Mothers all over the country are gearing up to welcome home their offspring for Christmas. MAEVE O’Keeffe, a Frazzled Mammy, is among them, as her daughter returns from her first year in college.
LAST September, our daughter, the eldest of the family, moved to Dublin to go to college. Initially she came home most weekends, armed with the inevitable bag of laundry (for me to do) and to stock up on food, but recently she’s begun to stay put so we haven’t seen her in a while.
“Can’t come home next weekend either, Mum, as I’ve assignments due.”
In fact, she won’t be home until the college term ends. It will be my first experience of having a child away, with me as a mammy looking forward to their coming home for Christmas.
I know it doesn’t compare to the emotional excitement of having a son or daughter return from working abroad, of waiting impatiently to hug them to bits when they appear from the bus/train or arrivals gate in Cork airport. Still, it will be our first taste of Christmases to come when the kids leave home, get a job (will I ever see the day?), but make it back for the family gathering of December 25.
For me, this Christmas or end of 2016 will be a culmination of ‘firsts’. Never mind the 1916 celebrations, Brexit or Hilary Clinton getting ‘Trumped’, as a mammy I’ve had my first experience of our eldest enduring the ordeal of the Leaving Cert. I’m still coping with the rollercoaster we’ve lived through since that State Exam last June. It’s been a heck of a time and we’re not done yet.
People think that once the Leaving Cert is over, the CAO offers are out and college places are accepted, that adapting to Third Level is plain sailing. It’s not.
We imagine that students slot easily into college life, like sharing a flat/ house/ apartment with complete strangers (if you’re lucky enough to find something half-decent and affordable); that they’ll love their choice of course and happily knuckle down to lectures and study. And what about miraculously mastering budget and culinary skills, or whipping up nutritious dinners after a productive day’s work?
The reality is typically very different.
The first dose of this new life hit home in September when we drove her to Dublin, to settle into student accommodation before ‘Freshers’ week. The car packed with suitcases, saucepans, laptop, towels, duvet, etc., we helped transport her belongings to what would be her new home for the coming year. Her bedroom looked well — neat and clean with clever storage for a relatively small space.
The communal kitchen was equally impressive. She stacked her cooking utensils and items of ware, noting some already stored food supplies.
Food! We’d forgotten. Better suss out the nearest supermarket and stock up on grub, lest she starve. What else might she need? No coat hangers – get a few of those too. We drove to a shopping centre.
“Buy non-perishable, weighty stuff that should last a while,” I suggested, overlooking that her student digs was only a short walk down the road, not base camp Mount Everest.
“Pasta, that’s easy to cook. Eggs — again, simple to scramble, boil or poach and good for you. Tinned food? Beans on toast are handy. You’ve got to look after yourself!”
Daughter stood there, looking askance. “Take cooking advice from YOU? Mom, you incinerate everything!” she scoffed derisively.
“Well, I’ve got you this far,” I huffed. (I should’ve thrown an easy-to- do, fool-proof cookbook into her bag while I had the chance!)
Shopping unpacked, we left her to team up with other students, all possibly feeling some mix of excitement and understandable apprehension, facing this new life. For now, our job was done.
In the intervening months, there’s been a lot to learn. Not just navigating the college environs and academic courses.
There are practical things like laundry. Do you rinse in the bathroom sink, find the nearest launderette or stockpile grubby garb and bring it home to mother at the weekends?
(Tip – don’t land home late on Saturday evening, expecting clothes to be washed, dried and ironed for the return journey on Sunday night, especially when mother doesn’t own a dryer.)
Dinner and budgeting — despite all my guff and well-meant advice, has she learned to cook and shop around for a bargain to stretch our limited cash?
And what about the battle for library books? Apparently, there can be a stampede to the library after lectures, in quest for a must-read recommended tome.
“The one or two volumes to supposedly cater for a few hundred students can be either fought over, already snatched or even hidden in a different section by crafty characters. Finding a seat in the library to study can be similarly fraught.
However, the social life seems good. She’s joined societies and got to know people. I was delighted to see her bringing friends, old and new, back home for the Jazz weekend, a good sign of getting used to college life.
She’s been to a college ball, giving the debs dress another outing! She’s using the saucepans that we brought when first settling in, (or maybe says that to shut me up) and does a grocery shop — the stuff of life. Mind you, I still nag “Dublin can be colder than Cork — wear a coat!”
Yes, it’s been a turbulent year of ‘firsts’ but I can’t wait to have her home for Christmas, laundry bag and all. If she’s lucky, Santa might leave a cookbook in the Christmas stocking!