Empty nest? Not a chance

My youngest is leav­ing home but have I done enough to pre­pare him? By Saskia Sar­gin­son

The Guardian - Family - - Family - Some names have been changed

Fi­nally, one of my adult chil­dren has been prised out of his child­hood bed­room. Zac, the youngest, is leav­ing for univer­sity. The baby of the fam­ily is fly­ing the nest – for now. Be­cause of course, the other three all went off to art col­lege or univer­sity, too. But then they came back.

His older si­b­lings su­per­vise his go­ing-away prepa­ra­tions with gim­let eyes. We have the list of es­sen­tials the univer­sity sent, and I be­gin to tick things off dili­gently, but Zac’s brother and sis­ters have other ideas.

“He doesn’t need a bath­mat,” Jake says. “He’ll never have a bath. He’ll prob­a­bly never get washed.” Jake snorts at the next item. “Look at this! Un­der ‘bed­ding’, it says ‘two sheets’!” He scrib­bles a line through the sen­tence. “Don’t bother. He’ll never change his sheets. He never has in his en­tire life. And if he did, he wouldn’t know how to use a wash­ing ma­chine.”

Jake’s right. I’ve failed. I’ve done far too much for my youngest. He re­ally has no idea how to per­form do­mes­tic tasks. He is, I re­alise, hopelessly un­pre­pared for this.

“He’ll be fine,” Zac’s fa­ther, Ed, re­as­sures me. “Most of the other stu­dents will be ex­actly the same. Don’t you re­mem­ber how you were?”

I open my mouth to protest, but am im­me­di­ately over­whelmed by an­cient mem­o­ries of me as a stu­dent liv­ing off boiled eggs and Mars bars; sleep­ing in gritty sheets in a damp room.

At least for the first year, Zac will be warm and dry in halls. But a new coat would be good. After a fruit­less shop­ping trip, he chooses a wa­ter­proof parka from the in­ter­net.

“Mum, you’re be­ing ripped off,” Jake says. “He should get some­thing from a sec­ond­hand shop.”

“Yeah, he could eas­ily find a cheap coat if he both­ered to look,” Lily agrees.

“I want to buy it for him.” I am stub­born. “It’ll be win­ter soon. I need to know he’s got a proper coat.”

“He’s so spoilt!” They shake their heads dis­ap­prov­ingly.

“Maybe he is,” I re­tort. “But he’s the youngest. The youngest al­ways get spoilt. Plus, he’s had to put up with you lot telling him what to do for years. I think he de­serves a new coat.”

And then the mo­ment comes when we drop him off. As I walk to re­cep­tion with Zac to join the queue for reg­is­tra­tion, he re­marks: “This is weird. All these peo­ple do­ing the same thing. Aban­don­ing their kids just be­cause they’re 18. Like those tribes that drop their kids in the for­est to see if they’ll sur­vive with­out food or wa­ter.”

“Um. Yes,” I say, taken aback. “But you’ll have meals. And you have a new coat to keep you warm. And,” I blurt out, “you can ring me if you hate it. I’ll come and get you.”

He gives me his best poker face. “Yeah. Right, Mum.”

So we drive away, aban­don­ing our youngest to the wolves in the for­est, and it feels as if my heart has been hit with a sledge­ham­mer. “Will he be all right?” I ask Ed ev­ery five min­utes for the du­ra­tion of the jour­ney home.

“He may not change his clothes for a term,” he says. “But he’ll be fine.”

NAll these peo­ple aban­don­ing their kids, like those tribes that drop their kids in the for­est to see if they’ll sur­vive with­out food

ow we have one less young adult in the house. A bed­room stands empty, colonised by dust and cats. One less mouth to feed. One less pair of feet stamp­ing up and down the stairs. Per­haps I should cel­e­brate. Isn’t this what we’ve been work­ing to­wards and hop­ing for? But at the mo­ment, I’m miss­ing him too much to do more than worry.

The phone rings. I snatch it up, in case it’s Zac. He’s hardly spo­ken to us since the day we left him there. It’s my sis­ter, call­ing from the coun­try­side.

“You know that Tom’s start­ing a new course in Lon­don this term?” she says, speak­ing of her 18-year-old son. “I’ve had a brain­wave – he can stay with you!”

“He can … what?” I stut­ter. “Stay with you,” she re­peats, cheer­fully. “It makes sense, now Zac’s room is free. Lucky tim­ing.” “Very lucky,” I croak.

I tell Ed. He gives me his best poker face. “One out. One in,” he says.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.