses as the overstuffed mini-Peugeot pulled away. I watched it all the way up to the road as part of my customary benediction. Everything will be well provided that I witness at least part of the ascent up our track. (Probably.)

It’s amazing how stealthily and treacherously time sneaks up on you. All summer long this September day of departure has just shimmered like a mirage on a distant horizon. Not something to focus on or worry about, because it’s not real. And then suddenly you let your guard down and turn around to discover that it is real.

All week long, The Daughter has been busy dismantling her bedroom in order to recreate a haven in central Paris. Like her dad, the kid loves to build a nest in which she can find reassurance. The three of us have been reading Patti Smith’s Just Kids this summer, her evocative tale of her life with the artist, Robert Mapplethorpe. Neither Tilley nor I can quite comprehend their ability to leave behind the impedimenta of their young lives as they moved from one space to another. As a touring actress in her early days, my wife can understand it, but stuff to me and my gal is more than simply stuff. I did worry, though, when she asked us if she could take with her some old photos, including spares from our wedding day.

I suppose it’s different when you’re an only child. We’ve done most things together and she thinks of herself as an integral part of a unit of three. So all week long, she’s felt sentimental and on occasions tearful. The cuddles have been getting tighter, with a hint of desperation. It was different for me. When the time came to pack up and go I couldn’t wait. One of four siblings, we constituted our own unit. Our parents seemed like bystanders on one hand and even sometimes the common enemy on the other. When I went away, I felt grown up and ready and so I deliberately left behind my Subbuteo table football and Hendon Hall, my indestructible toy monkey. All that I took, when I think about it, were a few clothes, a few books, a poster or two, my record player and a box of records. Tilley has taken just about everything, which suggests that young girls are not like young boys.

My job on Saturday, therefore, as self-appointed expert in the field, was to figure out how to transpose a bedroom into my wife’s Noddy car. The back seats fold down, but you can’t take them out without a real struggle. The boot is only big enough for a couple of shopping bags. So you start with the smallest things, of course, which you can secrete under seats and in side pockets, then you fill up the void between the seats and finally work your way up to the duvet that hides the whole caboodle. It has taken me many years, but finally I created my masterpiece. Packed to the gills, but the field of vision clear. Only the old dressmaker’s dummy had to stay behind. We’ll have to wrap it up in an old mack and take it up by train when we go to see our child in her new surroundings.

Alf witnessed unhappily the to-ing and fro-ing. Dogs know when something major’s going on. My wife’s family dog apparently used to remove the contents of her suitcase as fast as she could pack it whenever she would go back to boarding school. Ours is adept at removing tissues from wastepaper baskets and eggshells from compost pins, but hasn’t learned that particular trick. He just lay near the car with his head flat against the grass. Even though we’d spelled out the situation – me staying here to look after the domestics while my wife spends the week in Paris helping our kid make the transition towards independence – he was resolutely lugubrious.

So I’m left holding the fort and my child has flown the nest. My life will change momentously, as it changed when I became a parent and discovered the difference between Responsibility and mere responsibilities. Officially, I guess, I am about to step into the Third Age: a time, according to the adverts, of health insurance deals and happy holidays with your silver-haired partner.

But this is where the hard part starts for certain parents. Were I a bird, I could congratulate myself on a job well done and get back to the task of digging up my own worms. If only it were so simple. Can it ever be a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’? Won’t I be constantly wondering what she’s up to and mentally fidgeting about her whereabouts and circumstances?

No doubt a therapist would tell me to trust that I have done everything I can to equip her for adult life and there comes a time when you just have to let them get on with it. Certainly, just recently my wife has done a great job teaching her to iron: honing her skills on the laundry left behind by the holidaymakers at the chateau I tend to earn some argent de poche. Me, I thought about passing on certain lessons from The Book of Mark, but most of them seemed a bit paradoxical: enjoy yourself, but don’t neglect your studies; be prudent with your money, but be generous to your friends; eat well and healthily, but don’t spend too much on food. All that kind of thing, which normally provokes an exasperated Yes, I know! In the end I mentioned that if you have to withdraw money, carry most of it in a tight pocket and only keep a little in your wallet. Just in case… I probably shouldn’t have. As if the poor girl hasn’t enough on her plate, moving from the peace and quiet of the countryside to the noise and bustle and menace of the big city. But one doesn’t want them to have to learn the hard way.

In the end, I trusted to her innate good sense and skipped the patriarchal pep-talks in a darkened study. Now look here, my girl… Instead, I restricted myself to a confusing lesson on connecting speakers to an amplifier so that the negatives don’t get cross-wired to the positives, and a word of caution about hanging her mirror. And here was a little box of duplicate cassettes to help broaden her musical education with a spare copy of Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain for those occasional Sunday morning homesick blues.

See you soon, we consoled each other. And, of course, Paris is but a train-ride away. It’s not as if she’ll be in Glasgow or Edinburgh, where she originally planned to study. But not too soon. Because that means that she’ll be having a good time and acquiring independence and, at that point, I can start thinking about a job well done and getting on with my Third Age.

She’s leaving home… Bye bye.

Mark you must (should) be a writer for the Sunday Times! Haha, just joking, but it was a pleasure to read how you put all these emotions into words - I am the only 'one' in my family that has wandered away from the shores of blighty and am still made to feel a bit of a turncoat! It is true that my three older children are scattered across the UK unlike my sisters who still have a firm grip on their offspring even though they are all now married with many babies between them. However, I feel that it is the job of a parent to 'allow' their children to become as independent as possible - and that doesn't mean that we love them any less of course. In fact it's because we love them so much, we want them to make the very best of their lives, which to me, means letting them have new experiences and going beyond what we have done for them! Good luck, you will see her again soon enough, xx

Johnny, how very kind. Thank you.

Quite so, Carol. For one thing, the ghost of Michael Jackson's lawyers might come down hard on me (like Maxwell's silver hammer perhaps) if I dared to quote the real lyrics. He does/did still own Northern Songs, n'est ce pas? You just can't be too careful in these days of close internet surveillance. Makes yer flesh creep! You watch out, Chris Curling, they'll be knocking on your door or coming through the bathroom window.

think its called Artistic Licence Chris!

Um, "Wednesday morning at five o'clock as the day begins"........

Dubai as an Arab Emirate is extremelly easy going, but some technology they will not accept. My OH and I have always encouraged our children to travel, when they were tiny tots we took them travelling everywhere with us and they loved it. We used to say do all the travelling you can, life doesnt begin and end in the UK...there is a huge world out there, so live your life. So we were always expecting them to be off as soon as...and they didnt disappoint! We were keen they did all the things they hoped to do before settling with a partner and then having to compromise. Our eldest son travelled and lived in Australia for a year and met his partner there, they were planning originally on moving to Oz for a few years and working there when his OH qualified as a midwife....but now he is 31 and she 28, and they are planning to marry, she no longer wants to be in Australia when they have kids, she doesnt want to be that far from her family....and he says they missed the boat...which is sad...because they are never likely to live that dream now.

Australasia! I remember mentioning to my parents casually that I fancied the sound of life in New Zealand (when I was feeling particularly disenchanted with France) and being surprised by my mother's extreme reaction. Now, of course, I understand fully. Skype sure is a godsend and has really transformed my relationship with my parents. That's dreadful that it's banned in Dubai. I thought naively that it wasn't too bad a regime there. Well, not in comparison to certain others.

You get used to it...our daughter is 33 this xmas and has been an expat for 10 years. Always exotic (for that read a long distance away!) places....and with Dubai you cant load Skype...which is banned. If we get more than 7 days a year together we feel very lucky. But she is happy, its her choice and we say goodbye with a big cuddle and no tears these days. Email, facebook and cheap phone calls make it ok and I know we have it so much better than previous generations, my aunt who emigrated to Australai in 1963 never saw her parents again, they died before she managed a return trip. So we are pretty lucky in comparison.

It was bad enough letting him go to Rennes for 2 years (2 hours drive). Preferred being near the girlfriend for the summer so only saw him fleetingly. Has been home for the last two weeks and it is like our family is complete again! Until tomorrow!! Off to Spain for six months and yes Skype will be our life line when we are able to interrupt the calls to the girlfriend. So after my 4 am wake up call tomorrow and an hour's drive to the airport - that will be it until Christmas, when again we will bid for time between us the the girlfriend, before he is off again until February. Already counting the days to his return flight!

One word…Skype … made such a difference to our family

I'm sure your daughter will have a ball ! Our eldest has just gone off to lycée in Bordeaux and has experienced more in the last 2 weeks of the internat than she experienced in 15 years. We spend so much time telling our kids how to do things then suddenly they do everything so much better than their parents. The teenage years are great - the kids are curious, smart, physically fit and fun.

I can't believe how quickly 15 years have gone. Next year and the year after our boys will presumably head off to lycée too - could be a barrel of laughs with OH often working away (must buy more pets !)

Hi all! Thanks so much for your tales and words of Dutch courage. I've heard that the stuff has all been unpacked and my wife thinks the girl'll be just fine and dandy where she's billeted. And so will I. Fortunately me and the missus love each other and we're not one of these couples that are left to sit and stare at the other and think poisonous thoughts. I shall heed your caveat, though, Brian and beware an overactive Third Age. It might provoke an overactive thyroid.

Remembering when I was a girl and ready to leave home...and watching my children leave home...its tougher for the parents seeing the kids leave than it is for the kids to leave....dont forget...when we have our children, our own parents are demoted, sounds awful but our kids will come first from then on....and thats the way it should be. Undoubtedly its tough...we spend 20 years of our lives putting our children first and when they go they leave a big hole...which is why you have to make sure you have your own life, hobby, friends and time away sometimes from the family...makes it easier in the longrun.

Oh God, I hadn't thought about that part of life just yet.... We had our baby late in life (both in our 40's) and even the thought of her heading off to primary school makes me tearful. god only knows how I'll cope when she heads off to Uni.... I hope your little lady has a wonderful time, meets lots of people and grows into herself as we all do when we leave the nest. I think it takes a lot to leave parents as it's hard for parents to see us leave.

It seems like yesterday, first week of October 1966 and there I was with an old canvas army rucksack, a dark blue duffel bag and £28 drawn out of my post office account. Now there is a nine year old who was born moments ago who will be at the looking at it square on in about seven years and off in no time after that. Mind you, I doubt it will be my Miles Davis I'll be protecting, more like my precious vinyl...

But yes, jerks tears that we don't want to concede just thinking about it. Beware of the Third Age though Mark, all that Nordic walking and water skiing that oldies are into now...

I actually sent my daughter off to Edinburgh…from the states! It seemed like the moon, but all worked well, and she is now an adult. Now I just have to work up the courage to move to France. I keep reading your posts, and who knows, it may happen.

oh yes....remember it like yesterday...all 3 of ours left...and came back after uni...then left again...we now have kids (2) in Dubai and a yearly week or so together...and a son in Shepherds Bush....who we see more of...but never enough. At least you can be sure, if you have a good relationship and they ring or email...and still bother to visit even if its only once a year....that you have indeed....done a good job....chin up!

Oh I remember it so well even the evening she walked down the stairs all made up to go out I asked where she was going when she told me I replied not like that you’re not, father how old do you think I am I looked and realised i had lost my little girl she had grown up she was 16, 5 years later she left for good as a single parent I felt lost, to them it’s the start of an adventure to parents it’s a big hole in our lives we can only hope we have done our best to equip them for what life brings

Our daughter, educated in France, set off for university in England accompanied by me but not her mother who had cancer. Our daughter graduated and went to teach in New Zealand for a year where she met 'the perfect man'. Never heard a woman say that before. Her mother got better and she came back, so all ended well. Then the daughter said that she wanted to work in London as France was 'just a holiday place'! She got a very good job and a nice flat. She is our fifth child. They come and go. Sometimes we say, 'they are all OK - wonderful'. Then another crisis appears, lost job, lost love!