School term began here this week...and I found myself reeling as I realised that I now have only one child of school age.
Suddenly Child Benefit, which used to be the sort of sum that made the difference between solvency and disaster each month (3 children) is just about enough to buy the Dufflepud one pair of shoes (1 child).
The morning rush for the bathroom is now spread over a longer period, as only LongsufferingClockmaker and the Dufflepud depart on the first wave of exits...
Hattie Gandhi is still loosely at home, with about 10 days till her university term begins - and Hugger Steward is stoically hunting paid employment, that will finance his hopes of travel later in his Gap year, so it's not strictly an empty nest - but it still feels significant to have 2 children finished with school for ever. The balance of the family has shifted and the days of back-to-school shopping and parents' evenings are numbered.
After church this morning I was talking to a mum who is dealing with the other end of the process...Her younger child started full-time school this week, and her departure has left the house strangely quiet - and her mother tearful and perturbed.
Meanwhile, on the far side of the Atlantic Songbird is dealing with the reality of a teenager despatched to boarding school for the first time and pondering the complexities of beginnings and endings. Parenthood is all about working yourself out of a job, but that realisation doesn't always make the experience easier and I'll surely weep when HG returns to Cardiff, and flood Heathrow once again when HS sets out on his travels, even though I know these steps are both necessary and good.
But I need to remember, if I can, how much I've gained as my children's horizons broaden. As I've stepped back a little from HG's life, she has generously brought her new experiences and her new friends home for us to share. The places that she visited during her Gap year made the world feel smaller, more available to me - she was my trail blazer, so that I'm not sure I would have had the courage to go to India had she not first spent those months in Thailand...It's an interesting one, learning from your child - but it has been part of the picture in my relations with both of my older children for a while as they've grown in interesting, unexpected new directions, and developed talents and interests I'd never aspire to.
Instead of bringing home egg-box caterpillars and half-dead fistfuls of dandelions, like her younger self, HG now brings home new ideas, new adventures and all sorts of lovely people - but she does bring them - and this enables me to trust that the boys in their turn will continue to touch base with me as the strings that connect us are paid out more and more.
So, on balance though transitions are always challenging, often uncomfortable, life on the other side can be pretty good too (but this doesn't mean I'm not allowed to bawl my eyes out as each child goes on their way).