This September my 12-year old went off to boarding school.
I feel a need to qualify that he asked to go.
You should know: It has just been the two of us (with the occasional interloper admittedly, she says quietly) for the past ten years. And this summer I cried almost every day at the thought of him leaving. The image of returning to my empty, empty house. To a life where the literal son I have revolved around was gone. My anchor - the thing I stayed put for, got up at 6am for, whose needs and desired happiness has dictated virtually everything I do - would be setting me adrift.
(He, meanwhile, took great delight in milking my tears and dread for all sorts of extra screen time, snacks and treats… ever the opportunist!)
Then the day itself came, when I dropped him at the gates (quite literally, as I wasn’t allowed inside for Covid reasons) and he skipped off without so much as a backward glance.
Was that sound the sound of the door shutting… or my heart breaking?
I made the long journey home, hanging on every WhatsApp message telling me ‘it’s so fun’, ‘we all stayed up late talking’, ‘could I have some more cash? My pocket money’s already run out!’.
The house so quiet. So very, very quiet. Where was the endless soundtrack of PewDiePie commentary, and Fortnite gunfire?
I was waiting for the desolation to kick in…
Was that going to be before or after I chose what I wanted for dinner?
Wait, repeat that: ‘chose what I wanted’… Wha… anything I like?? Or nothing even?
Suddenly I’m aware I have both the time and mental bandwidth to think about the question long enough to actually make a choice… for myself – how weird!
I poured a glass of wine… because I could.
Note: I have become practically tea-totaled over the past decade, finding the benefits of a drink or two no way outweighing the cost and resentment felt the next day (single-parenting being a relentless (and yup, thankless) task).
And so go the following few weeks… Feeling and discovering my way through this new, unfamiliar territory of life without the constant constraints of full-time parenting.
TV? I’ve now got full control over the remote – Jane Austen marathon? Bridget Jones trilogy (the comfort food of television)?
Truth is, I don’t seem to need it – my go-to fix to unwind, or should I say Zone Out from a wearing day. I’m not really feeling the need to zone out… Perhaps it’s the extra hour’s lie-in without the school run that’s doing me good.
When Friday night rolled around, a girlfriend asked me out for happy hour drinks. The immediate, “sorry, I can’t,” response formed in my mouth – don’t have a babysitter, have to collect boy-o from practice… blah, blah, blah.
But wait, no.
No, I don’t have to do any of those things. He’s off in school having a ball, I can do whatever I want to do!
Woo-hoo! Yes, to happy hour drinks!
“Hell, come to my house - I’ll make the cocktails!”
(Fun) fact about me: I used to enjoy a little mixology back in the day (before it was even a word). Although I choose to call myself a Concoctionist – it sounds more fun (and kinda naughty).
I purchased bottles of liquor that haven’t been in my freezer since baby formula forced them out to make room. And I got to mixing the first celebratory drink of my new empty-nest life.
The song, “Cherry Bomb” by the Runaways, was the inspiration for this particular number. It’s been rotating on in the car. “Look out world, I’m your wild girl,” seems to sum up my growing delight at all this newfound energy and freedom. Plus, who doesn’t want to sing: “Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb!”
It was a good night. The girls admitted they’d worried it would be a bit heavy, having to console me in my childless state. But satisfied that my boy is happy and enjoying his new challenge, it didn’t take me long to remember the freedom and autonomy I used to have, and the Fun Julia I used to be before strict bedtimes, nagging, the endless task of finding the other dirty sock... and before “no” became the automatic response – whether it’s , ‘can I get a tattoo’ or ‘are you free tonight’?
Well, the answer now is: Yes! …(though still not to the tattoo)
I have seen the light. These past ten years have been a long tunnel, and I got kind of lost in it. Bogged down in the ever changing current of ‘Shoulds’ when it comes to ‘good parenting’ – frantically trying to cover all my bases, always do the ‘right’ thing (if only there were a definitive guide to what that even is) and all the time comparing myself to lots of people who seem to have all this figured out.
A perfect recipe for misery.
A little bit of space, self-care and soul nurturing doesn’t make me any less a loving parent – it’ll make me a better one. My boy’s gone off to explore his options. So must I. It was never his job to be my anchor… and surprisingly I’m feeling more grounded than ever - now that I’m not drowning in the full-on pressure of raising a child alone. (It takes a village!) And better he sees his mum with her mojo (albeit making mistakes and being human) than an empty husk, twisted into knots, trying to be a perfect parent… (spoiler alert: which doesn’t exist!)
You know all this. I knew all this… and still got myself muddled. Parent or not, if any of this rings true and you feel you’re feeling a little lost, take a moment to remember You. Take a day, a night (arrange the babysitter, give yourself permission). It doesn’t have to be drastic (and doesn’t have to involve cocktails) – just visit with your You, whatever that means to you. Take the time to do something you love to do, make choices just for yourself, check in with what You need.. It’s your life too and I’m guessing that striking a good balance between our ‘You’ and our devotion to our angelic charges (or other priorities) is actually the best way to keep everyone sane and enjoying it.
I’ve got this opportunity to get a bit of my life back and I’m making the most of it... Look out world!
This drink’s a twist on a classic Cosmo (my fav if made well). Not a fan of the super sweet, I like to keep them fresh and tart (I’m talking about my drinks)…
2 measures Absolute Citron
1 measure Cointreau (use the good stuff – better taste and cleaner buzz)
1 measure fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 measure pure pomegranate juice
Shake with plenty of ice and pour into a fancy-ass martini glass over a small scoop of finely crushed ice (my son once bought a $5 hand-grind snow-cone maker at a jumble sale. I rolled my eyes at the time but it has come in surprisingly handy for this new kind of frosty delight!)
Finally, top with Cherry essence sparkling water (brands like Waterloo or Bubbly or similar) to give the bomb its name and a bit of sparkle.
Relatively low in sugar for a fruity cocktail and high in anti-oxidants and vitamin C… I mean, you can almost say it’s good for you!
Mocktail Version: a special drink boy-o and I would make as a treat. It’s called:
1 part pomegranate juice
2 parts Passion Fruit La Croix
(a squeeze of lime if you’re feeling frisky)
Please note: alcohol itself is not the answer and for the sake of all our loved ones, don’t drink and drive!
Julia is a trained Personal Development Coach, certified NLP Practitioner, writer and public speaker. Using coaching methods, tools and conversation, Julia helps her clients achieve the goals they set for themselves and transform their lives. Here she shares her own personal development journey on her life quest for authenticity, growth and having a good time!