The Times They are a Changin`… Bob Dylan

Life stage changes seem to loom in front of us, whether they be a two digit birthday with a ZERO at the end, a marriage, starting a family, parental passing, menopause, or becoming an empty-nester. There is excitment at most of the earlier stages in life. The latter stages can cause anxiety and much inward reflection.

I had my first “empty nester” experience a few weeks ago and I am still adjusting to the change in my mental, physical, emotional and spiritual energy. When a child moves into adulthood and begins their life, without your daily physical presence, it affects the whole of you. I am very aware of this change and am observing myself as this shift takes place.

What follows is a brief account of when the shift occured. Enjoy.

I just moved my 17 year old daughter to St. Andrews in Scotland, where she will study for the next 4 years. It was a whirlwind trip. We landed in Edinburgh late on Thursday, picked up a rental car and began the drive north. I had to quickly adjust to driving on the other side of the road! Navigating the first HUGE round-about was fun! I almost closed my eyes as the car coming from the right started blasting it’s horn. Guess I entered that one a bit too early?

My daughter and I stayed in Dundee, which was nice as it gave us the opportunity to explore another town. We were quite business like as we did not have much time to knock things off our to do list: phone, bank account, room furnishings from IKEA (an hour and half drive away), school supplies, and any extra essential for making her life a little more homey.

Shopping is not my daughter`s favorite thing and driving on the left hand side of the road is not mine! Our business like approach got us through but by the end of each day that we were together, we were exhausted. We fell in love with the Scottish countryside, we were lucky, it was sunny for most of the days we were together.

Day 2 was the day we unpacked the full car into her new home away from home. The student volunteers that were helping the new students find their way around were friendly and helpful. Moving my daughters belongings involved a long walk from the parking lot on an uphill path, navigating several sets of doors and three sets of stairs. 23kg suitcases feel like 50kg suitcases after such a long haul. Once we had everything in the room we left it an absolute tip as we had to rush to the bank to set up the bank account.

The bank’s do make this easy as you need proof of address from the University and as we had been traveling just before leaving for Scotland, this letter had not been printed out… a detail missed. Student services helped us with the letter and off we went to the bank in St. Andrews, only to discover that we had inadvertently left her biometric card buried in one of the many suitcases we had left in her dorm room! Standing infront of the bank teller my mind went into military mode! Getting this bank account sorted became my reason for being!

We had been forewarned about this bank account being a real process thus three weeks earlier I had made an appointment to set up the account in Dundee to avoid the crowds in St. Andrews. This is when we found out about the missing letter.

Now in St. Andrews my daughter took her place in the coveted slow line to register an account at the bank for the second time. When I say slow, I mean really really slow! I had the task to head back to the dorm to retrieve the biometric card from luggage. It was a bit of a scramble as when I came out of the bank I got turned around in the tiny streets of St. Andrews and could not find the rental car. And we were under time pressure, the bank was closing in an hour.

Most people we met in line at the bank had stories about missing letters, lines closing before they got to the front, needing a biometric card and not having it, or the parent not having their passport and it being needed for some odd reason. At any rate, the bank account was not straight forward. So with much scrambling about over 3 hours of elasped time, we had a bank account!

We arrived back at the dorm with all of one hour to unpack her entire room. Still in military mode, we unwrapped IKEA mattress toppers, carpets, bedding, hangers, unloaded clothing in an organized frenzy. We took note of things that were still missing, like hooks, glasses, teapot, large filing folders, laundry detergent etc.

Anastasia went off to her dorm BBQ and I was left roaming the streets of St. Andrews to finish off the shopping list. It is a small place but I felt great having found a fabulous hardware store that had almost everything we needed in it. I checked out Tescos only to find essential shelves empty! And finally settling down in a great pub to watch the US Open and have a great meal.

Our plan for Day 3 was to meet early  to pick up the famous St. Andrews cape and continue with whatever else we needed to do for the room and sorting out school supplies. When I woke I found a text on my phone to meet at 11:30 … not 9:30. My daughter`s new life was beginning.

I filled my time with more essential shopping with another parent that I had met staying at the same Bed & Breakfast. It was fun, I was also meeting new people. It was funny to see all these lost foreign parents wandering the streets willing the shops to open before 11:00 so that we could get back to our offspring that were slowly letting us know that we were no longer really a part of their daily lives.

When I arrived back at the dorm I was greeted by a very happy daughter, full of stories about all the people she had met and with the news that she had 5 offers for Academic Mothers last night! Wow I was being replaced already! St. Andrews has a lovely tradition of each first year student having Academic Parents to help them be successful in their first year of school. This weighed heavy on my daughters mind when we first arrived; would she find parents by the end of Freshers week?  I could see from her face she was so happy and most of all comfortable. After we unpacked and found a home for all the new items, that were greatly appreciated – especially the warm fluffy bathrobe, we took to walking the town in search of the red Cape and the famous St. Andrews pier. We had a lovely afternoon, full of sunshine, a great lunch and I showed her some of the little shops I had discovered the day before.

During this afternoon there was an palpable shift in both of our moods. It was our final afternoon together in our “daily life relationship” that we had shared since her birth. Our pending separation was hanging in the air as we took photos around town together. When we arrived back at her dorm, we had about 45 minutes to go before our goodbye would be necessary. I wanted to fill it with organizing her files for her and she was just looking at me and saying, “mom I can take care of that” at everything I suggested that I do for her. I was like an animal, wanting to leave my mark on her room so that she did not forget me…

“Suddenly it clicked in my head, it’s done. It is time for me to step aside,
I am no longer needed at the helm”.

Of course there is a gradual shift that takes place over the years of Secondary School, where us parents take a much smaller role in the daily lives of our teenagers as they become responsible for their choices and actions. This process of moving a child into University brings out the parent of a much younger child; the parent that wants to shelter them and make sure they are safe. It was funny to observe this parent in myself.

So in this moment I sat down beside my daughter and talked about her plans for the evening and the next day. I was seeing her perhaps for the first time, as a fully independent person. My daily duties were complete. With a big hug, smiles and few poignant words we parted.

I went off and had a lovely dinner in town, then walked the beach along the Golf Course and watched the most beautiful sunset. It was really beautiful, like the weather of that day. Somehow special and representative of a time of completion and the beginning of a new phase in my life, and in my relationship with my daughter. It is a wonderful moment in time when we realize that our children are going to be fine without us. It is the moment we parent for, but rarely think about.

Before my daughter left Switzerland, her final week, she was quite emotional. She was well aware that this move signified a big change, not just in her relationship with her family and her friends but with herself. Her friends were scattered across the globe starting their new journeys and she knew no one at St. Andrews. She was moving in adulthood, leaving the nest, growing up and ready to discover herself in a new way.

Before she left we talked about change, and how even though change can be good, it can be a time of sadness as we have to say goodbye to what was in order to experience what is ahead of us. 

To make change a success one has to have resilience. There will be positive,neutral and negative experiences that come with change. My hope is that I have given my daughter the tools to see the silver linings and lessons in the experiences that are not so good, and to keep her energy in the experiences that bring her the most joy in who she is and the person she is becoming.

My daughter has always loved Peter Pan, the boy of never ending youth. Turns out the creator of Peter Pan was Scottish and walked the halls of St. Andrews many years ago. Fitting I think.

Embrace the changes in life, the good with the bad, as it is these very experiences that give us wisdom and shape us into who we are.

Balance on my Friends…..

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