The Umbilical Cut – Daughter has left for University

For the first time in your life you are not alone – even when there is no one else in the room. A part of you, which began as a warm shadow of cells below your rib cage, has grown and splayed your ribs – like fingers around an orange. Your body holds the other safely within until it grows solid too. It effects your every moment, day and night.  You are constantly aware of the potential life.

Eventually your balance shifts and your breathing becomes shallow. You fight your fear of childbirth, pushing through the pain, and after what seems a ridiculously long time, your body opens to welcome the other. And finally you see the who.

Well that’s how it was for me … And now my who has left me. The umbilical cut is complete and it is a whole new sensation. Eldest daughter has gone to university. I’m excited, pleased for her (proud too) and thankful she was able to take advantage of the opportunity to study and work towards her goal. Knowing many young people in the world don’t have those chances, particularly girls, she is fortunate.

I know instinctively it is natural for her to leave home at this age; eighteen years ought to be long enough to grow up. It is time, so what’s the ‘but’?

The letting go happens overnight and it really is quite scary. Suddenly I can’t check she’s gone to bed or even be sure she got home safely. Of course she has a phone but she would not appreciate me checking up on her every day.

It seems I have a choice; I can go out of my mind ruminating by day and worrying by night, or simply start to trust that all will be well. I am trying instead to focus on all the years of providing, what I hoped was a good practice manual of parenting, at least some of the time, and believe enough of it sank in and she will look after herself.

All the students were committed to do the work which has taken them to university or college, so surely it follows they won’t throw it all away? Hopefully that will come to pass, however the facts regarding the unfortunately termed ‘college dropouts’ are not likely to relieve parental anxiety. Higher Education statistics indicate between 6-7% of students will leave higher education in their first year at university.

A report from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills presented findings from a study of people who applied to enter higher education in 2006 and later dropped out.

  • The most common reasons given by students for dropping out were either “personal” or that they were unsure what they wanted to do.
  • Students‟ prior attainment was a key factor behind their likelihood of continuing their studies – those with less than 240 UCAS points were approximately twice as likely to have dropped out compared to students with a score of 360 points or higher.
  • Improving career guidance could cut dropout rates – those who spoke highly of the advice they received in sixth form were also far more likely to finish their degree.

Source: clcbuildingfutures.org.uk

‘Personal’ reasons clearly covers so many scenarios but the obvious one is the sudden phenomena of everything in a life changing in the time it takes to journey from home to their university. If you are not feeling emotionally strong and enthusiastic for what lies ahead, it is easy to see how a young person might not cope, particularly when they are at risk of feeling separated from their family, lonely and isolated.

Most institutions do their absolute best to ‘hold’ first year students as they plunder through the alcoholic haze that is ‘fresher’s’ week. However, when the door swings shut on the busy new schedule, there is no denying they are in a strange bed, in a strange place and alone. Or are they? They have a mobile phone and probably a laptop providing endless hours of entertainment and the possibility of keeping in touch, via face-time or Skype, with long established friends. How much more difficult it was before the advent of modern communication devices to ease the experience. Although, I wonder if the absence of parental contact (and clucking) may have encouraged some students to stick at it longer? Tolerance of adversity may have declined with the advent of social media where every inane thought can be legitimately laid bare; simply pushing on through until things get better is not a popular mind-set nowadays.

Certainly the pressure to succeed feels high, jobs are not plentiful in the way they were when I was growing up and competition is strong. University courses are not a right of passage in the way that school is, and the finances eventually have to be borne by someone. The public purse is stretched; student loans will need to be repaid by our children.

Having said all of the above, when I dropped our daughter off, the excitement and expectation in the air was palpable and the Shepherd’s pie in the catered hall smelt delicious. In that moment I would have happily swapped places with her!IMG_3122 (1)

My fingers are crossed that all will be well for my daughter and the thousands of students all over the word trying to settle in to a new and stimulating life in higher education. Friends, other mothers, in the same situation have come to the conclusion that checking in every few days is a reasonable amount. I an interest to know what you think and how it has worked out for other, more experienced parents or any students who are living the experience too?

Other blogs on the subject:

8 THINGS YOUR COLLEGE-BOUND KID DESPERATELY WANTS TO HEAR FROM YOU

‘Empty Nest’ previously on my blog.

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A Meaningful Life

Spring! Just the word makes me feel optimistic. Lighter mornings and everywhere the green of new growth. Daffodil trumpets standing proud above white snowdrops, lavender crocuses and pastel primroses. Driving around the locale my eyes are drawn to blooms peeping through verges, each one gives a little lift.

Strolling down a country lane in Pembrokeshire recently, I spotted the wild primroses in the photograph, growing in waves like coloured rugs thrown over the banks and hedges, I love the fact that no one planted them, they are just there delicate and optimistic.

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All living things have a cycle, don’t they? A beginning, a middle and an end or put another way death, decay and renewal. It’s omnipresence is one of the few certainties in life, the knowledge we will all have an ending one day, so little wonder we appreciate signs of renewal, perhaps it gives us hope?

Whilst on the sojourn in Pembrokeshire I was reminded of the finality of death over a family lunch in the The Jolly Sailor pub. Feasting on slow cooked Welsh Lamb and roast potatoes, we marvelled at the breath-taking view of the Claddau Bridge, its span stretching across the high blue sky above us. Although very much a man made structure, we soon learned its ‘beginning’ was a rather tragic one.

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My father-in-law David was a policeman in Pembrokeshire in the 1970s when the bridge was under construction. The county of Pembrokeshire had previously been divided into two halves, a small car ferry being the only mode of crossing the estuary.

On 2nd June 1970 David was having an unremarkable day patrolling around Haverfordwest when an urgent call came through on the police radio. David and three other police officers were immediately dispatched to the town of Pembroke Dock at the southern side of the estuary.

Dashing to the scene, they arrived to find the partially built bridge, had all but collapsed. The sections of the structure were still attached, but had partially fallen, tipping forwards on to the muddy bank of the estuary far below. The black and white images I’ve seen remind me of the shape of a giraffe’s neck reaching forward as if to take a drink from the river.

Claddau Bridge Collapse

Recalling the traumatic events of forty-five years ago, my father-in-law’s face reflects the strain of that day as he tells of the ambulances arriving to ferry the injured and dead to the County Hospital. He doesn’t go into detail.

The reason for the disaster? A cantilever being used to place one of the 150 ton steel box girders into position had collapsed. Later the cause would also be attributed to inadequacies in the design of a pier support and operational failures. Eventually a new British Standard for bridge building would be developed as a result.

That Claddau was the last major bridge construction disaster in the UK, will be of small comfort to those directly affected by the tragedy. Four workers died, their ‘middle’ was interrupted prematurely and without preparation, a ‘good ending’ denied. Five were seriously injured.

Dying is inevitable, many feel its the how and why we get there that is more worrisome … If our parents are lucky enough to grow old we are aware of the twilight phase of life and however long he or she is ‘good for their age’, eventually there will be the messy part at the end, hopefully brief. Such thoughts cause most of us to shrug our shoulders, and dismiss the thought. We cross our fingers and hope for a mercifully swift departure.

So the prospect of our own death is always there in the background, pushing us on to do what? Live well though the spring, summer and autumn, even the winter of our lives; fuelling the desire to grow and flourish perhaps, to leave in our wake something of value, our offspring or some other legacy.

Many of us are busy doing everyday things, ploughing our own particular furrow. Even unconsciously, making meaning of our lives is usually important to us. Commenting on existential therapy and the inner conflict which confronting death may cause, Spinelli says:

“Meaning … is implicit in our experience of reality, we cannot tolerate meaningless.” (1989, 7)

Perhaps it is worth taking a few moments then to consider what influence we might have in the world. If you imagine writing your own eulogy for example, what would you like it to say?

Few of us will have helped construct a spectacular bridge or some other important landmark, but we all do something every day that makes an impression on others. And whatever inspires you may also inspire future generations. I hope at the very least my children will appreciate wild flowers growing in the hedgerows …

Spinelli, E, The Interpreted World, Sage, London, 1989

Finding the Positive in Change

It was a back-to-school picnic and I was sharing a Tartan blanket with another mum. As we munched on the carrot sticks and houmous someone commented, “It’s almost like a New Year”. She was referring to the summer holidays drawing to a close and I could see what she meant; with the school holidays over and students preparing to journey back to their universities, this time of year heralds a significant change for some of us. For me, it is an unmarked ending, a full stop or at the very least; a punctuation mark in the year. However, unlike New Year there is no media fan-fare to acknowledge the shift, it just happens and the parents and children push on and hopefully adjust to the new schedule without further ado.

school kids

Sometimes, if one of our children is going to college or leaving home, it can be a more far reaching change with the loss of their daily presence in our lives. This time last year I found myself writing about the phenomena of the ‘Empty Nest’, it proved a popular subject.

For the school children, the new school year involves transitioning back into their role as pupil, reintegrating into friendship groups and getting down to some work (we hope). For me, I notice the house is quiet, devoid of laughter and squabbles and the distant chatter over social media. It’s a relief, juxtaposed with a little sadness, does that make sense? I’ve enjoyed not having to rush every morning, the general slowing of pace and the joy of having a family holiday together. I won’t however miss imponderables such as:

How much Nutella is okay for one teenager? Should I be more curious about the nutritious content of the consumables stashed under my eldest’s bed?

Can I get away with yet another twist on an old pasta dish without incurring a chorus of eyes rolled heavenwards?

Is it worth a confrontation to get each child to take their turn at loading and unloading the dishwasher or doing a little ironing? Sometimes they just do it, I could wait and see if it happens …

Do other parents punctuate their day taxi-ing teenagers around to limitless destinations for no particular reason other than to hang out with their mates? How much walking to the station or the town is too much walking?

Why is it that on the days I’m not working I don’t sleep in – something I’ve fantasized about before the holiday.

All these small dilemmas can now be put to one side and be replaced by something we all recognise (and let’s be honest most of us really like) our routine!

Responding to Change

We don’t have any choice about change, it’s a certainty of life and we’d be bored if nothing ever happened to stimulate us. However, many of us naturally favour a routine which allows us to feel secure and navigate life more easily – hence my relief at returning to it. What I notice, which is really positive, is the shaking down effect that the transition brings. It is subtle, but in stepping out of the routine for a while I seem able to tune-in to some changes I could make as I transition back into it? I’m taking a fresh view of my week and what I do, even though I didn’t stop working in the holidays, I can see that too with a fresh eye.

I have a little more time now, as my youngest is joining her siblings at senior school I won’t need to arrive at the gates at 3:30 pm every day. For thirteen years, whatever the weather, whichever continent we were living on and whatever else is happening, I’ve battled to find a parking space (in recent years one where I won’t risk a parking ticket) and the change hasn’t quite sunk in yet. Wow! Writing it down has helped and I feel a real opportunity opening up in my weekday routine. Flexibility, hmm, I love that word.

I’m not quite sure what I’ll do yet, but its good to just let the change settle over me. I’m also aware that I’m still acknowledging my children are growing up and they won’t need me so much. I notice I’m not required to get out of the car at the morning drop off, “Don’t do it Mum, its social suicide”. No more goodbye kisses for me then …

Change vs. routine, part of the ebb and flow of life that keeps us energised and encourages us to grow and change as individuals, as a nation even … Here in the UK we have been undergoing a process of referendum to allow people living in Scotland to decide if they still want to be part of the UK. It has imposed an opportunity for all of us in the UK to think about what devolution might mean for us individually and collectively; the impact on our culture and identity, not to mention the financial implications, many of which are uncertain.

Whether it is a matter of State or personal impact, what feels important, is to face your feelings and find the positives in any change. Ultimately to find our own place of acceptance is to navigate our way through.