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Byron Shire
June 20, 2021

Mandy Nolan’s Soap Box: One less lunchbox

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Last week my middle daughter finished school. Forever. That’s one less lunchbox on my bench. At my peak I was packing five lunchboxes and now I’m down to just two little boxes. I don’t understand parents who can’t wait for their kids to leave home. It’s not like that for me. I’m such a sook. It’s really hard letting them go. One after the other.

Nobody really tells you this. So when it happens it’s a surprise. Again, you’d think I’d have this nailed by now but I don’t. Finishing school is one of the final rites of passage that starts to move them away from you. It’s really the last time you get to yell at them for not doing their homework, for not handing in a note, for missing the bus.

I love yelling at them for stuff like that. It’s how I get all my frustrations out on the world because I’m right and they’re wrong. It’s wonderfully simplistic and always satisfying.

Poor Sophia has sat through hundreds of my lectures about completing tasks on time. I’ve shared my time-management skills. ‘If you have a party on Saturday then you have to work backwards and budget study time so you can AFFORD to go.’ My eldest daughter would look at me like I was nuts and say, ’Get fucked, Mum,’ but Sophia always let me finish: ‘Yes, Mum. I will’. Of course she never did. She was just smart enough to realise that you got shorter lectures if you acquiesced to the almighty mother from the first beat.

So now my sweet little platinum-haired girl is finished. When you have a small herd you expect the older ones to finish; it comes as a bit of a shock when the younger ones start finishing as well. I’m not sure if it’s actually shock or just another rude reminder that life seems to be moving at a slightly faster rate these days.

I wasn’t quite prepared for how emotional it made me. I was a blubbering mess at the graduation. Seeing all these kids in their conservative uniforms, with their hair in neat ponytails, blazers done up, stockings on, ties and long pants, they looked as adorable as a bunch of hairy stinky sweaty 17/18-year-olds can look.

I imagined them all as little kids again. Back on the first day of school when they were filled with wonder, and felt terribly grown up because they had a schoolbag bigger than them. The look on their faces was the same. That wide-open excitement, that thrilling sense that they were ‘big’. Instead this time the book of their school years was being snapped shut. This was the last page.

Pretty soon they’d be starting a brand-new book. A much harder, less directed, lonelier book. A book where you don’t know the ending like this one. Where no-one is there to make you finish it. And there are so many books to choose from that many just stand there unable to open any of them. I thought of this and started bawling. I’m bawling again writing this, but mainly because on reflection I realise how easily moved I become by crappy metaphors about parts of your life being like a book.

I look at all their faces and wonder where they will be in 12 months, two years, ten years. Who they will be. I want to yell out, ‘You don’t know! It’s harder than you think! You’re safe now! Your parents are looking after you! Your mum made your bed. They probably even paid for your car! And your teeth! You have each other. You’ll never have these long days to hang with all your friends again. You think you’re free when you walk out of here, but you were free when you walked in! Life’s not what you think!

‘You’ll have to do stuff you don’t want to in order to eventually get to a point in your life where you can do more of the stuff you want to. Sometimes by the time you get there you won’t care about doing that stuff any more. You won’t know who you are. You’ll try to impress people. Contrive relationships. You’ll feel lonely. Disconnected. You’ll search for your place in life. Your tribe. I hope you find it. Because when you do it’s so good. It’s the real thing.’

Apparently this isn’t what you are supposed to write in a graduation card. It’s depressing. I don’t care, I’m packing that lunchbox anyway.

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