‘It’s oh so quiet’:Our ’empty nest’ week begins.
Returning to an ’empty nest’.
I returned to an empty house last night. No Mr. T, (he was playing golf). No Beth and Emily. Well, to be honest, it would have completely freaked me out if I’d returned to find Beth and Emily in our house because I’d just completed a five hour round trip to drop them off in Cirencester! Their eagerly anticipated week long Scripture Union Holiday, (Ka’zoo), had finally arrived.
The holiday experiment.
The girls went on a Kazoo holiday for the first time last year. It was a bit of an experiment because Beth is such a ‘home bird’. In the past, she’s struggled when she’s been away from home. The same can’t be said for Emily. She’s had a bag packed for years! I’m not even joking! When she was younger, I’d check on her before we went to bed, only to find she’d packed a little rucksack full of clothes, pyjamas, games and a cuddly toy.
I wasn’t sure what prompted Emily to pack a bag full of her belongings. Had we done something to offend her? Had she found a more suitable family to live with? I began to worry that I’d look in on her one night to find a string of knotted sheets dangling out of the window and a note by her bed saying ‘I can’t take it anymore’!
Despite the bag packing ritual continuing for several months, she was always there in the morning so I finally relaxed. I came to the realisation that she simply liked stuffing her belongings into bags. Mind you, I still had a lingering suspicion the rucksack was there as an option, just in case we all became too much of a burden!
Anyway, I digress. Suffice it to say, Richard and I didn’t feel confident enough to book a cheeky package holiday or mini-break the first time the girls were away, in case it all went pear-shaped and Beth got home sick. We needn’t have worried because they both had an amazing time. They made new friends, learned lots and took part in all kinds of different sports and activities.
In fact, as soon as they got back from their first trip they were desperate to go again this year. This was great news all round. We were delighted they’d enjoyed themselves and we were even more excited about the prospect of booking a few date nights or a longed-for mini-break. This time, we were confident the girls would be happy and having far too much fun to be homesick.
That’s when I realised it’d been a fluke to get them a place on Kazoo last year. I just happened to visit the Scripture Union website on the right day, at the right time. When I asked other parents about the booking process for this year, I was dismayed to learn you needed to be quick and reserve a space the moment bookings opened. By the time the booking date came around I was beginning to suspect I’d have a better chance of getting two tickets to an Adele concert! Plus, the hopes and dreams of my nearest and dearest seemed to rest on my ability to get them a place. Failure was not an option!
Thankfully, despite my reflexes being a little slower these days, I hit the reserve button quickly enough to secure two places and keep my daughters’ dreams alive! They would go to the ball!
And they’re off!
So, yesterday we jumped in the car and headed for Cirencester! The girls’ suitcases were massive. When I looked in the loft for suitcases, we only had the option of tiny cabin-sized bags and bags that were the size of an actual cabin! Emily could have fitted into her case, it was so enormous.
This year, our eldest, Beth, decided she wanted to pack her own bag. I’m not sure what she put in it, (I later regretted not checking), but it weighed a tonne. If Beth’s suitcase was a bag of pick’n’mix, it would have been full of hefty chunks of fudge and toffees, whereas Emily’s would have been full of ‘flumps’. Her suitcase was mostly filled with fluffy sleeping bags, fluffy slippers and fluffy teddy bears.
It was only after we set off on our journey that I had a bit of a wobble about Beth’s packing abilities and began my motherly checks in earnest.
Sun Hat? No.
I didn’t dare ask any more packing-related questions after that, preferring blissful ignorance. However, judging by the weight of Beth’s bag, I can only assume sensible things like sun hats and socks had to make way for a shoe collection worthy of Imelda Marcos and enough makeup to set up her own beauty salon.
Two hours later, we pulled up at the exclusive base for the Kazoo Holiday camp, Rendcomb College. It’s an impressive place, with stunning views across the Gloucestershire countryside. During term-time, the college is home to students whose parents can afford the £10k per term boarding and tuition fees. In our case, staying in the college for a summer camp is the closest our girls will get to attending Rendcomb.
After registration, I helped the girls settle into their accommodation before we said our goodbyes. Despite her excitement, Emily held on to me tightly and gave me a big squeeze. Beth, however, was keen to see all of her friends, so after giving me a brief hug she raced off to find them, yelling over her shoulder that she’d see me next week. STAB. TO. MY. HEART. (Only joking. I know she loves me really).
I returned to my car, which suddenly seemed far too big for me. As I drove away I glanced in the rearview mirror and watched the college recede into the distance. At the same time, my excitement about date nights and mini-breaks seemed to diminish too.
It’s oh so quiet.
On the journey back, I missed hearing Beth sing snippets from Meghan Trainor songs. I missed the two of them giggling over random nonsense or asking me to turn the music up when their favourite song came on. I even missed their ridiculous arguments over trivial things.
It was ‘oh so quiet.’
That’s when I felt that little clench in my chest. A pang. It’s the mother’s equivalent of the amber warning light in a car that tells you something’s not quite right but you can still keep driving for a bit. My amber warning light was telling me something was not quite right. I’d left two pieces of me behind and although it was okay to keep going for a while, it would need fixing soon.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited for them. I’m confident they’ll be taken care of and they’ll have a wonderful time. Nevertheless, it’s hard to let them go. I know I’ll spend the rest of the week feeling like something’s missing: like I’ve forgotten something or left something somewhere…Which I have. It’s like that moment when your stomach turns over because you think you’ve lost your car keys. You start checking your pockets frantically, only to remember they’re somewhere safe.
The ’empty nest’.
So I returned to an empty house last night. I paused in the doorway, still expecting the sound of the girls’ laughter and chatter. Instead, there was silence. A strange, unnatural silence. At least until I started to hear Bjork’s quirky little song in my head, taunting me:
It’s oh so quiet.
I felt compelled to go to the girls’ rooms and peer in, just so I could feel connected to them again. Meanwhile, miles away, others were experiencing Beth and Emily’s laughter and chatter for real.
I didn’t go to their rooms. Instead, I took a deep breath and embraced the ache I felt in my heart. I embraced it because it reminded me to be thankful: Richard and I are truly blessed to have such beautiful girls. It also reminded me to be thankful that our ’empty nest’ is only a temporary arrangement.
The amber warning light will disappear next Saturday when Richard drives through the gates of Rendcomb College once more to bring our girls back home to the family nest.
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