y eldest son is about to leave home and I find myself full of conflicting emotions. He’s clearly emotionally ready and keen to get on with his plans and I’m excited for him. But I also feel utterly bereft, worried and proud at the same time. I really want him to understand how much he means to me but I also don’t want him to feel constrained by my apron strings.
Since I firmly believe milestone occasions should be marked in a meaningful way, I’ve resolved to not let him leave without saying something of note. I don’t mean offering advice, which should only be delivered if asked for. I mean something more like an acknowledgement that the moment matters.
I remember reading in one of Bill Bryson’s fine books how his wife wandered round their house sobbing and wailing for a week before their eldest left home, wondering if she would do that for all four.
I doubt it.
I do know that my own desire to mark the occasion comes from my parents, both notable underachievers in the big moment department. When my older brother left home for college, he and his then girlfriend disgraced themselves by breaking down in the car park of the YMCA in Stoke on Trent (a truly dismal place, it must be said). It was so bad that when it came to my turn to go to go off to college my father refused to take me, saying he couldn’t go though that kind of drama again. I finally had to get a lift with a friend.
It doesn’t end there. On my wedding day, I found myself alone with my father in our house. Everyone else had left and we were waiting for the car. Here it was, finally, I thought, the bonding moment so often portrayed in movies. I confess I was expecting something more meaningful to come from my father’s lips than “Is my tie all right?”
But I was sadly disappointed.
When I announced I was pregnant for the first time my grandmother’s first response was to announce she would not be knitting anything while my mother noted that she was getting two new kittens.
When I got round to telling them about the impending arrival of my fifth child my mother murmured over her shoulder to my father, “Oh God we’ll have to open another wretched building society account.”
After so many touching moments you can probably understand why I want to make sure I do a little better with my own children.
I know I need to find a balance between expressing genuine feeling and oozing the kind of sentimental twaddle I suspect that no 18-year-old wants to hear from his mother.
How then to strike the right balance?
By writing him a letter. Because words used in the right way at the right time can make all the difference. Because letters may have become unfashionable, which might make them even more valuable in the long run — something to keep. Because unlike those who once feared too much drama, too much knitting or new bank accounts, I want my son to know I’ll never look the other way.