Umbilical Cord: The Comeback.

Trachypithecus auratus

MM and Bigfoot back in 1996.

This parenting lark is one crazy ride. One minute you’re cradling a tiny little being in your arms, and the next, he’s morphed into a hulking great thing you tenderly refer to as “Bigfoot”. You find yourself in the car, jammed between the contents of your fridge and a double mattress, aiding and abetting in his departure from the nest.
It felt strangely like the day Bigfoot had started school. The same feelings were bubbling like lava in my abdomen – Pride. Anxiety. Instinct to protect. When we had exhausted all valid excuses for dallying longer in his new abode, we swallowed hard, beamed glassily at him, kissed him goodbye, and walked back down the stairs. The sound of him locking the door was both reassuring and gut wrenching.

Only when we were in the car, driving away, did I feel it.

The tug of that damned umbilical cord.

I swear that I saw PF cut it as I clutched my newborn in my arms. I heard it, too. A sound I have never forgotten, like someone trying to cut through a raw steak with a pair of round-ended school scissors. The symbolic act was accomplished – the physical cord was severed. Yet 18 years later, there we were, driving home down the motorway and discovering a second, invisible umbilical cord that needed cutting, all over again. Bigfoot had gone, and that damned cord was still there. Stronger and longer than a roll of Andrex. For the entire hour’s journey, it silently rolled itself out along the motorway behind us. As slick and  sinuous as licorice lace.

I have been hacking away at my end of it with determination ever since, using basic tools such as caustic self-derision, sharp wit and blunt common sense, but absolutely nothing will sever the bugger. It’s easy to understand why: Umbilical Cord, aka UC, is a determined cow. If she was girl at school, she’d be the one who noticed your hockey bruises in the changing room then prodded maliciously at them as you passed her in the corridor.
So I stoically ignore her as she stabs on the door bell of my mind. I hide. She pushes the letter box open, peers in, and yells through, her voice echoing up the staircase to the Maternal Instinct floor.
“Hey, anyone there? Yoo-hoo, MM, where are you? It’s me, UC. We met 18 years ago at the maternity ward, remember me? Uh… Anyway. I just wanted to say that I think you should check that Bigfoot got home tonight without being beaten up. Maybe he’s been mugged. Or he could have been kidnapped and served up on a bed of marshmallows by a gang of flesh-deprived cougars. After all, he’s a damn good-looking kid. Just saying.”
MM’s Common Sense Official shouts down the stairs that MM is in the bath, and refuses to be baited by such preposterous poppycock. (Yes, MM’s imagination has decided that the CSO is a rather spiffing Martini-drinking gent; a bit like James Bond, but better. So there.) He points out that Bigfoot doesn’t need to be called by his mother every two minutes, and is probably studying. Or watching a film on his laptop. Or out having a drink with his new friends. Or amazing Chosen Counterpart with his pasta-pesto creations. Or even (although highly improbable) doing the cleaning.
Umbilical Cord rolls her eyes, flicks her hair and retaliates, pulling out the heavy artillery. “Oh. My. God…. MM, are you sure he has made new friends? What if he’s alone in front of the TV, crying into a packet of M&Ms ? What if nobody checks on him when he doesn’t turn up for classes, and he’s prostrate on the bathroom floor because he slipped on the soap? You are just suuuuuch a bad mother. You should check if he’s eating right. He’s never too old to get rickets, you know. Then there’s scurvy. Oh, and you should ask if he remembered to send that paper to the bank….”
I drown her in a glass of rosé.
Later, when UC has given up, kicked off her Birkenstocks and gone to bed, I sneak my mobile phone under the covers to send a text message into the darkness: “Goodnight, Bigfoot“. ..and melt with relief when the screen lights up with “You too”.

59 thoughts on “Umbilical Cord: The Comeback.

  1. Parenting is an odd business. I still have rationally inexplicable concerns about our five – eldest 48, youngest 31 – each and everyone balanced, sane and more than capable of leading a balanced life without parental input. But on the (relatively) rare occasions when paternal advice is sought, the answer is invariably “Be guided by your guts”. Fear not, Joanna, all will be well.

    • Your children all know that the advice they get is sound. And it is true that the umbilical cord between MM and her parents still slinks its way across the Channel to her home base, nearly 46 years after it was given the chop…
      For the moment, I think that Bigfoot’s gut instinct merely sends him running to the biscuit barrel. It will change with time, no doubt.

  2. You made me cry. A lot. Rather undignified, selfish tears, as I pictured myself on the drive back home, then lying in bed texting and holding out for a response.
    You are my hero, and when the time rolls round for me, I can only hope a bottle of rose will get me through it with as much aplomb as you. I’m going to start honing my drinking skills now, 9 years prior.
    All will be well. What an amazing job you’ve done … Hugs. xoxoxox

    • Aw, Gypsy, I’m honoured to be your hero. Enjoy watching kiddo grow up, and have fun with her Jump in leaves, lick out the cake bowl, have water fights and talk, talk talk. It’s a beautiful experience and I know deep down that if he left with a smile, we can’t have gone too far off track bringing him up.
      You should have seen me in the car on the way home. PF was feeling nostalgic too, and put this cheerful little number on to fill the silence, “because it’s beautiful”. He’s right. Don’t forget the Kleenex.

      • Et la, je pleure a grands flots. Beautiful. ”Ne me quitte pas …” Thanks for sticking that song in my head for the next nine years, MM! But PF is right. It is beautiful. X

      • Check out Caro Emerald, if you don’t know her yet – my favourite ever singer. This is the only sad song, and it’s a cover. The rest of her stuff is real get-up- and go stuff, excellent to get you full of the joys of spring.

  3. Oh dear…is this what awaits me? 😦 …… I’m bad enough now whenever my 15 yr old son just goes out on his moped – I make him text me as soon as he arrives and whenever he’s about to leave. He hates it! And when he doesn’t answer his mobile at the first ring I’m convinced he’s lying in a ditch somewhere. I will be absolutely terrible when he leaves home I’m sure!!! I’m not quite as bad with my 17 yr old daughter but she’s much more conscientious about keeping in touch. Still, leaving home for good must be a whole different ball game…good luck, hope you and the rosé manage to get through it together.Think I’ll start practising with Gypsy!!

  4. *sigh*

    You brought me back to those first days of separation. Tears were shed.
    I say ‘first’ because the damn UC still isn’t severed after 10 years away from home. Both sons are gainfully employed, pay their own bills, have their own places … but I still cluck like an old mother hen.

    I offer you my congratulations though. When you can release them out the door on their own, it means you did something right as a parent. At least that’s what I keep telling myself :/

    • Hey, Jo 😉 You too? Gawd, I’ve got people bawling in the Middle East, in France and in the States now. Oops.
      So it looks like I’m in this predicament for a while, then. I often wonder how my parents manage, with five grown-up kids dotted all over the place.
      I agree with you – if they’re confident enough to step out, then we’ve hit our target. Have your read “The Prophet?” Gibran says,
      “Your children are not your children.
      They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
      They come through you but not from you,
      And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
      You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
      For they have their own thoughts.
      You may house their bodies but not their souls,
      For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
      You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
      For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
      You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
      The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
      Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
      For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

      Very long, but so very true.

  5. Ooof,,,tears in Canada, too! My daughter finished school (4 years away) but moved back home even though she’s got a full time job and can afford her own place. Methinks she likes the perks of living at home: laundry, full fridge, no rent. 🙂
    My son is away at school though, and I feel this ache every day. I’m not sure that’ll ever fade.

    • You too? Hey, we’re going to raise the sea level if this continues 🙂 The perks of returning home are multiple, indeed – I still enjoy them when I go home to stay. Bigfoot was stumped the other day because I made him a coffee – he thinks I’m nicer to him now he’s left home than I was before. Meh :-/

  6. Ooh poor you, I feel your pain. Not living it as mine is still at home and going into town on the bus. His coloc fell through and flats are too expensive to rent for two, per person.

    He’s not far away anyway, is he? You could always ‘just pop by’ and give him a ‘lovely surprise’ (lol).

    • Oh, nuts. That’s tough. We were lucky because Bigofoot’s in a smaller, cheaper town, so we managed to find an affordable one bedroomed flat to rent. The French state being generous for housing benefits, it will cost us less than a room in the loca university residence (incidentally, the students living there have been instructed to take the long route, in groups, to avoid being robbed at knife point by the local louts. Nice).

  7. My mother said she raised us to be independent and adventurous, and now she’s succeeded it would be really good if we could come home and live right next door.

    She’s still waiting on that one… but I think she’s got slightly more used to it in the meantime.

  8. Thank goodness for texting. You can make contact without shaming him! He’ll be fine. Better than you probably. Doesn’t it make you wonder what we put our parents through?

  9. Ya boo sucks to mobile phones. In our day our parents wouldn’t hear from us for months at a time and were comforted that “no news was good news”. Now if our offspring don’t answer their phone for 5 minutes, we imagine all manner of awful accidents.

    • It’s true that if they don’t answer their phones, we automatically think something awafl has happened (or they have just refused to answer, which is usually the case). I used to call my parents from a red phone box in East Anglia as rain poured down the panes- pushing coins into the slot and holding my breath because it seemed to double as a urinal in the evenings. Sigh. The good old days, huh? 🙂

  10. Aw, this is so cute! And makes me realise how my parents must feel! God, I’m terrible! 🙂
    Drowning UC in wine seems like a great idea though. I know I would 😉 I’m sure Bigfoot is doing great – but a text or call from mam never goes unappreciated! 🙂

    • Indeedy. Parents bring their kids up to be independent, then once they’ve flown the coop, they feel all weird and broody. But it won’t last. And in the meanwhile, I’ve got plenty of work to keep me busy…

  11. Now thanks to your post I can put myself a little bit more easily in my mother in law’s shoes 🙂 Yet daughters in law experiences are not easy neither. We both have to work so much on ourselves….

  12. Oh no, you’ve made me think about my kids flying the coop…tears are bubbling up. Don’t worry, I’ll force them back with a large G&T. Maybe I’ll be lucky and my kids will be such dreadful teenagers that I’ll be glad to see the back of them??? 🙂

    • Looooool, BW. It’s too early for G&T 😀 No, hang on, I’ve been up since six… You don’t want your kids to be that bad. If they are, they won’t finish school and they won’t be able to leave home anyway, AND they’ll hate you because if they are bad, it’s automatically your fault (never theirs)….. it’s a no-win situation, I’m afraid. Pass the G&T 🙂

  13. Oh I do understand! This is the rite of passage that both children and their parents share, and I think it’s hard on them, too, just differently. Maybe they don’t recognize it quite the same way, but separating from the umbilical cord is simply plain old hard! I think you can be bald you have a cell phone during this transition. Some of us had to separate and go “cold turkey.” You brought a tear to my eyes reading this. That mother-child bond is very strong and very sweet!

  14. Oh, this brings back such feelings. I never realized that UC was the cause of all the upheaval during these times…when he went to college, when he got married, etc. It’s actually almost reassuring in a way that it is the UC and I’m not just becoming so old that I can’t control my emotions anymore….but yes…these are tough days when we let them go and spread their wings…but take heart…you spread your wings once too.

    • UC is responsible for it all, all the way down the line. She has twigged that we get more sensitive as we get older, so she pulls on our heartstrings too.
      I remember when I spread my wings only too well – and my parents are quietly supporting me as I now go through the same thing for the first time, although it doesn’t feel like that long before I left home myself…

      • Yes, I know just what you mean on that one….how can someone who is still a kid have a kid not being a kid anymore? It’s a horrible realization.

  15. I awoke yesterday with that familiar feeling of despondency and emptiness. My son and his partner had been staying for a fortnight; they were leaving that afternoon. It gets me every time, whether I expect it or not. Electronic technology has made it so much easier to stay in touch but, ironically, they keep strong , the bonds that make the partings hard.

  16. Back to Bodrum said it first. Both my university days and our children’s predated mobile phones, so contact both ways was entirely by letters and occasional, rapid, public-phone-in-the-corridor calls. When our firstborn went off to college I finally realised what it must have been like for my mother to wave me off for six months abroad (pre-university language practice) at the tender age of 18. i bet she’d have given anything for the occasional text.

    • Bigfoot’s called me twice today to give me blow-by-blow accounts of his visits to the bank and ask how we are organizing the weekend – funnily enough, Mr Independent has been home to see us once a week since he moved out! He’s let slip that being alone in the evenings isn’t as cool as he thought initially… 😉

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