Letting go

After the A Levels comes…letting go, another big transition that is difficult to negotiate.

schoolgirls taking notes in class


It’s the end of the A Levels. Hoorah! “How did the last one go”” I asked daughter three. “Worse than expected, similar to expected or better than expected?” “About as bad as expected,” said daughter three. “But I don’t care. They’re over.” Now comes the next phase of parenting. The big letting go phase. I haven’t been very good at it to date, aided by the fact that daughter two left for university then dropped out and came back.

“You need to let me be independent,” only son shouted at me the other day when I was detailing all the potential catastrophes that could befall him if he comes home by train and tube via Stratford. “Nothing is going to happen. There will be lots of people,” he stated. The problem is that things do happen, as our family knows only too well. I have to force myself not to imagine the worst all the time. I’m getting better. I used to panic even when daughter two worked in the pub up the road. For her trip to Costa Rica I slept with the phone.

I know I have to let go, but the different letting goes seem to be happening so very fast in the wake of the pandemic and when we are all still coming to terms with the loss of daughter one. On the one hand, I am trying to keep as busy as possible to stop falling into the chasm of grief and on the other I want to stop everything, which, of course, we were able to do in Covid in some sense, although that meant very little external support.

Daughter three has lots on the go already. Jobs, a band and a boyfriend. The boyfriend development has had an unexpected upside. Whenever he comes to our house, she does an intensive cleaning session. She was even spotted scrubbing the grouting around the bath the other day and painting. Her room looks amazing. She has been painting flowers on the walls and generally giving it a summer meadows feel [her boyfriend is heavily into folk music]. I am warming very much to the boyfriend who is a tea aficionado [my brother would love him] and also baked a loaf of bread the first time he came around.

Meanwhile, daughter two is trying to book some sort of spa day for me and her, based on a birthday present voucher thing she got. “Wouldn’t you prefer to go with a friend?” I asked. It turns out that she wouldn’t. When she was little daughter two used to delight in doing back massages on me. She would bring a box full of creams and lather them all over me. Despite the stickiness, this was generally a pleasant experience as it involved lying down and, given it usually happened at around 6.45am, it meant I could keep my eyes shut for a little bit longer. It seems that the spa day voucher will enable us to have a half-hour massage session. Life is a series of repetitions in slightly different formats. When my grandmother was in her final years and suffering from dementia, I would do her a hand massage. She couldn’t remember who I was, but in that moment, in those senses, she was present.

Everything recycles itself and past experiences come around again and again. I am reading a book of philosophy that daughter one was reading at the time she died. I’ve just passed the bit where her bookmark is. It’s a fascinating book about how humans have, over time, tried to grapple with essentially the same questions in different guises. I feel I am talking to daughter one when I am reading it, trying to work out with her what this whole life thing is about.

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