Observing the motorways and service stations of our country recently, you could be forgiven for thinking that there must be something terrible causing people to flee with all their worldly goods. Overloaded cars have trundled along our highways and copious amounts of mocha choco vanilla frappe Grande lattes, or variations thereof, have been bought at stops along the way. This mass movement is the annual starting or returning to University trail, well-trodden but no less emotionally charged for those treading.
I wrote a lengthy text message to a good friend this morning as she prepared to take her first born child on such a journey up the M5. I tried to comfort and reassure her that her daughter would be well and so would she. In typing it, I thought of my own chicks, one of whom was playing a football match and one at swimming lesson and imagined how it would feel if instead of them being back for lunch, I was leaving them in some disconcertingly new place, far away from me, to have lunch with strangers or worse still - alone. I had enough of an anguished, my babies are growing up too fast moment this month when it dawned on me I would need to start looking at senior schools soon for my oldest and my youngest moved up to the Juniors (he's now in the really big playground, exposed to all those year six's who might teach him swear words and could knock him flying if they accidentally ran in to him and goodness knows about the playground at senior school!!). When my Mum left me in my Halls of Residence she made sure I went to knock on the next door as she left. For my sake she wanted me to take a leap and submerge myself in the whole experience and for her sake, and I recognise this now I am a Mum, she didn't want to travel up the A1 from London back to Nottinghamshire, imagining her youngest chick twittering about, alone and lonely.
During my University interview, the tutor asked if, in light of me being an August baby, my parents would be ok for me to move to London just a month after my 18th birthday. I replied breezily, with the cocky confidence that accompanies many at 17 that they had brought me up to be independent and would support me wherever I chose to study. In hindsight it was perhaps an odd, some may say patronising or even inappropriate question, but it was asked full of care and concern and out of respect I think for both me and my parents. Certainly now, I would appreciate a tutor showing such compassion to one of my children and even twenty odd years ago, I recognised that it warmed me to the institution and gave me confidence that it would be the right place to go.
Doubtless the majority of cars will have been stacked with not just people and clothes but a plethora of ipads, ipods, games consoles, televisions, streaming sticks, smart phones. I headed off to University with a portable cassette player and a pen. My Aunty's hand-me-down tele followed along later. In view of all this, it has never been easier to keep in touch with our chicks. I remember lying in bed in my halls of residence on a Sunday morning and hearing the communal pay phone in the common room directly below, ringing. It was usually my Dad, he being of the vein, if I'm up, everyone else should be and that persistent ring at some unholy hour like 10am was a metaphorical boom up the stairs in my Dad's voice. I wrote and received postcards to friends in a 1996 version of texting, only my message took two days to deliver and I didn't expect a reply within two minutes.
But keep in touch I did and visit. I had my student railcard and I travelled all over the country to see friends and family. I became quite well acquainted with Crewe train station as I waited on chilly benches for connecting trains on grey Sunday afternoons. My Dad always said, he felt like him and Mum must've done a good job because I chose to come home, for occasional weekends and in the holidays. I knew plenty of people that didn't and I wasn't compelled to but I wanted to. And it is in that vein that I pinged off my supportive message to my friend. Her daughter is a bright, clever, warm, wonderful young woman, the mirror of her Mum with those credits and I have no doubt that she will return and visit often with so many amazing experiences to recount. If anything I grew closer to my Mum as she visited for weekends of shopping, meals out, theatre trips, gallery visits and that pattern continues over twenty years later.
The truth is we are raising our young to leave us. We are raising them to hopefully contribute in a positive way to the world and be decent people in a world where decency and kindness has arguably never been more needed. Our children are of us and from us but they are not us and we cannot wrap them up and make them an extension of us. We have to nurture and encourage them to be their own person. For them to have the confidence and self-reliance to fly the nest shows we have done our job. For them to choose to return to us for visits, shows we've probably done our job well.