My daughter and I are filling a shopping trolley with a starter kit for student living. Pans, cutlery, wine glasses and a bottle opener; in it all goes, with pillows, duvet and bed linen ordered online later. And that’s it: job done. It’s so easy, preparing for our youngest child - the last of three - to leave home for university.
At least, it’s less traumatic than when we saw our twin sons off three years ago, with all the associated worry and panic that those first flights from the nest entailed. We’re old hands now, breezing through the process and looking forward to all the things we’ll be able to do when she’s gone, like rip up her bedroom floor so a plumber can get down there and investigate the damp.
Exciting stuff! And, er… I’m sure we’ll think of other thrilling diversions to fill our time, when we find ourselves alone and redundant for the first time in twenty-one years.
If I’m feeling slightly emotional, I must remind myself that our daughter, who’s 18, isn’t even moving far away - only across the city to student halls. And we’re used to her doing her own thing, cooking her own meals, waitressing through the summer and inter-railing across Europe.
It’s no big deal to realise that a significant lifestage is over, the one which enabled my husband and I to feel useful and needed, always on hand with advice (whether they wanted it or not), providers of a comfy home, a well-stocked fridge and money.
So, what now? Well, we’ll certainly have more time on our hands - which we intend to use by taking up new hobbies (I have sourced a vintage Spirograph on eBay).
I’m not remotely depressed at the thought of having no one to watch Friends with, on those hum-drum wet Sunday afternoons when, actually, it was lovely to hunker down together - daughter and I - and agree that the show is pretty dated and toe-curling sometimes, but God, we still love it, don’t we? I mean, who will I talk to about our shared love of Ross?
Who will lend me moisturiser and hair bobbles, and exchange an eye roll with me when her father does something ridiculous? Who will lie in a heap with me, plus the dog, as we discuss our favourite parts of him (ears? Nose? Paws?).
And then there are all those times when I’m getting ready to go out, and I’m worried about whether I’m looking muttony. Who will be on hand to offer insights more useful than, ‘You look fine’?
My God, I’ll miss my girl so much - but it’s natural and healthy that she’s moving out. I’m not reaching for the gin at all. I’m only having one, just to steady myself.
Anyway, who wants their adult offspring living with them, asking, ‘Is there any butter?’ at 43 years-old? And doesn’t the fact that our kids leave home, able to cope on their own, suggest that we have done a pretty decent job as parents?
Of course it does. That’s why I’m all smiles as we box up those pots and pans, and insanely cheery as we select what she’ll need to take from her room. It’s going to be great, this empty nester business. So why is my face soaking wet?
Experiencing a lip-wobble over your kid leaving home? That’s just the start of it. Brace yourself for these things we all do when they’ve gone…
1. Keep on buying those massive bags of potatoes, which go sprouty and green, and are then thrown away.
2. Wonder why your child hasn’t replied to the text you sent… four minutes ago.
3. Stalk your child on Facebook, zooming in not on their exuberant faces but on the debris scattered around them on various sofas and carpets. Realise you have spent a fifteen minutes studying an empty pizza box.
4. Wonder what to talk to your partner about, now everyone’s gone. Initiate a conversation about a funny thing the dog did in the park today.
5. When that falters, start discussing the crammed ashtray that features in one of your kid’s Facebook photos (see number 3).
6. Force regular phone conversations on the your child.
Reply to their query of, ‘So what’ve you been up to?’ with a detailed account of how you’ve tackled the smell in the hall cupboard are thinking of upgrading the living room-rug. ‘Sorry,’ your child interrupts, ‘my phone’s about to run out of charge. Better go.
7. Pore over Amazon, sipping your wine, as you try to think of handy things to send them now you’re no longer useful for anything else. Recipe book? Loo brush? Bumper packets of pants?
8. Realise how tedious you’re being, and add a novelty bottle of vodka to your order (ie, shaped like a skull). Try to cancel this addition - unsuccessfully - in the morning, when you’re sober.
9. Take a trip to the city in which they are studying, anticipating a lovely long lunch where you’ll catch up on their news. ‘Are we having starters?’ they ask. ‘Of course!’ you reply, gallantly.
Feel rather cheated when they order Loch Fine Oysters (£15) and braised neck of lamb (£18.50), which they wolf at top speed, before dashing off (‘I’m meeting someone!’) leaving you with a three-figure bill and a two-hour train journey home.
10. Wonder who the heck you’re going to watch Bake Off with now. Give up watching Bake Off.
11. Round up the stray items they have left behind at home: odd socks, a rancid lip balm, an empty PlayStation game box. Useless, yes - but you lay them out like exhibits in a curious museum, unable to throw them away.
12. Phone your child to accuse them of ‘losing’ the only working laptop charger - even though they no longer live with you.
13. Post a cute photo of their childhood bear on Facebook, tucked up in their otherwise vacant bed. Feel mildly hurt when they fail to comment on it. Wonder if, in fact, the photo looks a little creepy.
14. Realise you miss your offspring’s heavy bath bomb usage. It doesn’t seem right, the bath no longer being streaked with glittery blue.
15. Phone to say you’ve found one of their slippers, and would they like you to post it to them?
16. Have pointless conversations along the lines of: ‘How’s your course?’ ‘Fine.’
17. Pretend you are definitely not inspecting the condition of your child (hair, eyes, teeth, skin), in the manner of someone perusing a racehorse, when you visit them.
18. For the first few weeks of empty-nester-dom, lack the motivation to cook anything. Exist on little piles of things (cheese, sweetcorn, potato salad) like a child of four years old.
19. Almost miss those endless browsing sessions in Claire’s Accessories, when you used to consider impaling yourself on a Hello Kitty kirby grip.
20. Repeatedly message your child, asking if they have contacted Grandma to thank her for the birthday money yet.
21. Meet them with a note-card, envelope and one of those fat biros with four different colours of nib, so they can write said thank you letter. Check that what they have written is ‘okay’ (never mind that they routinely write 3,000-word English Lit essays these days), and post it for them. Because, apparently, negotiating the postal system is ‘a logistical nightmare.’
22. Panic when your child phones you. All you can here are strange mutterings and cries. Have they been mugged? Kidnapped? Knocked down by a car? Eventually realise they have merely pocket-dialled you.
23. Buy them ajuicer and laugh indulgently when you hear it’s been used for making noxious cocktails.
24. Ask about their flatmates and new friends, but just to be polite really. You no longer have the mental capacity to remember who anyone is.
25. Marvel, for the twentieth time, how long loo paper and shower gel last for these days.
26. Stare into your kid’s empty bedroom and decide you really should gut it andredecorate. Quietly close the door and decide that, yes, one day you will do that.
27. Go on holiday with just your partner. Keep assuming you’re being undercharged in restaurants.
28. Look forward to your child’s homecoming when you’ll get cosy on the sofa and watch all your old favourite shows together. ‘Another time,’ they announce, hugging you briefly and dumping their rucksack in the hall. ‘I’m going out tonight.’
29. Sit up waiting until they come home, despite the fact that they have lived independently for several months now. Pretend you were ‘up anyway, just pottering’ when they finally bowl in.
Feel cross - although you can’t put your finger on why (they are tipsy, but not inebriated, and of the legal age to drink).
30. Start a pointless argument about the Loch Fyne oysters.
Fiona Gibson’s latest novel, The Mum Who’d Had Enough, is published by Avon
To order your copy for £6.99 plus p&p call 0844 871 1514 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk