Well what a week it’s been here, I have lots to tell you. In this post I’m wearing quite a few new season pieces for people who just come for the clothes and I’ll finish with a surprising development on the life front for those who follow my ups and downs. But first, a huge thank you to everyone who joined me for a workout in the park with Sally at an ungodly hour this morning – I’ll embed the video next week so you can watch it here. I still cringe when I see and hear myself on video but she’s determined to help me get over that. And a warm welcome to all of the new readers who have joined me from Sally’s Get Over Yourself site, I hope you’ll stay. For now though I’m going to talk a bit about what I did (and wore) in Newcastle and how it feels when your child leaves for university.
Picking up where I left you last week, we headed over to Newcastle early on Friday morning so that we could make the most of our goodbye weekend with our excited boy. As you know, new lockdown rules were announced for the Newcastle area the evening before we left. They were due to come into effect the following night so we had to scramble to change all of the plans we’d made for a few days of catching up with the family over there.
How it feels when your child leaves for university
Friday – a day and night in Newcastle
Our first priority was to spend a few hours with Mr MC’s mum. We’d hoped to have much more time with her because like so many families we just haven’t seen enough of her this year but the new rules meant we couldn’t. She was well and in good spirits though – we’re always grateful for her stoical Geordie temperament and her ability to handle things with humour.
This time she wanted the boy to give her another lesson in using the smartphone that you may remember she was determined to get during lockdown. She’s had it since April but still hasn’t used it despite each of her many grandsons sitting down with her and explaining what she needs to do. This was our boy’s second attempt at showing her how to switch it on, explaining Facebook again and then introducing her to video calling which blew her mind. If we can just get her to adopt it her life will be so different but every time we’ve tried to call since then it’s been switched off because “I don’t want to waste the battery when I’m not using it!” Anyway it was lovely to watch grandma and grandson having lots of giggles together – and he’s resigned himself to going over as soon as he’s allowed to take her through it again… and again… and again.
Later on that afternoon we had a few appointments in the city. You see for quite a while now we’ve been thinking hard about buying an apartment over there. When we made our move back north in 2004 we looked at houses in both Mr MC’s North East and my North West (and a small battle began between our mums as they did their best to tempt us to choose their side of the country). In the end the North West won largely because just about every single state school here is marked as ‘outstanding’. However I’ve always felt a bit guilty about it, especially as it meant I was able to give my parents a lot of time and attention when their health declined but we haven’t been able to do the same for Mr MC’s mum and dad.
We’d made appointments to look at a few apartments in a particular building that we really like – just to see what would happen. And I’m not saying that this sort of thing is a wardrobe opportunity but I wanted something that was comfortable for the journey over but smart enough to look as though I was a potential property tycoon(!) In the interests of transparency I should highlight that Boden invited me to choose a few pieces from their latest drop and you’ll probably recognise most of them because I went straight to the ones that I’d picked out for my post a couple of weeks ago.
Like most retailers Boden are experiencing a Covid knock-on to their delivery schedule and quite a few things are only available on pre-order including their bretons but I already had this one from years ago when they did Johnnie B. I often used to find that the clothes they designed for teenage girls were a really good cut. The joggers are new in and they’re made from crepe which I always find really best for any kind of smart travel because it doesn’t crease. If you’re a fan of Me + Em but not their prices these are a brilliant alternative because the fabric feels identical but the navy has less black in it – which I prefer.
And so we had our appointments. One apartment with a spectacular view over the river Tyne blew us away but it was way beyond our price bracket. Another was lovely but tiny and the rest were no gos. So, we checked into our AirBnB and went out for an early dinner to circumvent the new 10pm lockdown. I switched the breton and trainers for a blouse and boots and we were ready to go.
The evening was heightened by the boy’s imminent departure. He talked about how he was feeling about going to uni and leaving us, he even said how much he was going to miss his brothers… although he had a few serious words of advice for us with regard to the youngest and his year ahead (which made us smile inside). He wasn’t in the mood for staying out late though because he was saving his energy for Freshers so he marched us back to the apartment and sent us to bed – how life changes.
Neither Mr MC or I slept that night so we lay and talked about what was going through our minds. In the end we tried to pin down how it feels when your child leaves for university. Even though we now know that children don’t leave you forever, watching them depart for university is still a line in the sand. The biggest change is that they’re no longer predominantly under your influence – and I don’t mean influence in a domineering way, just the environment that you surround them with and the way of being that they absorb from you.
When they go to university they’re surrounded by other ways for the first time and you’re no longer there on a daily basis to sense what’s going on and fluff them up or smooth them down when they need it. And that growing away is how it should be. But you know that when they come back they’ll be changed by their new experiences and so your much loved child will never be quite the same again. And that’s the loss I mourn. I think lots of you will know what I mean.
Saturday – how it feels when your child leaves for university
In the end we gave up on sleep, got up very early and practiced relaxing into the city apartment lifestyle that we’re thinking of introducing into our lives. Before too long the boy joined us, full of butterflies at the day ahead. We’d been given a strict time-slot of 12pm to check into his halls and unload the car but first we needed to go to the nearby Sainsbury’s and stock him up. As we live near to a university town at home, I always enjoy watching the bittersweet exchanges between parents and their departing offspring as they negotiate the contents of their trolley and for us it was no different. He and Mr MC rolled their eyes at all the healthy things I threw in, quietly putting them back on the shelf behind me and I had to accept that I wasn’t going to be able to get the vegetables into him that I usually manage by stealth.
So round we went, trying to get him to think about what he might cook although he was more interested in snapchatting his haul. I remember the shock at the till when I did the first uni shop with the eldest but that time it was because he’d filled the trolley with everything from Taste The Difference (the top end range if you’re not in the UK). This time it was a huge bill again but more because the conveyor belt was heaving with different types of hair gel and even aftershave – who knew big city Sainsbury’s sold such things?! And when the cashier asked me if I was collecting the free Lego cards I instinctively replied ‘yes’ and then winced as I turned to the boy, expecting him to cringe. But his face lit up as he asked, “can I have an album too?” So here he is, my cool university student, happily sticking Lego cards into a book as we drive him towards his new adult future.
We were running early so Mr MC suggested we pop into a nearby cafe owned by one of his many cousins and the warmth of the welcome reminded me what a fantastic safety net his huge Geordie family provides. In one way or another we were related to everyone in there and by the time we left, the boy had been clasped to the bosom of the family with offers of a room, a job and a hot meal should he ever find himself hungry (they may live to regret that one!).
So then it was time to head off to the other side of the city for our slot and we joined the crowds of drawn looking parents, all doing their best to navigate the distancing rules as they trudged up staircases with boxes of treasured belongings. Mr MC and I cracked on with unpacking while the boy sat on his bed making plans with his new flatmates on his phone… even though he could have just stepped through the door to say hello (why do they do that?). Before long we’d applied what was probably a pointlessly tidy system to his small space, with (to his great amusement) clothes hanging in the wardrobe on hangers or neatly folded away in drawers! His big brother had sent him off with boxes of LED striplights and so we fixed them on to his bed and shelves. By the time we’d finished it was like living at the end of the rainbow but at least we know it will cheer things up on dreary winter days.
And soon we came to the point where however hard I looked, there was nothing left for us to do other than walk away with his rubbish – which felt strangely symbolic. Here’s the moment when Mr MC told me it was time to say goodbye (and trust him to get the boy’s well equipped ‘party shelf’ in the background!).
I’ll treasure that last hug until I see him again.
We dropped the car back at the apartment and as I always do in times of distress, I decided that we needed to walk… and walk… and walk. And we had to stop and take a photo here because it illustrated the day so well.
Gradually the sadness reduced to a simmer and we were able to stop for a drink outside a pub and sit in an unexpected burst of sunshine. And that evening although we felt drained by it all, neither of us wanted to stay in the apartment so I changed into the new blouse I showed you a couple of weeks ago and we headed out.
Unlike the rest of the country there was no heatwave in Newcastle last weekend. It was grey, cold and dark so even though this was only six o’clock, it was the best picture I could get of the black and cobalt blue python print on the blouse. It’s a winner though for easy outfit elevation by day or by night.
We settled on a warming curry, we were both still feeling quiet and numb which is unusual for us but I guess it just takes time to process life changes like this. And of course there are other things going on in addition to saying goodbye to the boy. Everyone I speak to is expressing a sense of shock at the renewed speed of the virus transmission along with confusion as we wonder what’s ahead. We’d travelled to an area that had been dramatically sent into extended lockdown at short notice only to then hear that our own area was going into extra measures on our return as well. I think at the back of our minds we all knew this would happen but even so, I’m finding it sends me straight back into that panicky feeling of loss of control over life that I experienced back in March.
Sunday – adapting to the change
I was shattered and really thought I’d sleep well that night but I didn’t so we decided to get up early and walk again. This time we followed the Tyne in the other direction and it’s beautiful in its own brutal, post industrial way. I’m wearing more new wardrobe choices here from recent posts. Firstly thanks to Baukjen, the lovely Donegal flecked jumper that I featured which felt right for a Sunday morning walk in chilly autumnal weather. I can confirm that it isn’t itchy and it’s true to size so if you want an oversized feel, size up (20% off all season with code MIDLIFECHIC20).
The jeans are from Boden again. They get consistently good reviews and I can see why – they’re a heavy denim in a mid-rise and they fit really well at the small of your back – you know that spot that usually gapes? They’re a simple girlfriend style so a gently relaxed cut for anyone who doesn’t want to stray too far from skinnies.
And we spent the rest of the day exploring. We drove out to the coast and walked some more, talking about what we’d like to do next and trying to make a plan. By the evening I was feeling a bit happier and so I was glad I’d saved this dress for our last night because it’s one of the loveliest things I’ve worn for a while. Last season Boden seemed to take inspiration from Pucci and this time it’s Missoni, both absolute favourites of mine (in my dreams). As you can see, it’s referencing the crochet trend but what the photo hasn’t picked up in the poor light is the slight sparkle it has; there’s a lustre to the fabric – not so much that you couldn’t wear it during the day but enough to make it feel special.
Because it’s knitted it’s comfortable enough to wear if you’re working from home and it has a silky texture so it doesn’t itch. I love the way that the stripes on the skirt have been arranged in a chevron pattern for a flattering silhouette. It’s one of those pieces that is so much better in real life than it looks on the website.
We found a cosy Italian restaurant in a back street and spent the evening doing mortgage maths. We had appointments to see a few more apartments the following morning and we knew that we needed to put a lid on any budget we were considering to avoid getting carried away.
Monday – a new twist
I don’t have any photos from Monday I’m afraid, we were clearly in serious mode. Mr MC had lined up one appointment after another but it was one of those Goldilocks days where nothing we saw was quite right. Nowhere matched up to the first apartment we’d viewed on Friday but of course that was way above our price range so we wished we hadn’t seen it.
I felt sorry for him because it’s something he’s really set his heart on. I think being able to see more of his mum and brothers is important at the moment because every time we make a trip over, new sets of Covid rules seem to frustrate our plans to spend time with them. If we had a base there we’d have more flexibility and it would also scratch the itch that I feel for an urban life. As you know, in usual times I travel to London every other week and so that fulfils my need for the bright lights and culture that we don’t have where we live. However, as things stand, all of the companies I work with are operating remotely and I don’t think things will ever go back to the way they were.
On Monday it just didn’t seem as though it was going to work out for us and so we sat in a cafe and decided to put our plans on hold. As we walked to the car ready to make the journey home, Mr MC said that he was going to call the estate agent from the property that we loved on Friday and have an honest conversation with her. So he explained that we had a lot less than the vendor wanted but it was all we could run to and asked her to see if he would consider it.
We were driving out of Newcastle, looking rather wistfully across at the boy’s student halls on the horizon when the estate agent’s number flashed up on his phone. Unbelievably our offer had been accepted and just like that, our lives changed. And of course when something as unexpected as that happens you wonder what on earth you’re doing. I’ve been quietly saving a ‘dream pot’ towards a little bolthole for us for years. We could never run to anything family sized but we’ve always hoped that one day we’d be able to stretch to something big enough for two. I can’t say I’d ever imagined putting it towards an apartment in Newcastle – a casita in the Spanish mountains ranked higher in my dreams – but the world has changed. With Brexit and the virus I feel as though that door has closed, for now at least, and so this will be my particular gift to Mr MC – a little more than he expected for his 50th birthday next week!
I hope it’s all going to work out – we were already very busy and now we’re taking on a whole new venture that will need refurbishing. It means I’m still not sleeping but we’ve decided that sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith. We’ll need to rent it out on AirBnB when we’re not there but with the way that Covid keeps hitting our businesses, we’re very aware that it’s safer to have fingers in as many pies as possible – just in case one of them gets eaten!
And at least it’s stopped me from worrying about the boy because I just haven’t had the headspace. Of course having a flat of our own in Newcastle means that we might see him more often too. It’s at the opposite side of the city so we shouldn’t cramp his style but… it has such a spectacular view that we can see his halls of residence on the skyline so I’ll be able to wave to him – even though he won’t be looking. The good news is that so far, he’s happy there. He loves his flatmates and from the glimpses of Snapchat that his brothers allow me to see, he seems to be having a whale of a time with them even though it’s not quite the Freshers week they’d imagined.
So we’re all heading towards a new chapter. It just goes to show that new beginnings come along when you’re not quite expecting them to. I doubt I’ll sleep well again for quite some time. Am I excited? Not yet. Am I scared? Very. Are we crazy? Probably. Do I feel alive? Absolutely.
Disclosure: ‘How it feels when your child leaves for university – and new outfits’ is not a sponsored post
PS – no news about the pitch yet.
PPS – to longstanding readers, we had to hire a sensible car!
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