Empty Nest 2

In the second of her blogs, Madeleine Cooper copes with forging a new identity.

“Well I don’t want to end up like Lorraine…”  We’ve all heard those snatches of conversation on the street which, taken out of context can seem weird, rude or extraordinary.  I heard this one a while ago and can’t get the backstory out of my head.

Who IS Lorraine and what sorry situation is it about her life made someone declare so firmly that they didn’t want to be like her?  So it got me thinking that I wouldn’t want anybody to say that about me.  For me to be the ultimate measure of How Not To Do It in life would be awful.  And I figured that was a pretty good way to measure the way that you go about things at this 50-something point in life.

It’s the mantra that I’ve tried to have in my head during the past couple of months since our son left home and moved into his own flat.  I don’t want to be THAT mother who’s endlessly calling him, fussing about how late he’s staying out, what he’s eating, whether he’s warm enough or happy enough.  (Well I’m thinking all of those things but I just don’t want to get caught saying them all the time).  Nor do I want to be the mother who dances just a little too gaily towards a life of self-absorption and tells the world that she couldn’t wait for him to leave home and take his mess with him.  And although I weep for him and for the loss of the role that I’ve so happily played for the past 20 years – that of ‘mum’ – I don’t want to be the permanently sad old boot who appears to have nothing in her life other than the memory of a time gone by.

The tightrope of behaviour that weaves in and out of all of those very real emotions is a tricky one to negotiate though. There’s no Right or Wrong about how to behave in this situation.  Examples of all of those “empty nest” mothers have been played out to us as warnings or comedy caricatures: the mother who won’t cut the apron strings, the newly found fifty-something off on a whirl of self-discovery and yoga weekends, the lost soul who can’t remember who she is other than “mum”.

The truth is that we probably mostly all feel a bit of all of the above and just like any other transition in life, it’s tough to be resolute and find the way that works completely and absolutely all of the time.  Just as when he was first born I found it exhilarating and sometimes emotionally overpowering to suddenly be “mum”, I’m finding it really hard to work out what my role is in this new part of my life.  I clearly haven’t read the script.   Wait – I haven’t even GOT the script.  Because there isn’t one.  It’s all improvisation.

So I’m warming to Lorraine.  Who knows which path she’s taken in life that caused the passer-by that I overheard to hold her up as the template of doom?  But maybe Lorraine is like me and is just working her way through some life situation which isn’t at all easy and for which there’s no How To manual that will make sure you get it all right.

For the first installment click here