As part of my website revamp I’d intended to ditch the Mum tab (above) which – despite my best intentions – is hardly ever used. The fact is I now blog almost exclusively about dementia. It was only because the very basic framework of my website wouldn’t allow me to replace the Mum tab with my new photo that the tab remained at all. A decision based entirely on the look of the home page.
Yet, with uncanny timing, as thoughts about my online persona swirled in my head, quite separately it was dawning on me that my one and only daughter would soon be leaving home. This September, Emily – who, quite frankly, was in short socks and braces only yesterday – is off to university. My maternal nest will be empty. My Mum tab redundant, you might say. And yet … time for a deep and steadying breath. The thought of our house without Emily is unthinkable.
Eighteen years after my husband and I received the call telling us that, finally, against all the odds, our fourth attempt at IVF had worked and we two were to become three, we will be two again. Bert the cockapoo notwithstanding.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are many things – such as regaining sole possession of my cashmere cardigans and not lying awake till the early hours with one ear cocked for the turn of her key in the lock – that I’m looking forward to once my girl has flown the coop.
What I simply cannot comprehend is where the 18 years have gone and how my life can ever readjust itself. For Emily’s lifetime, my world – for good or bad (and believe me, we’ve had our moments) – has revolved around her.
Since she was placed, kicking and screaming, into my arms one warm June afternoon in 1998 (it was 4.15pm, she weighed 7lb 7oz), my focus has shifted onto her, my gaze – once turned towards my husband and my wider, working and social life – has always really, secretly, subconsciously, been bent on her. And ever since that day, my daughter’s highs and lows, her laughter and tears, her hurt and joy and triumph and disaster, have been mine too.
Her first day at primary school. That longed-for time to myself suddenly somersaulting into a panic-inducing, shallow-breathed awareness that my little, often irksome, shadow wouldn’t be with me the whole time any more. How quickly these things happen. From nappies to Startrites to vertiginous stilettoes in the blink of an eye.
Even then, 13 years ago, she was independent. I stood rooted to the playground’s tarmac, swallowing hard, as she skipped off behind Miss Mary without so much as a backward glance.
And what about Gerald the Giraffe, her constant companion for years and years? That stuffed toy animal crossed continents with us, entertaining ochre-covered tribesmen in the Masai Mara and Egyptian waiters in Red Sea resorts. He had his own deckchair, his own designer shades. He had his own handmade passport for God’s sake, which customs officials, depending on their state of mind, would sometimes stamp.
Emily also had two imaginary friends called Agar and Ollie, with whom she’d conduct lengthy conversations in the back of the car. When one of them died, I had to deal with the funeral of my daughter’s invisible, non-existent but very much loved chum. It was a tricky one, that, and called on every ounce of my existential creative juices.
She had a Barbie phase when everything she owned was pink. She climbed Glastonbury tor in high-heeled, plastic Barbie sandals. She catapulted over the front of her micro-scooter and landed face down in the concrete. Her front teeth slowly turned brown. It was very distressing. But it transpired that, being baby teeth, they were simply bruised. They went white again before falling out, leaving her with that wonderful, best-of-all, gap-toothed look that makes your adult heart turn over.
She went off to big school on the big school coach. The first day, as the two of us waited for the W4, an old-fashioned red London double-decker loomed into view. The W4 was out of action, so Emily’s first ever solo ride to school was in a Party Bus – it was written in great big letters on the front. I walked home happily. It was a good omen, I said to myself.
And mostly, it was. At times she’s worked too hard and played too hard. One minute she was learning to ride her two-wheeler bike, the next she was sticking L plates onto our car. Our house has never quite recovered from her teenage parties. But nowadays every time I yell at her for nicking my favourite lipstick, my husband quietly reminds me that soon she’ll be gone.
“She’ll be back”, my mum friends tell me. Of course she will. But the truth is it won’t ever be quite the same.
Come the autumn, in the evenings the house will be empty (Bert and my husband’s 18-hour working days notwithstanding). My daily structure of almost two decades will have gone. I won’t hear the door bang, the thud of her feet as she runs up the stairs or the theme tune to Friends on its never-ending loop. I won’t walk into her bedroom and fume at the unbelievable mess.
So, being Irish (and superstitious) I can’t tell you how pleased I am in retrospect that style trumped content when it came to my blog. Emily may be becoming an adult in the eyes of the world; she may be leaving home in just a few months, but she’ll always be my daughter. Mum tabs are never really redundant.