FirstDayofSchool_07

It is still the first day of school, though this time it’s university and it’s forever…

Tomorrow, the youngest will head off to the university to start his next stage of learning. He will leave the house after 17 plus years of being fed, clothed and nurtured.  And though going to Queen’s in the same town, he will head off to meet a new crowd of similarly minded young adults – sharing a dorm room with one of his high school mates, and a dorm floor with potential best friends for life.

For me, he will be so close – but then again, so far.

Like his sister who started university three years ago, and now shares a house only 10km from me, the distance that will emerge between us cannot be measured in mere kilometres. I am guessing, based on my experience, we will be worlds apart – just as I was with my folks.

I think back almost two decades, to the early days of child-raising – a time when I, as a parent, was the centre of their universe. A time when kids thought that spending time being cuddled, or watching TV and drinking hot chocolate, was nirvana. A time that I was always right and I was the font of all knowledge.

“It has to be true. Dad said it was.” – the mantra of the young child.

And even through their teen-hood – when I regressed to being a simple and flawed mortal, subject to the occasional constant eye-roll, sneer, or snarky feedback — through to their young adulthood, there was always some way or another in which Dad was needed: help with homework, a ride to a friend’s house, a meal that included a vegetable, sorting that never-ending pile of laundry, or constant nagging about one thing or another. It was the timeless dance of parents and their offspring.  The constant see saw-battle of “I can do it by myself” weighed against “I don’t want them to get hurt”.

And in 24 hours that will change. Soon I will have absolutely no clue what happens in their daily lives. I will not know about their successes, challenges, failures or fears. Unless they tell me. Our overlapping Venn Diagrams of life have just experienced a tectonic shift.

Grease poleAnd even though it causes me a little stress, it is right. It is, to quote Timon, “the circle of life”.  This is one of the last steps they will take in getting ready for the rest of their lives. The last time that they let go of the coffee table to take a few tottering steps with me watching, hands at the ready. They eventually have to “fly from the nest” – or is it “swim without water wings”?

And I think back to 1983.  I remember the feelings as I left home over 30 years ago.  Opportunity, independence, promise, excitement all flavoured with a soupçon of anxiety. I was a little sad that I was leaving my home and the people who had formed me; from the family who had made me a priority and made sure that I never wanted for the important things. But this melancholy was only a light blemish on the joy I was feeling.

I was on my own and on my way to becoming worldly, to learning grownup things and sharing good times and laughing and living for real!

And now I sit here on the other side of the fence. Perhaps not as sad as my parents, because we have already practiced being apart. But I am sad none-the-less. It is the end of a chapter.

It is the end of the childhood – completely. Everything, completely everything that defined their childhood innocence has now evaporated. It has disappeared, just like the sweet morning breath of a toddler escapes eventually.

I wish my son a fantastic time at university – just as I had. There will be friends and fun. And it will be full of many characterHangover building opportunities – of seemingly insurmountable challenges in the shape of readings and mid-terms and exams, of fantastically crushing hangovers and temptations of all shapes and sizes. He will learn great lessons like how borrowing $3 or $4 from five or six people can fund a whole evening of debauchery that you never have to pay back, as no one tracks loans under $5.00 (thanks for that lesson, ‘Tosh); or the governing factor in the frequency of laundry is the pairs of underwear that are relatively clean – and that buying muted tones of clothes means you can wash everything in one load; or that when it comes to engineering homework, “where there is no pressure, there is no flow”. And most importantly, that perhaps the best things you learn and remember in university aren’t taught in the lecture hall.

The Venn Diagram of Engineering

The Venn Diagram of Engineering

But, it will be totally unlike the days when I walked him to the school bus, or asked him if he had done his homework as we sat for dinner. It will be unlike the days when I was able to see the struggle and offer my wisdom. Now as he faces his new dragons, with the support of his well-meaning but similarly inexperienced peers his only broadsword, he must eventually learn all the lessons and overcome all the challenges on his own.  That’s what makes you an adult.

And I will wait, patiently, as my parents probably did, for the time he will call me for help, for support, and to hopefully to hear the voice of someone who wants to share in his life regularly — but who knows better than to ask.  And when he calls, I will probably give him a hard time, because that is how Dads show love. I will tease him, and almost make him regret calling me. But in the end, after the joking is over, I will give him advice and the benefit of my experience. He can take it or leave it, because in the end, it’s his life and his victories.

Dunc.Pal

I envy him, in a nostalgic sort of way. And I hope he exploits this for all its worth, because at this moment, the world is his oyster – and frosh week awaits!

Always a RMC Redman, but I'll wave the Queen's banner for my kids!

Always a RMC Redman, but I’ll wave the Queen’s banner for my kids!

Good luck to all of you that are seeing your leave the nest.  Exciting and sad, isn’t it?

Later,

ASF

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