I had a random thought the other evening that left me feeling more than a little melancholy.
Isaac is 14, Toby 12 and Kara 10. The age differences between them – 25 and 28 months respectively – remain constant. But their interests and the resultant dynamics between them (and us) are constantly evolving. Right now, it feels as if they are more divergent than ever. Isaac is independent and responsible enough that we don’t think twice about him taking himself off to Reading or London for the day. Toby constantly has his face buried in a screen-based device. And Kara is forever off at cheer, martial arts or football.
It is in many ways amazing that, given our individual schedules and interests, we ever do anything as a family of five any more.
We are family
And yet we do, frequently. There remain a handful of TV programmes we all watch together. Listening to episodes of the Popmaster music quiz podcast is a staple part of any car journey. Hamilton, karaoke – or, better still, Hamilton karaoke. Board games. Family film nights. We’ve recently started playing badminton at weekends. Eating together as a family and discussing our days (in the gaps between sibling bickering, at least). And our default expectation after dinner remains that we will do or watch something together before we go our separate ways.
All the above are things I take for granted that I really shouldn’t. Not least because they inevitably won’t last, so I should appreciate them while I can. Life as a family of five under the same roof will one day become life as a family of four. Then three. One day we will stand in a house without children and wonder why we didn’t appreciate having them around more.
One day, not so far away
Which brings me back to my random thought, which was this. By the time Kara is the same age Isaac is now – four years and five months away – he will most likely have just departed for university.
Having moved into our house and watched each of our three children being born and growing up, the start of the nest-emptying process looms on the horizon. Yes, I know it’s not actually that close yet. No need to get all maudlin just yet. But, deep down, I know that it will come sooner than I would like to imagine.
Even before he physically flies the coop, Isaac will continue to become increasingly self-sufficient and have less in common with Heather and me. He’s already planning his travels for when he finishes school and contemplating gap years.
I’m excited for him and secretly pleased he’s already thinking ahead to future opportunities. But at the same time I’m sad because I can feel him starting to slip away. The little Isaac who keeps popping up daily in my Facebook memories isn’t so little any more. The infant who woke up at 2:30am every night and required snuggling to sleep on our sofa. The boy setting off for his first day at primary school and then, barely the blink of an eye later, secondary school. The young man who takes charge of planning days out and researches holiday destinations.
These all feel like yesterday to me. Which means ‘university Isaac’ will arrive all too quickly too.
When I left home, I couldn’t wait and never once looked back. Not because I was desperate to leave but I because was ready to embrace the future. Now, though, I wonder how my parents felt about letting go and whether they felt prepared for it. I’ve never really considered it before; I was too busy looking forward to look back and ask the question. Maybe I should do that now.
For now, today, we are still five. But one day, not so far away, we will become four.
Best enjoy it while I can and ensure that, when the day comes, Isaac and I both tell each other how we feel. Just because it’s the start of a new journey for him doesn’t mean it has to be the end of our journey together.