Thursday, 6 October 2011

Empty Nest.

It’s as though the Pied Piper has been and, having done with the rats and the children, has now returned for the eighteen year olds. All around me are weeping mothers, sitting on empty beds, in tidy rooms, posters hanging on the walls of deserted bedrooms. Fathers, attempting a stiff upper lip, are at a loss with whom to watch Match of the Day with, stay up late with and talk man stuff with. Siblings, initially ecstatic at having the run of the house to themselves, a full biscuit barrel and a monopoly on the tv remote controls are slowly realising that being the one and only is not all it’s cracked up to be. The long for undivided attention of their parents, has in fact turned into a nightmare because, devoid of their elder sibling, the parents’ attention is undiluted, resulting in what seems like twenty four hour surveillance and an unhealthy interest into their very private, social lives.
I mustn’t complain too much, my Lost Boy was after all only borrowed for a year, but nevertheless the absence of his energy in this house is palpable. His room is eerie, on the one hand it’s as if no-one has ever been there and yet, when you look closer and find an overflowing waste-paper basket, a half full can of deodorant and a guitar propped against the wall, you are reminded that only a week ago this room was loud, messy, colourful, vibrant and a love nest for him and his lovely girlfriend, also gone. He never really belonged to me and so I am not allowed, apart from the odd sigh and a food parcel sent to Belfast University, to mourn his loss.
The same cannot be said for my friends. For some, this is their first experience of an empty nest; their chicks up until now having never flown away, yet, within weeks of receiving their exam results, the chicks have not only flown, but soared, taking their feather duvets with them. Mothers and fathers up and down the land have been seen in various supermarkets buying ‘value’ toasters, kettles and microwaves as well as bedding, towels and lots and lots of food. They have driven to universities, brave and stoic and the once rowdy teenager in the back of the car is uncharacteristically subdued as the destination and the severance from parental binds becomes ever more inevitable.
I have had many emotional telephone conversations this week with mothers who literally do not know what to do with themselves. For the last 18 years they have been defined by the fact that they have had a child to look after and be home for, similarly a child who must be remembered about and fed and watered and occasionally, nag. It was at times a bind and a bore and now all of a sudden, there is no-one to rush home for, no-one to make dinner for and no-one’s mess to complain about. It is as though they have been made redundant and, all the times in the past when they wished to come home later from a party, or go away for a weekend on a whim they can now do whenever they like. But it isn’t illicit anymore and therefore not as much fun.
Apparently, the teenagers themselves from the odd letter that I’ve received, haven’t all sprung from the family car without so much as a by your leave either. For many of them, they have been left in their rooms as bewildered as any 11 year old boarder, their pillow under one arm, their laptop under another, congregating in the corridor and trying hard to make as many new friends as they can, exactly like that day their mums left them in the playground of infant school. Whereas in infant school a packet of sweets to share might have helped them stand out from the crowd, at university the sweets have been replaced by rapacious drinking and many students are now hoping to survive Fresher’s Week without suffering the horrors of alcoholic poisoning. God knows what sort of friendships are forged in these first inebriated, early days away from home, but from what I’m told, they are life-lasting.
I asked my son, who has steadfastly refused any idea of higher education whatsoever, if he feels jealous of his friends for spreading their wings and jumping the family nest.
“Nah ma” is as profound as the conversation got, before he kissed me on the forehead and helped himself to three Mr Kipling mince pies. I wonder what it is that makes him want to stay. It’s a chaotic household, you have to shout the loudest to get the most attention, myself included. For him, dinner is an ad-hoc affair due to his shifts and band practises, so you couldn’t really call it cupboard love.
“Of course you could Alice”, ripostes Hubby, “Just because you don’t dish it up to him on a plate night after night, doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have full access to the contents of the freezer, cupboards, bread-bin and fridge, wherein lies, rather conveniently, my beer”.
“Do you think he’ll be here forever then?” I asked nervously.
“Probably. Unless some woman is daft enough to take him on as a challenge, because let’s be honest Alice, he won’t be able to look after himself”.
“What on earth do you mean?”, I replied defensively, “I bought him a Panini maker and he can make”, I thought hard, “chicken fajitas! I’d hate him to be unhappy and run away”.
“Run away?” laughed Hubby, “He can’t even run a bath”. Ah, yes, the infamous bath that I’d asked him to run for me; the one that had been running for fifteen minutes. With no plug.
“But you never said to put the plug in”, had been his defence. University, my dear boy, would have been more than just an academic education.

1 comment:

Charlotte said...

Very good post, initially made me feel a bit sad but then ended on the very funny note about not being able to run a bath... amazing x