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.