Nest Emptying

My girl has gone.

Well, ok, my daughter – my younger child – has gone to university and will no doubt be back before we know it, but at the moment, it feels very strange.

For the first time in twenty years, my husband and I are on our own in the house with the prospect of it being this way for several weeks rather than a few days.

I know I’m not the only one right now, wondering where all those years went (apart from into grey hair). It’s odd isn’t it? I’m proud my daughter is able to go, able to stretch her wings, proud of the young woman she has grown into, excited for her to be meeting new people and hearing new ideas – to be living in a completely different environment to the one she’s grown up in. But it’s weird.

Admittedly, before she left, we hadn’t seen a lot of her since she passed her driving test. Either at school or working or socialising, our daughter was generally somewhere less dull than at home with her parents. All the same, she was around some of the time and we knew roughly what was going on.

Now, if she stays out till 4am, we won’t know. So we won’t be worrying, we will be assuming she’s been tucked up with cocoa and an improving book since 8pm. That’s the theory anyway. Of course in reality, we’re still wondering if she’s all right – happy, eating properly, safe – in just the same way as we do about our son.

As my daughter and I were going round a hypermarket buying her last groceries before she left, she was quite excited until for the first time she had to pay attention in the detergent aisle. She said ‘I’m dreading doing my own washing’. ‘Dreading’ seems like a heavy word. I’m now afraid I may have passed my laundry obsession on to her. (But I admit to breathing a sigh of relief that I won’t have mountains of the stuff till they come home.)

My lovely girl has always been the independent sort. She fooled us for a total of twenty-three months by being the perfect baby. This was quite a relief given that her brother, less than two years older, is hyperactive. She slept… well pretty much all she did was sleep and smile. She would sit and ‘read’ to her toys before she could form proper words, showing them the pictures and pointing at the writing but using a language all of her own. She looked no more than slightly surprised the time I wheeled her about in the pushchair in the snow without strapping her in and hitting a hidden kerb sent her flying in her snowsuit face down into a snowdrift like a padded starfish. We probably should have taken note when her wicked sense of humour started to emerge at 14 months when she sniggered after shutting her big brother’s fingers in the door of the cupboard where she was ‘hiding’. 

At just under two, she shoved aside all the perfect baby nonsense and she emerged as funny, bright, independent, fiery, creative and lovely. She hasn’t looked back since. If she doesn’t fancy what’s planned for dinner, she’ll cook her own – much preferring vegetarian food to any other. Like me, her grandmothers and her great grandmothers, she makes recipes up to see what happens. Arguing with her is reasonably pointless but as she gets the belligerence from me naturally I do it anyway. 

She could draw recognisable characters with unique expressions before she could write properly. I still treasure the sketch she drew aged 4 on my Christmas wish list. I had put on it jewellery and art but she drew a picture of me grinning and loading a tumble dryer – something I didn’t possess but could have done with. I’ve also kept a copy of a diptych of a sad little girl faced with carrots and peas and a happy little girl faced with a Christmas present. This pretty much summed up her view of the injustices she faced at the time.

Just like my son with music, there was little doubt when she was small that art was where her heart lay.

Well now she’s flown the nest. She may be back (as will our son be) but she’s started adult life with a ton of grown up household setting up stuff (photo is a fraction of it) and sooner or later, they’ll both be gone for good.

How do my husband and I feel? I’m not sure it’s quite sunk in yet. I think yesterday we started to realise those two unnaturally tidy bedrooms were going to be tidy for some time and it felt very strange. I missed being able to just go and chat to her without having to go through some IT channel. Not because I was chasing up on her, just because I suddenly missed her very much.

I think of how it was when I went to university and communicating with my parents involved letters and a weekly phone call if I could face standing in the freezing campus phone box. It’s never occurred to me until now to ask my mother how she felt when I went to university. She says ‘it was so quiet. I missed you so much.’ Which is nice to know. My sister left home some years later and I remember Dad saying that he was still defaulting to cooking for four for some time afterwards. 

Although admittedly, knowing Dad, that was just because he liked food.

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Words and picture copyright (c) Paula Harmon 2019. Please do not use without the author’s express permission.

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