Middleagedad and I, having lugged what feels like the whole of Ikea, Waitrose and The White Company combined up a double flight of stairs, start to unpack middle teenageson's stuff in his new room in halls. 'You can go now ' he tells us.
We have driven the best part of a whole day to get to his new university, up the M1 where every other car we passed was jam-packed full of duvets/pillows/potted plants (girls only) and scruffy suitcases, with a teenager squished in the back seat and mum and dad -looking anxious- in the front. There are a lot of university towns up the M1.
MAD and I are exhausted and anxious and in need of a cup of tea, but middleteenageson is keen to get rid of us. We have been at the halls of residence for less than 15 minutes and he's ready to kick us out. I whimper "Shall I just make your bed? or unpack your food?" but he's having none of it, he's spotted a group of his soon-to-be-flatmates introducing themselves to each other and we are in the way. He understands what we are struggling to grasp, that he needs to do this next bit without us.
'Bye!" he says bravely, and we are out of the building (which is so old it's almost retro chic in a 60s metal windows-and-plastic-covered-stair-bannister kinda way) and heading home.
I have been getting texts from girlfriends all in similar situations for the last two weeks as we prepare our babies for leaving. We all feel the same, sad but happy, anxious but aware this next bit's nothing to do with us, mostly miserable that our maddeningly annoying but still adored teens are not going to be cluttering up the house for a while.
The weird thing for us is how we all feel like it's only been a short time since we left college, and that we can't quite come to terms with the fact that is was nearly 30 years ago that we were going through this. My friend Clare texted during the week about her son… 'To add insult to injury" she wailed "while he's packing he's playing Supertramp, at full volume!"
Supertramp was OUR soundtrack of choice when we were students- we are still word perfect on all the songs, that and Judie Tzuke, Bread, Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac and embarrassingly -please don't mention this to anyone- Neil Diamond's The Jazz Singer. Can't they at least stick to their own music and not rub in what we know we are missing?
On the way back down the M1, in a disquietingly empty car, MAD and I go over every inch of middle teenageson's life to date, analysing how fab/clever/stupid/surprising/wonderful he has been and realise that of course he will be ok. It's really just us that have the problem. We are even going to miss the worry they cause, this morning my friend Lindsey texts to say 'Sunday morning and I am not wondering if she made it home OK last night. Am miserable about not being worried'. After 18 years of clucking, it's hard to let go.
Coming home to a house unbalanced by a missing son, MAD and I make a big fuss of remaining teenagesons, who are wary of our attention. We discover that they have wasted no time in going into missing teenagson's room and have raided his wardrobe/Xbox games/furniture. Youngest son is dressed head-to-toe in 'acquired' clothes.
I sit for a bit on missing teenageson's bed, feeling lost. Then I look around, it is FILTHY in here, I can see crockery and cutlery that's been missing for ages tucked into the wardrobe, and there are piles of old shoes and redundant sports kit that should have been thrown away yonks ago. Reality kicks in, I have absolute access to his room, which hasn't happened in years…. I reach for the pledge and a duster, now, where's my supply of black rubbish bags….