Monday 12 May 2014

Packing a bag, with love

My baby (all five foot of her) is leaving home this week. Alright, I am being dramatic. She is going away for two nights on a year 5 school trip. Still, how are we going to cope without her? Our household will seem off-kilter without her serene little presence, her piles of paperback novels and her flute-practise. Not least, who is going to feed the dog in the morning?

Beach at East Wittering
Learning to let go...
Last night I was packing up her bag for the BIG trip, conscientiously working my way down the list provided by school: fleece, outdoor shoes, shower cap, medium-sized towel etc. Check! Somehow my scrupulous folding of her clothes and the orderly placement of each item into the holdall became an expression of love. 

I remember my own mother doing the same when I went off to boarding school. No nine-year old could have been better equipped for institutional life. My tuckbox even boasted a sewing kit, complete with a tub of dressmaker pins, a sheaf of press studs and a thimble. Never mind that I had barely threaded a needle in my life. The women in my family send their children out into the world prepared, provisioned and nametaped. 

Of course all of that over-zealous packing is a form of displaced anxiety. Whenever my children go away - even to stay with grandparents - I am convinced that something bad will happen simply because they are not on my watch. My general approach to motherhood has been to smother them with love and care, which is hard to do, for instance, when they are sleeping in a youth hostel 130 miles away.

Your worst nightmare

The fear of losing a child is common theme in modern literature. Authors Ian McEwan (The Child in Time), Maggie O'Farrell (The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox) and Amanda Jennings (Sworn Secret) have all confronted the horror of parental grief. I am not immune: my novel, A Sister for Margot, is partly an exploration of what happens when you are forced to give up a child. Perhaps we find solace in working through our worst nightmares.

With my own growing girl, however, I recognise that we are entering a new parenting phase. And it's all about confidence. She needs to know that she can do this stuff by herself and I need to learn to let go. The other day she begged me not to remind her to do her homework because she wanted to remember by herself. 

Her increasing maturity is a rebuke to my tendency to over-control. I know that she will be fine on her school trip and will return with all of her possessions intact because I have trained her well. That is the most galling part of all this - I am teaching her to survive without me. In the end, we shall both have earned our freedom, which is good thing (I think).

And, while she is away this week, I am hoping to persuade her younger brother to step up to the plate and feed the dog.  Now that's an altogether different challenge. I can see the plot line for my new novel now: pet dog dies of starvation during mother-son stand-off...

What is your biggest challenge as a parent? Why is it so hard to let go? Let me know in the comments box.


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