Over the summer, on and off, I was playing a fun little game in my head called What If All The Kids Had Left Home Already, What Would That Be Like?
It started in July when I went up to North Wales by myself to visit my mum, I was driving alone on the motorway when it suddenly struck me that this is what it will be like when all the kids have gone. At Oxford Services, where we always stop off, I could sense the ghosts of Holidays Past and the feeling was so painful I decided my next stop would be somewhere we had never been before. Telford. I was pretty certain of myself here. We always did Oxford and Oswestry, I was sure we had never stopped off at Telford.
We had. As soon as I walked in I saw the table where we had eaten breakfast one morning. I saw us all sitting there, tired and groggy, eating those slices of toast that motorway service stations always manage to make both soggy and hard, with little pots of jam and marmalade all over the table, the road atlas laid out amongst them and me saying ‘I’ve just got to check the route’ while secretly dying to get outside for a fag.
It’s reminded me of that horrible phrase ’empty nest syndrome’ (is that what I’m feeling?) but I have felt this before, on and off for years. When you’re a single parent you get regular alone times when they’re at their Dad’s, and anyway, with four children they leave bit by bit. There isn’t that sudden empty nest thing which I imagine happens if you’ve got one or two close in age.
All of which got me thinking about an oft-used piece of advice: ‘They grow up so quickly, make the most of them while they’re little.’
I don’t actually think there is anything much you can do when your children are small which will make any difference to those sudden moments of pain and loss you experience when they’re grown up and gone and you’re left with an empty nest. I am pretty sure that it just happens anyway. I don’t think appreciating them when they’re little is any insurance against missing them when they’ve left.
I think more useful advice would be: They grow up so quickly, make sure you stay engaged with the world and your own life path while they’re little so that – even though you’ll inevitably miss them sometimes when they’re gone – most of the time you’ll be too involved with other stuff to even notice they’re not there.