Tuesday, December 5, 2023

And just like that, they’re gone

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Ann Landers said: “It is not what you do for your children but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.”
Steve Wyn-Harris reflects on having an empty nest as his last born heads off to college.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

First published in June 2016: In honour of Steve Wyn-Harris retiring his weekly From the Ridge column after decades wielding the pen, Farmers Weekly dips into the archives for another taste of ag New Zealand’s favourite scribe.

Empty nest syndrome.

Not a term that had crossed my consciousness until recent months.

Matt, our youngest of three sons, left home in February after a solid 18 years filling our house with noise, mess and fun.

Preceding him were his two brothers who, like him, went to the local college – so here right through – and also noisy, messy and lots of fun.

For the past quarter of a century we have been pretty preoccupied with all that goes with bringing up children.

Feeding, dressing and washing them. Changing nappies, toilet training and getting them to wash their hands and brush their teeth.

Doing homework and reading to them every night.

Watching them play sport and coaching various teams across several codes.

Going on all the school camps and later on many Duke of Edinburgh tramps.

Teaching them to drive and watching with anxiety as each eventually drove down the drive on their own for the first time.

Hosting and enjoying the myriad of mates who ended up here staying over.

Entertaining, minding and teaching them all the stuff they will need to know to equip them to face the world on their own.

Ann Landers said: “It is not what you do for your children but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.”

Matt wasn’t even born when I first began writing this column. Those early years of the column were filled with the joys and pleasure of bringing up kids on a family farm. I’d do lambing beats with two lads sitting on the seat in front of me on the two wheeler and the youngest in a backpack on my back.

Gumboots would be forever falling off and hats flying off in the slipstream. We’d stop for close inspection of dead animals or to throw stones into dams. Certainly the best of days.

Later they would become useful, helping me with docking and weaning.

Then suddenly they up sticks and go just like that.

I was better prepared for it than Jane. With sons and a father, it is an increasing battle for supremacy. Nature saturates teenage boys with testosterone and consequently a belief they are now the top dog. Around 16 or 17 they would point out they were now stronger than me (although this was never proven as I refused to wrestle or arm-wrestle when I knew my number was up) but I would firmly state that in the 21st century it was he who had the money that remained numero uno.

And each of them was more than ready to leave home and go out on their own journey.

All the same I miss them – but not as much as the mother. Jane has been doing it tough but gradually getting used to the sudden halt in nurturing.

Here’s a good quote from Erma Bombeck: “When mothers talk about the depression of the empty nest, they’re not mourning the passing of all those wet towels on the floor, or the music that numbs your teeth, or even the bottle of capless shampoo dribbling down the shower drain. They’re upset because they’ve gone from supervisor of a child’s life to a spectator. It’s like being the vice-president of the United States.”

However, she still sends off the odd Red Cross parcel and I’m certain I’m being fed better as a surrogate.

So a new chapter in our lives has begun. And they still come home for the odd visit and pampering by their mum.

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