When Your Last Child Leaves Home – Stop the Clock!

Have you ever yearned to hold a moment forever? To sabotage the clock, not let this precious moment go, this moment you wish could last ad infinitum … or perhaps these lasts few weeks, last few days, knowing with an unbearable sadness that they are now preceded by the unwanted adjectives, last few? Until they are gone. Forever.

Falling in love, for instance. Isn’t that one of the most wonderful feelings a human being is capable of experiencing? When it’s your first love, you truly believe it’ll last forever, so you don’t want to stop the clock. You’re intoxicated in your happiness, you’re ecstatic, not thinking sensibly, certainly not thinking of the future, apart from through the proverbial rose-coloured spectacles – you know, the two of you wandering off hand in hand into that eternal sunset…

You accumulate experience and years, you fall out of love, move on … and then, one happy day, it happens to you again! But this time round you’re older and wiser, fully aware that this amazing, electric, best feeling in the entire universe might not last. (Spoiler coming up – it won’t.) But still you hope it will, with all the stupid blind optimism of fresh love, fresh desire, fresh hope … though this time round, at least with a smattering of common sense. The sensible part of you now realises that the euphoria won’t last for ever, and you begin to acknowledge, with a sad acceptance, that it’s the Grand Watchmaker’s fault. So now you join the If only club, and allow a cursed mantra to enter your life: STOP THE CLOCK!

But never mind romantic love. I’m done with all that exhausting nonsense. (Or maybe not… but anyway, that’s for another blog. A slightly naughtier one, which will be entitled Desire. Watch this space!)

So what about when the time comes for your grown-up child to leave home? Isn’t that as good a place as any to beg the clock to stop ticking? But then again, maybe not. There’s pride in your firstborn flying the nest, and there’s shared excitement at the prospect of university, and a little nostalgia for your own university days, your lost youth. And if you have more than one child, as I do, then it isn’t too bad when the first one leaves home. Why? Because there are still two others left, as well as a philosopher-hubby who exhales profound thoughts, and a floppy mongrel who snarls at strangers, and a mean black panther-cat who hisses at the mongrel, and a cute tabby cat who mangles up all the best furniture… so, all things considered, there’s still plenty of action and fun around. No time or space for pining. Yet.

I started out with a noisy, boisterous, hectic, happy family household. Eight members of the clan altogether, including the furry members. And then, one by one, they all started departing. First the eldest grown-up child, off to university amid a great flurry of parental pride and anxiety, as any parent feels when the child they have reared from babyhood is about to embark on an independent life of their own. Then it was my son’s turn, my second beloved child, a couple of years later. Once again, pride tinged with anxiety. But still no hint of emptiness or loss or pining. There was still my third child, after all, as well as Philosopher-Hubby, and Floppy the snarling dog, and Oliver the hissing panther-cat, and Maggie the furniture-ripping tabby. Still a noisy, boisterous, hectic family.

And then, one sad spring day, it was our panther’s turn. He died two years ago, and I cried at the vet’s when we had to put him down. Poor, hissing darling. But still there was our other cat, and our dog, and my youngest child, and Philosopher-Hubby, who had not yet metamorphosed into Errant Hubby. So, still a pretty big, hectic household, right?

And then, just one teeny weeny year later, Despair hit the roof.

Philosopher-Hubby left our hairy, mangled, chaotic home in a great flurry of heartbreak and misery and longing. Yes, longing – for the past to please come back. This was last October, as my earlier tell-tale blogs will inform you. And then, just one week later, our tabby cat died. Just ONE WEEK after Hubby abandoned home and family! How cruel is that? (Actually, I can’t smudge Hubby’s name too much – it was in fact I, with stoical British politeness, who asked the Philosopher if he would mind evicting himself and his Chomsky books from home and family – but that’s beside the point.) So this time my tears were mixed – more of them shed over the marital situation than the cat. I still feel guilty that I never shed tears over our poor little brunt of the litter, Maggie, because my other loss was so much greater.

I was now a separated woman. Second time round in my life, for those of you who weren’t paying attention to my earlier blogs. Oh joy! What a wealth of experience! Now the hectic household had reduced itself just to me, my mongrel, and my youngest child. My last child. My beautiful, grown-up daughter.

Now it’s mid-September, almost a year on, and now my daughter’s time has finally come. I can hardly bear to write these words. Next Saturday, exactly one week today, she too will be leaving home. To go to university. Of course I’m filled with pride, but … but now that there’s only Floppy and me left, I wish more than ever that I could stop that horrible nasty clock from ticking. I mean … look at all the devastation it’s left in its wake! First there were eight of us, then seven, then six, then five, then four, then three, then two, and then …

Oh please, please, almighty Clock, maker of heaven and time, couldn’t you PLEASE stop ticking, at least for this one, final week? Couldn’t you please make this one final week last forever? Pretty please?

But no, of course it won’t do that. Why should it? It doesn’t have a heart. Only fallible, weak and weedy mortals are cursed with something as idiotic as a heart.

And anyway, it wouldn’t be right for the eternal clock to stop ticking. Because then my daughter would never go to university, would never graduate, never have a career of her own, a family of her own, a future of her own, because her selfish mother would have made a pact with the clock-devil. And then the three of us would all be indulging ourselves in nice cosy activities: going to cafes, the cinema, shopping, trying on clothes, chatting about life and love, gossiping, watching TV together in the evenings over supper, with the invisible clock-devil grinning over our shoulders. Yes, there we’d be, indulging in the kind of cosiness that allows for nothing else – no future hopes, no future growth, no future loves and opportunities and excitement and embracing the whole crazy, weird and wonderful world out there, a world that is just waiting to scoop a new young adult into its open arms.

Yet still my idiotic heart wants to cry out: Oh, grand Tick-Tocker, please stop ticking … please put this week on HOLD, this one final, golden week before my last child leaves home for good…

But Time doesn’t listen, and Time doesn’t give a shit. The relentless Clockmaster that we are all governed by – the one that rules heaven and earth and cares neither for God nor human nor devil – will NEVER stop ticking. And maybe it’s just as well.

So I say to you, my last beloved child, now grown-up and about to leave home, Bon Voyage! 

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