Sunday, 18 September 2011

A Job Well Done

My son left home yesterday. We took him, and a van full of his belongings, to his university lodgings, deposited him and his stuff and without further ceremony, left him to his own devices in this strange new city. His lip quivered barely perceptively as we headed back to the van, but hugs and meaningful lingering smiles over, it was time to depart.

I remember how this felt, at least from my own perspective. I was left in a town much less attractive and frankly hated most of my first year. But the loneliness and abandonment one feels is to some extent outweighed, or at least balanced by the sense of excitement that the novel situation, with all its new people and hitherto unimagined possibilities offered. I am sure he will have a great time. All he has to do is avoid fighting with the sailors and be careful not to get drunk and fall in the harbour. Both of these, I confess, have haunted unreasonably those hours when night is darkest and I should have been sleeping. When the night is dark and the world is asleep, you alone are left there with your fears. Often they are ridiculous fears that in the light of day, you would dismiss with a mental brush of the hand. But at night, realism abandons you and all possibilities seem likely and terrifying.
Well, I have come to terms with those. I feel the lad has been prepared as well as we could possibly have managed. I am confident he has all the skills he needs to survive alone, or can develop them based upon his innate character and existing knowledge. My wobbliness subsides a little.

But I came home and sat on his bed. His room is clear, his desk empty. I walked into the garage and my tools still lie scattered on the bench with the remains of the final projects of late-boyhood. I suspect they will have no appeal upon his occasional return. A sense of something ending lingers indistinctly but decisively in the air.

Just under nineteen years ago, we could walk around to any town, drive to any friends and, bump and tiredness notwithstanding, stay out as late as we liked without consideration for anyone else. Then my son came crashing into our lives with a powerful set of lungs and vocal cords and a requirement for constant attention. Our time was no longer our own. Then less than two years later, my daughter arrived and now we were tethered, happily I add, to the home for the routines of daily life and the care of little, developing human beings.
And what a journey it was! I confess, I enjoyed most of it joyously.
There were the little innocent questions, the answers to which formed the growing understanding of the world, the little unselfconsciously offered child opinions on things, which delighted me with their funny little interpretations of a confusing existence.
I became expert in adhesives from mending broken toys brought to me by hopeful little faces. I regressed to my own childhood whilst skipping hand in hand with toddlers through the shops.
I became finally "responsible" as, together with my wife, we charted sensible courses through the sometimes troubled seas of parenthood with the ultimate aim of bringing to successful adulthood, two small offspring of our own conception.

Well, now all the huge shoes are gone from the shoe rack. The coat rack is almost empty as the big vintage overcoats are transplanted to another hall over a hundred miles away.
We have done our job and been successful by any measure.

And so, dropping him off with the gathered possessions of his own choosing, making and collecting, a task is complete. An independent adult, accompanied by vast amounts of food that we bought for him, is now starting out on his own in hopeful anticipation.

And here, the house seems somehow empty. Its a strange feeling and I am not really comfortable with it. But probably I shall get used to it. It is how things should be after all. He might phone sometimes and possibly he will be home in the holidays.

But now I get a sense of how my own mother must have felt leaving me all those decades ago in that god-forsaken campus in South Wales, her feelings being something very distant from my own self-absorbed bewilderment and excitement at my new situation.
Sorry, Mum. I had no idea! You left me with the Red Cross Parcel. I remember it well, and was grateful. I see now the box of food is not just sustenance for the coming weeks, but a token of the love we won't be able to give in person but which we hope will be apparent in every opened tin or bacon sandwich.

So now, we have only one offspring to focus on for the two years until her own similar departure. I hope she can cope with the increased attention!

And then, perhaps, when both are set on their courses, in about two years, independent apart from the occasional financial injection from us, the job will be largely done. Two independent human beings produced to contribute to society, enjoy their own lives as people and to hopefully nurture us when we become toothless and incontinent.

Call home sometimes, though, Son, won't you.


Nan said...

There is an amazing Wendell Berry poem about those dark hours of worry. I put it on my blog a while ago. It's here if you'd like to read it:

You wrote beautifully about this situation we all face to one degree or another. And you never know where the road will lead. If anyone had told me ten years ago when my daughter left home, and my son followed a couple years later, that they would end up just down the road and an hour away, respectively, I never would have believed it. I thought my life with them was over while really it had just begun - as adult equals but with a special love like no other.

I found you from a comment on Librarian's blog. I shall return.

PerlNumquist said...

Thank you for dropping by. The poem has a certain peace about it, though I am careful not to evoke images of calm nature for comfort since I was awoken by the horrendous noise of a badger unwrapping and eating a hedgehog on my lawn one night :-)
I am encouraged by my son's enthusiastic embrace of independent life, much of which seems to surround the preparation of large quantities of food, which it seems we trained him well for.
I too went away and live only 15 miles from my mother now. I wonder where my two will end up.