Belfast Telegraph

How I'm preparing for my empty nest

By Frances Burscough

The onset of September always triggers a sense of nostalgia in me. I left home on the first of September, way back in the 80s. I started my first job at the same time of year. I was married on September 3 and then divorced almost 15 years to the day later. As for my kids, from nursery school to sixth form and beyond, every step of the way began in September.

It seems like no time at all that my first son Luke started school at Ballyholme Primary. I felt both proud and bereft at the same time as I left him off in that multi-coloured classroom filled with tiny chairs and tiny desks, and a massive sense of loss.

My baby was growing up so fast. He didn't even want to kiss me at the door, he just ran in and found his desk and never looked back. It was probably just as well, as I didn't want him to see me cry tears that he wouldn't understand and I couldn't adequately explain. Fortunately I still had my new baby Finn looking up at me from his pram, all beaming smiles, completely oblivious to the one giant leap his big brother had just made.

Of course there's been a lot of water under the bridge since then. All the stages of growing up ticked off a rapidly-diminishing list. Learning to read; learning to write; first school play; swimming lessons; buying a hamster; burying a hamster; removing bike stabilisers; losing teeth; joining teams; 11-plus; parents splitting up; joining Scouts; quitting Scouts; getting a dog; getting an Xbox; grammar school; new friends; becoming a teenager; dad's wedding; increasing homeworks; new languages; developing opinions; more exams; new ambitions; school prizes; developing tastes; fights; rows; failures; successes; O-levels; first pint; sixth form; Saturday job; romances; career advice; A-levels; learning to drive; becoming an adult...

Luke left home four years ago to go to uni in London and once again, he went without a second glance and a new chapter started. I cried of course, as he hugged me goodbye, but fortunately I still had my teenager Finn here to keep me occupied and on my toes as he negotiated his way through GCSEs, onwards & upwards towards sixth form.

But this time around, this September, seems more significant and symbolic than any other. In what seems like a blink of an eye, Finn grew up too and, in just a matter of days, he'll be leaving home to go to university in another country and I'll be left in my empty nest - alone for the first time in decades - wondering where all the time went and what the hell I'm going to do next.

Of course I've known about this for years. In fact September 2016 has loomed large like a big red flag on the calendar of my subconscious what seems like forever. So yes, I've had ages to prepare.

The only problem is that every time I started to think about it and to imagine a home without any children, I'd get so upset I'd have to stop, get a grip, and try to concentrate on something else. For example, last week we went shopping for a few things he'd need. New socks, rucksack, plain T-shirts, bedding, towels ... all the usual kit for college. The only way I could handle the task was by imagining we were just getting ready to go on holiday, like we have done so many times in the past. It worked too, until I reached for some flip-flops and he looked puzzled.

"Not really a top priority for the autumn term, mum," he said, sarcastically.

So, come on September: do your worst! The more I discuss it, the more prepared I'll be for when the day comes and my life changes forever. Actually, just writing this has been cathartic, although I must admit there have been a few tears dripping onto the keypad in the process. But don't worry, I'm not completely cracking up. Just a wee bit.

I've been through worse and lived to tell the tale.

In fact I've done it in just under a thousand words every Saturday for the last 10 years. So to find out how I cope - a single mother but without the children - watch this space.

Belfast Telegraph

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