Thirty years ago this weekend, I left home (not actually for the first time, as I had had a previous four month foray doing voluntary work), but this was the more permanent departure as I was off to uni. At the time I can remember being very ambivalent about the whole thing. I wasn't sure I was doing the right course, I was keen to leave home, but also anxious to stay, and my nerves weren't helped by my having the one and only proper row I ever had with my dad the night before. It was a long drive to Liverpool from North London, and when we got there (after I had spectacularly got us lost, causing much paternal melting down in the car), my parents didn't hang around long. I can still remember that feeling of dread, as I walked back down the corridor to see every door closed, and it suddenly dawned on me I KNEW NOBODY, and I didn't have the nerve to knock on anyone's door to say hi. As it happened, several of us did the same thing and kept popping our heads out of our rooms, till we managed to open doors simultaneously. This resulted in me going for an exploratory walk with four people whom I don't think I spoke to again for the next three years. When we got back to our rooms we stupidly didn't arrange to meet to go into dinner together, meaning I had to brave the dining hall alone. I can remember the horror of standing nervously clutching my food tray, in a room of 300 or so people ALL OF WHOM SEEMED TO HAVE MADE FRIENDS ALREADY, and wondering what to do. To my relief I walked past the table of the brother of a school friend, who kindly took pity on me and asked me to sit down with his group. I didn't speak to them much afterwards either, but I was grateful at the time. My time at Liverpool could have been horrendous if that start had been the way it continued, but fortunately for me, I somehow managed to meet the girl who not only became one of my best friends and flatmates, but was the means of introducing me to my husband. And thereafter (despite a very homesick first term) it was all plain sailing.
I mention this as tomorrow it's no 1's turn. I am quite baffled as to a) how it can possibly be thirty years since I set off on my own adventure when I am still only in my twenties and b) how my baby can possibly be old enough to leave me. Mixed up with that of course is all those maternal feelings of sadness at losing her - she's great company and since the summer, has been around all the time. Suddenly not to have her to drink tea or watch Game of Thrones with on my days off is going to be very strange. But at the same time I am so thrilled for her too. She's worked so hard, and done so well, and Cambridge quite frankly are lucky to get her. She's excited about going, just as I was, and it's churlish for selfish maternal reasons to want to keep her by my side.
Because the thing about motherhood, which struck me very early into my experience of it, is that from the very beginning we are letting our children go. For that first nine months it's just us and the baby, before we have to share our precious bundle with anyone. And when they're born, though they might start off by our side, it is really not too long before they've moved from the bed, to a moses basket, from the moses basket to a cot, from there to a separate bedroom. Every part of their growing up means they leave us a little more: they go to nursery for a few hours, to school for a whole day, to secondary school where they take themselves. And inevitably comes the day they leave us for good. I remember my mother saying very clearly to me at the same period in my life: You need to spread your wings. She and my father were exceptionally good at letting us go and as a consequence I never looked back. But I always came back, because though I'd left, the older I got, the more I cherished what I'd left behind.
So I know that though my job is nearly done, it's not completely over. It's a new beginning, and chapter in our lives. Aside from the fact I shall probably be kicking her out of the door again in her twenties, it's time for me to let go and for us both to go on another new and very different adventure.
And I really can't wait to see where it takes us.