WE had taken First Born on our longest journey on our own with him for over 18 years, writes Hilary Scott.
As we stopped to give him the last hug before leaving him at his new uni flat, now aged 20, a massive, guttural sob came out of me from nowhere.
A proper, big, breath-catching sob. Followed by a few more. It caught us all by surprise, and there were fizzy noses all round, followed by awkward laughter. I’ve never felt so British.
It even affected his dad; previously immune from sentimental reminiscence. As we drove home to Northampton he began recalling an occasion we took Sons 1 and 2 to Pooh Bridge, (yes, the real one), to play Pooh sticks, just before the First Born started school. I cried intermittently all the way back.
Those who know me will testify I’m not one of life’s criers. I wasn’t the one standing in the playground weeping on their first day of nursery, or primary school. That’s not to say I’m cold, or that the crying mums are in any way to be derided. I’m too physically and mentally knackered to do much more than reconcile that they are growing up, as they should, and carry on with the business of trying to ensure the rest of the family don’t maim themselves, or each other.
Just a week later we went through it all again, this time with !8-year-old Son 2, who was being moved in to another university, up north this time. By this stage, the solo heart-breaking sob had been replaced by lots of random sobs at lots of random times.
Second Born found it all highly amusing, and this time we had his adored younger sister with us who was devastated to be losing her ‘Big Bear.’ It was all, to use the parlance of teens, very ‘emosh’, but this time not unexpected. I was a wreck.
Four weeks on, and the random crying has died down a bit. There’s no time for empty nest syndrome when your nest isn’t even empty as are two more baby birds still in it.
But the crying thing – it really threw me. I couldn’t even talk about it without welling up, even doing a stint on live radio. I questioned whether it could just be hormonal. Turns out its actually just human.
My elder two were like twins but 19 months apart. Chalk and cheese but utterly the best of pals, doing everything together, and adding an often frustratingly funny structure to our family of six.
And then we were four. And I miss them.
There’s a lot of new 18-year-olds just starting their grown-up lives. And as the University of Northampton opens its doors to the 2017-18 cohort, an exodus of our own teens has scattered across the county in return. There will be plenty of parents like me, feeling that big empty space in the family home. Some will not have the distraction of more kids coming up behind. Some will be cracking open the fizz and planning their next, not in term time holiday, the lucky sods. Raise a glass everyone, we’ve completed the Parenting Level.
Welcoming new students, mostly 18-20 year-olds, has been my job for the past nine years, as I teach journalism at the University of Northampton. I’ve seen hundreds of other-people’s-children come through the doors. Most grow and develop significantly over their three years with us, and we academics take over the parenting – nagging, cajoling, comforting and encouraging them.
The university here is pretty unique in its attitude to new students: my sons who are elsewhere barely get to know their tutors, and are taught in massive lecture halls of hundreds of students. We teach in much smaller lecture groups, and I already know most of my students’ names, where they come from, who is still at home missing them and how much support they are going to need.
Meanwhile in their new lives, our own two Freshers are having, as predicted, an amazing time. We’re blessed these days by having the ability to video call them rather than having to wait for them to queue at a phonebox. They seem to be spending more time playing sports and finding impressively complicated party outfits than studying, but hey, that’s their job to sort out now. Mine is done. . . until Christmas at least.