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.


‘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:


‘Empty Nest’ previously on my blog.


Revisiting Singapore & Repatriation Blues

It was the holiday I’d been waiting for all year – the family mid summer break. But this year it felt more significant. Twelve years ago we repatriated back to the UK from Singapore, and now, after a decade of anticipating a return, we would go back, albeit briefly. The air miles stash had been plundered and South East Asia beckoned.

Even as we left Sing all that time ago, I knew I would want to return one day. Writing in my memoir An Inconvenient Posting, I recalled the scene as we took off:

“… the tiny island with its stalagmite skyscrapers being sucked away beneath me like a misshapen pebble.”

In the weeks before our holiday memories were rekindled of the time when we left Singapore to come ‘home’. I am one of those people who can’t help but plan ahead and wonder how things will pan out. Both ‘a blessing and a curse’ scenario planning seems helps me to feel ready for what life may throw at me. The downside is over-thinking can be energy intensive and result in poor sleep patterns.

My concerns back in 2003 had focused on:

  • Would we settle back easily, how would we pick up the threads of our former life?
  • Would the children be happy/fit in at their new schools?
  • How would I cope on the mid winter school run with a new baby in tow and without the domestic help I’d grown used to relying upon?
  • Would the town I’d lived in seem parochial after our Asian experiences?

I the event I discovered so-called ‘re-entry’ does have its own challenges. You expect to gel with people at home; you imagine they will feel comfortable and familiar with you and you to them. After all, it’s your homeland you are returning to. What I discovered was that I had changed while I was away, not surprising given I had learned to adjust to a different culture. Now, like a poorly fitting shoe, everyone and everything looked familiar, but it hurt as I moved around. It would certainly take time to adjust.

Thankfully, having only been in Singapore for three years, we weren’t forgotten. Although I do remember a couple of people seemed to look straight through me in the supermarket and others hadn’t realized I had even been away! Clearly, I needed to try harder with those ‘friends’.

Most people weren’t particularly interested in our foreign adventures and after a few sentences began to glaze over. Endeavoring to put myself in the mind of those that had stayed behind, helped me to cope with the apparent absence of curiosity. In my experience, the ‘I’ve lived abroad T-shirt’ is best worn with those who have had the experience.

Acknowledgement of how it feels to be back and some expression of appreciation for their continued friendship helped smooth the transition. Lillian Hellman’s words from Toys in the Attic come to mind.

“People change and forget to tell each other.”

Moving back inevitably required a period of adjustment on the part of the children too; being young they did not have the advantage of remembering living in their homeland. For them England was a country they visited in the summer for a month, chiefly to meet up with relatives. Unused to the cool climate, it took them an age to see the necessity of sock wearing and warm sweaters – a particular source of concern for me having spent my early years growing up in chilly North East of England.

In the first weeks and months I sometimes felt a little isolated, but I also recall the kindness of friends. One neighbour pre-empted my difficulties and organised for a friend of hers to swoop in and help me with school runs. Having a young baby who loved her afternoon naps, this felt like a gesture of life saving proportions. I barely knew Angela, but by chance I recently met up with her one evening, it was so nice to express my gratitude to her after all this time.

Enough of re-entry dilemmas, finally it was the day to take our holiday flight to Singapore. I was excited to see our old home and looking forward to immersing myself in the unique atmosphere; the vibrant bustle of the city, tower blocks rising up from the lush earth, bougainvillea adorning the bridges and overhead walkways, turning endless metres of ugly concrete into a cerise and purple flower show.

However, I had been warned Singapore has changed a lot so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Arriving at Changi Airport I was immediately struck by (wait for it) the airport carpet. The person who selected the enormous swirls of brown and orange shag pile clearly had a sense of humour; surely long haul passengers, starved of sleep, feel queasy enough. In my mind I recalled Changi Airport as a state-of-the-art environment. Seeing it now, it felt more homely – to the extent that any vast building can.

As we picked our way through the traffic to our hotel near the shopping district in Orchard, I could not stop smiling to myself. It is difficult to sum up exactly why it is good to be back somewhere once so familiar; my eyes were hungry to see what I recognized and what had changed. There were many new residential blocks along on the East Coast Road, leading into the city. Singapore felt even more full, made possible by more land reclaimed from the sea, something I always find improbable. The amazing green houses of Gardens by the Bay and the triple block towers of the colossal Marina Bay Sands Hotel (see pic) both new to my eyes were certainly not to be missed, literarily or metaphorically.

If I’m honest my nostalgic delight was not a shared experience; my husband travels to ‘Sing’ a couple of times a year on business, meanwhile our girls didn’t seem to remember anything! The older two were four and seven years old when we left, so perhaps my hopes of enthrallment were unrealistic. With a severe storm moving through South East Asia the backdrop to our arrival was also a rather dark and wet one

Once we had got over our jet-lag and started to adjust to the time zone (I had forgotten how bad it feels to be awake all night) equilibrium was restored. Walking around our old condominium, our eldest squealed with glee as she recognised the monkey bars by the condo pool. Afterwards, I suggested we all walk to the Botanic Gardens, but had underestimated the length of the walk. There was a chorus of, “how much further Mum?” – I had forgotten what it was like pounding a pavement in the equatorial heat – oops.

Singapore Orchids Botanic Gardens

Singapore Orchids Botanic Gardens

As we left Singapore and moved on, my husband asked the children what was most memorable for them about Singapore? They all agreed that aside from the tasty food, seeing the maids hanging out on their day off; Sundays at Lucky Plaza shopping mall had made an impression. The lifestyle difference of the maids surprised them, with little time for themselves and then seeing them huddled in groups for picnics taken on the verges and sidewalks of Orchard Road, one of the busiest shopping areas on the planet, this was something completely new. For all Singapore’s fantastic architecture and sight-seeing opportunities, what impacted their young minds most was the women living away from their families in servitude, and having such a different, more limited lifestyle to what they know.

So, what did I take from returning to our old home? To crystalise so many memories, good and bad, was restorative for me. It was the place where a younger self experienced a first, mind expanding posting and where I gave birth to my third, and last baby. I think we leave a little part of ourselves in each place we live and take something with us too; a connectedness with the place and the people. It felt right to go back. Ideally I would like to have do so much sooner; had there been some of the people we knew when we lived there to visit, it would have made the experience richer.

I am a little embarrassed to admit the Singaporean woman in Holland Village, who still runs a nail bar there, remembered me without any prompting, “I know you, you used to live here, you brought your friends”, she smiled. My girls thought this was hilarious as I usually do my own nails, to discourage them from doing the same and wasting money (ironically). My retort, “Well, I had more time on my hands back then and it was cheaper in Singapore.” Sadly, neither of those things are true nowadays!