My son is leaving home. Cue a chorus of jeers and "about-time-toos". Forgive me if I don't join in.
They take their time to go, this lot, not like us oldsters, who packed our bags for a first job or uni and never looked back, apart from intermittent phone calls and the occasional festive visit. No, this generation, for a variety of socio-economic reasons that I don't propose to go into here, have taken more time to flee the nest; and even when they do 'flee' they come back for prolonged spells, keeping in touch in between with emails and texts and instagrams and other more general demands upon one's time. There are aspects of this that are not ideal. But there are other, far more numerous aspects that are wonderful. Like children and parents getting to know one another as adults, like getting extra help about the place, like having many many laughs that one wouldn't otherwise have had. But then there comes a time when they really really leave, when, for all the conversations and connections ahead, an era has well and truly passed.
It is my youngest son who is going, so I have some 'previous' in the process, a fact that seems only to be adding to the intensity of the experience. And when I say 'intensity' I do not mean that I am weeping and wailing and feeling abandoned (which I sort of am, but only in private - some things are not for subjection to anyone). No, it is the vast milestone of what is taking place that strikes me hardest. At whatever age it occurs, this is the equivalent of the bird toppling off the edge of the nest, to fall or fly depending on its own abilities. The parent can shout /tweet (???) advice but the wee birdie must flap its own wings and if parents do too much interfering with this stage then nothing good transpires.
If I sound sad, it is because I am, a bit; but I am also excited for the son and rather proud. I-would-say-this-wouldn't-I, but he is a fine young man. Lots of important elements are in place. He has a warm personality, a tremendous brain and a glorious sense of humour. Best of all, he likes and reads other people with compassion and intelligence. With luck - you always need luck - he will do well in life, and by that I refer not to money-making (which I think he will manage acceptably enough) but to the far more important and harder challenge of finding a path to happiness. All I can do now is wait and watch and help if called upon to do so.
So. A milestone indeed. Just as much as turning twenty-one is a milestone, or getting married, or producing a child. I wanted to tell the youngest all of this, especially the proud-parent-sentiments (he knows them, but it is still important sometimes to hear what you know), but not to overburden our farewell with the tears and general 'heaviness' that expressing such thoughts would inevitably generate.
So I have written him a letter. A REAL letter. On paper with ink, from a real fountain pen. In it I have said everything I want to say. He can read it in his own good time, without the burden of managing my response. A letter has a weight to it, literally, more than any text or murmured words, half forgotten in weeks to come. A letter goes into a drawer and continues to exist. From time to time it gets found, dusted off, read again, re-treasured.
Yes, for some matters, still, only a letter will do.