It used to be the playroom, the place where our four played school all through the summer holidays, where they rehearsed and performed their own nativity plays each year. Now, it is more like the old-style grocery store in rural Ireland where you could buy a heavy iron skillet, a tin of beans and a bath towel all in the same place.
The reality is, our son, the youngest of four, is going off to University at the weekend and I am in full-on Mammy mode. We have done this three times already, when each of the girls went off to college so I should be used to it by now but I’m still stressing about what I may have forgotten and whether he will have enough food with him to keep him going and enough pots to cook it in. Yes, Dublin does have shops but that doesn’t stop me stockpiling the tins of tuna and the pasta sauce.
It is always exciting to see our children getting ready to stretch their wings. I am looking forward to hearing what he makes of university life, what his course is like, what the craic is – or as much of it as he will tell his Mammy. I love the way our daughters have flourished, the friendships they have made and how they have chosen to use their time, energy and talents.
This time it is also exciting for another reason. When Diarmuid moves away to college Danny and I will be back to just the two of us. I say ‘back to’ but in a sense we have hardly ever been ‘just the two of us’. Caoimhe was born 10 months into our marriage so in some ways Danny and I are entering unchartered waters. Yes, some or all of our ‘weans’ as we say in Donegal, will be home at weekends now and again but much of the time it will be just Danny and I.
People talk about the empty nest being a daunting thing and I know that we will miss Diarmuid as we have missed the girls, but I think we are ready for some time for us. Three years ago, we went to Rome, just the two of us and had a wonderful time. In a few weeks’ time, we are heading off on the Camino. As I have mentioned before, I reckon if we can manage the challenges of the Camino for a week, we should be well able to handle the challenges of our empty nest. I find myself thinking with delight that maybe we will be able to do more travelling – and then I remember that we will be paying two sets of student fees and student rents in Dublin for the foreseeable future – so the travelling might be very modest indeed!
I find myself wondering who we have become, how have we changed, in the nearly 26 years since we married. It seems to me that we have an opportunity now to reflect on this. It strikes me as naïve when I hear people say, “Oh but we have to live together before we marry, otherwise how would we know each other fully?” The reality is living together only gives you a glimpse of someone at one point in time. I don’t think we ever know each other fully. We are not static. We grow and transform through experience. Danny and I have been on a journey through family life up to this point and now I look forward to where that journey takes us in the future.
We will be on the Camino for our wedding anniversary and that seems so fitting to me. I have a deep desire to recommit myself to this man who has been by my side all these years. So ‘our boy’ is off to college. His adventure is just beginning and ours continues.