You Never Can Tell

Like every parent whose kids have grown up, I’m having to get used to less. I say ‘I’ because Mr N, in his Australian bachelor idyll, is having to get used to, well, living that bachelor lifestyle, a whole different kettle of fish. By the time he’s back from there for good, I’ll be used to this empty-ish nest, and he’ll have to adjust to it alone. That’ll be another story.  For now, it’s about me and R, our 16 year old; we’re the two currently rattling around our four-bedroomed family home. I’m sure that it’s strange for him, too, without his big brother and sister (or his dad), but this is my blog and I’m seeing it from my perspective. Which is this:

Fancy having two spare bedrooms! We could’ve done with all this space a bit earlier in our family’s life, when the bairns were but babes and there were always grandparents and aunties and uncles and cousins coming to stay. Then again, I wouldn’t wish for my kids not to have shared bedrooms, oh, the joy of bunk beds and night games and giggling and naughtiness and squabbles and shared secrets for siblings only! Nor would they themselves have chosen not to squash in from time to time, top to toe, three to a bed even, when there was no more room at the inn. Anyway, it doesn’t go on much any more, this bursting at the seams, which – and whoever would have imagined it?  – makes me thankful for the crowded rowdy sleepovers with far too many teens on the floors and sofas when they do still happen (vomit excepted).

When, as it mostly is, it’s just me and him, I have to swap places at the dining table. If I didn’t take over F’s spot, which is opposite R’s, R and I would have been unsociably, and weirdly, eating side by side since the husband-and-two-children exodus at the end of September. I will, of course, have to move out from middle boy’s slot the minute he’s back home from university – if he’s in the house, F sits there, no compromise, for anyone, no change, even after two years away in Houston. But in the meantime, I don’t sit where I used to for my dinner.

Sticking with the mealtime theme, I could happily cater for a surprise visit from a family of eight for at least a week since the freezer’s now full of delicious home-made ready meals. I keep buying and cooking too much food, and small portions were never a thing in this house. Mulligatawny soup, anyone? Don’t like spicy food? How about bolognaise, or chicken stew, or a classy vichyssoise? Come on round!  R baked a cake, and I ate a number of large slices, yet even so had to force feed it to my book club girls four days later as it began to stale, one of them took a quarter home and there was still some left. Waste- and waist-wise, I need to learn to control this better.

On a positive note, the loo roll’s lasting an incredibly long time.

The biggest difference, though, is the noise. The lack of it. It’s often just me here and even when we’re “all” home, that still only makes two, one of whom is usually plugged in to earphones and quite busy with homework and other screen-based stuff, all mainly occurring upstairs with the door shut. Not that we don’t get on, R and me, we do. (We watched Pulp Fiction together recently, and then later twisted in the living room to Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell, just like John Travolta and Uma Thurman.)

But the truth is, there are definitely occasions when he only really spends time in my company because he’s kind and sensitive and he feels sorry for me.  And he’s behaving no differently than the others would if they were here, it’s just his disappearances are more noticeable when he’s the only one disappearing and I’m the only one left.  I’m not lonely, just alone more than before, which, it turns out, is quite quiet.

Some things, though, haven’t changed with him.  Like, making a quick exit when any of my friends turn up, thus avoiding all middle-aged female clucking. So, right after our little dance scene the other night, R scooted upstairs as the first of my book-clubbers arrived. And if he wasn’t a temporarily only child, maybe the drama that followed might not have taken place. “I can smell gas” was repeated as each person came in. We have a gas boiler, gas hob and gas fire. All three were off. We checked, and then we checked again. “I can smell gas”,  said another walking through the door. This wasn’t funny. I rang the emergency number, was told over the phone to switch off the lever at the meter “but only if you can see without a torch, you mustn’t turn a torch, or any appliance, or switch, on or off. We’ll have an engineer there within the hour.” This was scary. Anyway, I did as I was told, we opened a few windows, poured our wine and got talking about the book (‘Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls’ by David Sedaris, if you’re interested). The engineer knocked, told us to carry on while he checked everything, and then popped in and out of the house and all the rooms, up and down, in and out, probing and suchlike. Half an hour later, he gave me the bad news: “I’m going to have to condemn your gas supply and cut you off.”  He couldn’t find the source of the leak, but there was a trace of gas on his reading, so he had no option. Worse, because there was nothing escaping from any of the exposed and accessible pipes, it seemed probable that any leakage was from the pipework somewhere – anywhere, no way of telling exactly where – under the floor. I – we all – immediately saw ripped up floorboards and a devastatingly disruptive trail of £££££££s snaking around the ground floor in futile pursuit of a pesky pinprick. There was apology in the engineer’s demeanour as he “capped” the meter.  When he’d said goodbye and I’d closed the door on him, R loomed downstairs, completely unaware of our condemned status or anything that had led up to it. His mouth dropped open when I told him. “Do you think it could’ve been anything to do with me leaving the hob on for 15 minutes?” he murmured. Hmmm, yes, I thought, calmly(ish), everything to do with that.

So, perhaps if there’d been a sibling or two up there as well (also hiding from my pals, as they would have been), R might have mentioned he’d left the gas on, and they, in turn, might have thought to mention it to me? Or, at the very least, one of them might have ventured down to see what all the to-ing and fro-ing was about, do you think? But when there’s just one of him, locked into music, on his own in his room, safely away from the lairy scram that is me and my reading buddies, why would he emerge any time soon?

I had to pay £20 to get the gas turned back on the next day, and will be dining out on the story a few more times yet. The moral of the tale, then,  is… um, what? Don’t let your kids leave home or don’t have kids at all? It’s clearly too late for either of those options for me, so I suppose I’ve just gotta get used to where we’re at. And anyway, You just Never Can Tell what’ll happen next…

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