The day the fourth wheel left us

The picture of a heavily pregnant Glynnis leaning against the car in Redhouse before we left for the maternity ward at the hospital is a very clear one that stays with me. Her pregnancy with Philip was joyous and strange with his demands for curry, and foot rubs for his mother.

Back at home for the first time we looked at each other and it suddenly hit us – we were now, for the next quarter century, going to be responsible for another human being. His future in this world was in our hands, his education, his manners, his interaction with his fellow man, everything. But, the first order of business was to learn how to change a nappy. And, that is how the last 23 years started and flew by to today.

We were by his side each step of the way and watched as he took his first steps, ate soil, spoke his first word – ‘light’, collected snails as pets, went to pre-school, junior and high school, learned to swim, sail and row, played in smarties and peppermints rugby, got his nose bloodied and broken in Borders vs Daypots, put on that white blazer for the first time, became captain of rowing, first girlfriend, first broken heart, first hangover, first car, degree, honours, first job.

You begin to think that the achingly exquisite joy of having children will never end. Sharing the wonder of their growing up lulls you into a false sense of being and, as much as you publicly proclaim that you want your freedom back, that you would finally like to indulge only yourself, that it would be nice if you had a growing bank account, you secretly wish that your family unit would never change. Yes, that day comes too soon when they leave the nest and it is fraught with mixed emotions during the build up.

For us that fateful day was 31 January 2015 when Philip left to start his new life in Johannesburg.

We packed his car, delayed the inevitable turning of the key to start his engine and started crying as he hugged Brittany, Glynnis and I goodbye. With a wave of his hand he turned left at the end of the driveway and left our home. From now on he will only ever return as a visitor, a guest and slowly move even further away until that day he marries and starts his own family. Then Granny Glynnis, Grandpa Alan and Aunty Brittany can only pray that we will be in the lucky position to then pour our love into grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

Young new parents can turn to books to read the mechanics of life – how to make a bottle, change a nappy, various ways to discipline a child, the myriad dread diseases that fate has in store for you, what to eat and so on.

And yet, those books never prepare you for real life – no book can assuage your deep fear that you will completely and utterly fuck up your and your child’s life with one mistake, no book can ever describe the utter emotional slavery that binds you to a child as you inadequately prepare yourself for that fateful day when they will leave to fly on their own. No book or fellow adult is ever able to articulate to a parent just how frustrating it is to slowly allow your child to make mistakes and how soul destroying it is to judge and point those mistakes out as you flounder in a sea of self doubt hoping that your lessons will be accepted and meaningfully contribute to your child finding their way in a strange, exciting and scary world.

No book can ever describe the soaring joy that a parent feels when a child achieves – it can be as small as those first tottering steps, or as large as passing accounting honours first time, it can be as secret as knowing that your child is ‘just like you’ or your partner, it can be with a sense of pride when other people remark on how well brought up your child is or how handsome or beautiful. Joy caresses your being at the strangest times – watching your child sleep, hugging the hurt away and knowing that you have that power to fix, knowing that you have equipped your child to face the world and even seeing how your child’s friends flock to him or her as they radiate good sense and love.

Maybe the joy and pride is selfish ego stroking as you realise that you “Oh Mighty Parent” are the one responsible for making your child the bright, intelligent and loved human being that now stands before you.

Yes, we have all learned many lessons and forgotten many more along the way. We live in eternal hope that those small minds that used to hoover stuff up like elephant sized vaccuum cleaners also hoovered up the good lessons that we forgot. Anyone have a child mind filter that will filter out those utterances – “Hello Aunty, my Mom says that you stink like old cat pee!” or “Where is the broom that you flew in on Granny?”

Nothing in the world can prepare you for the day that you realise that life has torn a member of your family away from you and slapped you with the wet bloody end. Whoever came up with the term “allow them to fly away from the nest” deserves to have ostriches gifted with flight crapping on their head for eternity.

It has only been a few hours now and already each of the three devastated left behind family members have gone into Philip’s room and just dumbly stood there in the detritus, walked out only to be drawn back to stand in dumb mute agony as we realise that the fourth wheel has truly gone.

How do we shelter and protect him now?

What do we have to look forward to? No more; “What time is supper, dude?” or lying awake at night praying he will get home safely, no more feeling useful just being there for questions and vocal discourse, no more need for a big house…. Maybe we should put chickens in his room? Maybe we should just leave it like it is in the vain hope that he will come whizzing up the driveway and say that it was all a horrible mistimed April Fools joke?

Will we ever be free of the misty eyes and lumps in our throats as we think of the massive change our lives have just experienced? How painful it has become to just say his name without tearing up!

No-one ever told us that parenting would be this hard and that it would force us to plumb the depths of our emotions as we pray for his safety on that long journey to the big smoke.

We hope that he will be happy and grow into all that the first 23 years of his existence indicate. We pray that he will be successful and treat all his fellow employees and clients in the manner that we as a family strive to do. We pray that he will find happiness and love. We pray that we can share in some of his triumphs and know that we will always be there when life gets him down.

Somehow the words “I love you” now seem so inadequate in describing the passing of a 23 year old chapter in life!

Philip outside his alma mater - NMMU

Philip outside his alma mater – NMMU

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