Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

How this TV series fuels every mum's fear

Call me a paranoid, masochistic, ridiculous fool clearly not up to bearing the standard requirements of motherhood if you like – it wouldn't be a normal day if someone didn't – but I started worrying about my children leaving home about five minutes after my first child was born.

I can still remember the moment the midwife laid my daughter on my chest, shocking me with the foreign warmth and smallness and softness of a person who was 'mine' in a way no human being had ever been before.

I felt her little heartbeat pounding against my own and thought 'She'll need me a bit less tomorrow'. And from there it was a slippery slope to the borderline psychosis I've been secretly living with ever since.

I've been able to contain this neurotic inner-nagging for nine years now, even pushing my luck with a second harbinger of panic in the form of a son. But though I'm happy to see them behaving like quite normal, well-balanced people, displaying independent streaks which people tell me are signs of confidence, it pulls at my stomach when my children tell me they want to do things we used to do together on their own or with their friends.

I am not sensible. But I can just about carry off a veneer of common sense in front of them. So off they skip, while I busy myself with distractions so as not to become the local loon mum permanently peering out of the window.

Unsurprisingly then, BBC Northern Ireland's Departure Diaries, which started this Monday, struck a chord with me.

It began with a simple portrait of educated and trained-up young people who have become disheartened, job-seeking victims of the recession – spirited teaching graduate Heather, trained radiographer Sinead and cheerful out of work joiner Ryan.

But over the half hour it shifted its emotional focus to the shellshocked families they were leaving behind as they roared off to America and Australia in their search for work and, in those old damning words, such a staple of the history of the Irish diaspora, 'a better life.' And therein lay the rub for thousands of us clingy parents.

One of the things I love most about Northern Ireland is the intimacy many children retain with their families even through the adolescent wilderness years. Tell an English teenager you still hold hands with your mum and call your father 'daddy' and he'll probably laugh in your face (he is a teenager after all).

But this familial closeness is no help if your kids decide to emigrate thousands of miles away. Sinead's mum spoke bravely about her daughter's decision to go to Australia, a tiny smear of mascara on her cheek her body's only betrayal. Sinead's infant sisters came to give her little, baffled hugs, from which she ran to the car, suddenly engulfed by tears. Then there was Myrtle, Heather's devoted surrogate mother (her real one died of cancer).

Heather's leaving for America, and the sudden weighty quiet it would bring to single Myrtle's home felt unbearable. Showering her with affection and too many poached eggs, it was all Myrtle could do not to ask Heather to change her mind. Trying out the Skype, Heather sat upstairs with Myrtle a flight below and they chatted, pretending Heather was already miles away.

'It works! I'm going to shut it off now,' chirruped Heather. 'Bye,' said Myrtle down in the kitchen. 'Love you.' But Heather was already tidying the laptop away.

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