In an instant, the days of “I” and “me” are gone and are replaced with both “we” and “us”.
From the moment you set eyes on them, it’s love: pure, unconditional, primitive love. There’s a rush of emotion like no other; a combination of panic, joy, dread, fear, and a happiness that is paired with an instinct to protect at all costs.
You worry at every stage. From making sure that they aren’t too hot or too cold, to their first steps and worrying if they’ll make friends at school, to whether their boyfriend will be kind to them or whether they’ll pass their exams. In fact, your worries are so extensive and uncontrollable that you start to worry about your own sanity.
Then the time comes for her to leave home when all rationale goes out of the window. Will she eat well? Will she be warm enough? Will she be safe or will she choke on her own vomit? The list is endless and leaving your child alone in a city 400miles from home gives you a pain like no other. As you drive off with a stuck smile and false wit about not drinking too much, your pride quickly fades and is replaced by a sense of loss. However nonsensical it all seems, there’s no controlling it, leaving you feeling helpless and exhausted in its wake. However over the top, and at whatever age, your little one leaving home feels a lot like a bereavement.
These irrational thoughts don’t just stop at daughters as one might suspect. Even sons who are reaching the ripe old age of 28 get in on the act. But instead of picturing leachy men in bars or skirts that are too short, my vivid imagination veered towards muggings, stabbings and fights with the bouncers of west London when he was out on a Saturday night.
Once he had surpassed his teenage years, I thought my worries would have died down, until I heard the dreaded words: “I’m going travelling”.
And off he went, to far off places that I have only ever dreamt of seeing, when the thoughts came flooding back in. The worries – the irrational ones, the ones that drive you crazy at 4am – return with a vengeance. But this time it’s different. This time it really is out of your control. Kidnappings, stolen organs, yellow fever and rabid dogs were never too far out of reach for my imagination. Throughout all of this inner turmoil, you smile and show photos to your work colleagues when they ask how he’s getting on, and the sane you knows that he’s having the best time as he makes new friends, treks across distant lands and tries the local cuisine because that’s what you do when you’re trying to “find yourself”. Plus, the chances of anything actually happening to him are as rare as rocking horse shit.
So when all the fighting is over, the unfinished homework is laid to rest, the wobbles of teenage years, endless broken hearts, illness, globe trotting and all week partying are a distant memory, the time comes for them to share their life with someone other than you.
And how do you cope? You do so by reflecting on how proud you are of them, how they’ve grown into the person you always wanted them to be, how your heart still leaps when you see them and how unashamedly you smile when you think of them.
So I ask you again, how do you cope? You do so by hoping that the person they have chosen loves them the way you do: purely, unconditionally and primitively, for the rest of their lives.
When you are sure of this, and only when you are absolutely sure, only then can you then begin to let go.
Written by my mum, a living legend.