Friday 15th February, Virgin Pendolino
There are times when it's lovely to be needed, and times when it's lovely not to be. As I head south on my train this morning, from grey northern skies to southern blue, I can't help feeling both pleased to be free but sad that, one daughter at least, drifts ever further from my side.
Not so long ago, on a journey such as this, I would reflect on the little chicks I'd left behind and know their movements, their habits, their needs. These days I simply stand and watch as they make ever more adventurous forays into the outside world. Driving to the school bus this morning, I watched my eldest, out of the corner of my eye, applying mascara in the vanity mirror, overnight bag by her feet. Tonight she will be at another's house, a group of young teenagers, wired to sights, sounds and conversations that I can only guess at. Boys will feature that's for sure. The fragile boundary between childhood and adulthood, one foot in both camps.
Meanwhile, the middle child will be home on the school bus with her friend, laughing conspiratorily in anticipation of a long-awaited sleepover, 'Friends' dvds, hot chocolate and onesies.
And then there's my littlest; the delicate creature with a core of steel, the freckled nose and the mischievous eyes. She will be heading for her dance class, her pony-tail swinging, a little reluctance now entering her previously enthusiastic step. A child on the threshold of a turning point. The point when the mother loses her little chicks for ever. The point where acceptance is required that these vulnerable and dependent young lives start to take their own reins; where horizons broaden and the possibilities are endless. The line between your wisdom and experience, and their innocence, becomes blurred. They are growing up and striking out, defining themselves, while you are left wondering who you really are, what you've really done with your life and what to do with the remaining years.
Motherhood can sometimes be a very lonely place. When they are young you feel isolated by their dependence, and when they become less dependent you suddenly are aware of the emptiness they leave behind.
But right now I have an afternoon by myself in London. I have one fixed appointment to meet an old university friend (we've not seen each other in nigh on twenty years) at 5.30pm, but until then, I haven't a clue. I shall simply make it up as I go along, as, on reflection, I have done my entire life.