Four weeks without two of our children who both went overseas on separate trips meant that several things were different for us at home. Firstly it was the longest stretch of time (by about three weeks) that any of our kids had been away from home on their own before and that idea took a bit of getting used to, and then the fact that the two of them were away at the same time added another dimension to it altogether. Suddenly we went from a family of five to a family of three for a month. Saying good-bye was fairly emotional but life demands that things be done and keeping busy meant that I didn’t have too much time to dwell on the fact that they were away.

Our house, which is usually filled with life’s noises, silliness, teasing, laughter and some days just the general mayhem of the daily routine, went strangely quieter for four weeks. It was an interesting change because one sometimes longs for a bit of peace and quiet but this was a different, almost subdued quiet at times and I prefer the quiet where they are still at home or close to home but just not noisy all the time. With child No 1 away, I would say child No 3 got teased about 75% less than what she usually gets teased, which made for a major quiet change. Poor child No 3 also felt her siblings’ absence as she was stuck with only her two parents and had to rely on our boring company for the month.

Another big change was with regards to cooking. On their first night away as I started cooking dinner I suddenly realised that I had no idea how to cook for less than five people. After a bit of an episode I started catering for just the three of us at home and simplified meals so that it could work in my favour but there still ended up being leftovers most nights!

Then there are the dogs, who always go jumping crazy when child No 1 picks up his car keys and puts on his shoes as they always assume that means a trip to the park where they can run free for a while with him and child No 3, who also felt the change very keenly. They focused all their attention on child No 3 very quickly but it didn’t take them very long to start watching me for signs of picking up car keys to go to the park. The cat on the other hand, only showed signs of confusion when we had Skype chats with child No 2 and she (the cat) could see and hear child No 2 but there was no actual child No 2 behind the computer screen!

A further difference was with regards to music. Child No 2 loves playing music or playing on the piano or her guitar, and we had none of that while she was away and I really missed the music. My husband also commented that the music had gone quiet since I don’t sit down and play the piano enough.

And then there was the general daily concern over their safety and wellbeing for 29 days. In this age where we rely so heavily on technology it was great to be able to communicate with them regularly and easily but it also meant that we worried straight away if we hadn’t heard from them. Child No 1 was especially good at replying when child No 3 messaged him, but not always as good when mom or dad did! With child No 2 getting back yesterday and child No 1 today I was much more emotional than I’d thought I’d be. I expected to feel happiness but instead felt happiness plus an unexpected flood of very emotional relief. My heart breaks for the families who have lost loved ones in recent air travel disasters and the unimaginable pain they are going through, and all I can say is “Thank you” that mine are safely back where they belong. The ABBA song “Thank you for the music” popped into my head out of the blue this morning and I thought: “Thank you for the music – it’s back. In more than one sense.”

13 13 30

Get a taxi. The first time I was told this was in 2012 when child No 2 went on her first overseas trip without the family on a school music tour to New Zealand for 10 days. She was only 15 at the time and naturally very excited about the trip, but my mum-heartstrings struggled and saying good-bye at the airport was an emotional affair. There was going to be quite a wait after the group had checked in but before they said their good-byes and the rest of my family were keen to get home but I wasn’t planning to leave before the group was due to go through to immigration, so child No 3 (who was 11 at the time), was very quick to suggest that they all go home and I could stay as long as I liked and then get a taxi home. In her mind that was the perfect solution and everyone would be happy, except I didn’t take to the suggestion very kindly in my sad-mum-saying-farewell-to-one-of-her-babies state of mind. My sense of humour failure being quite obvious, the idea was abandoned as quickly as it came up and we all waited together for the group to depart.

13 13 30

13 13 30

The following time I got quoted 13 13 30 was when the kids and I went out for dinner one Friday night while Ironman was away for work. It was a lovely summer’s eve to be out and I decided to have a cider with my meal. This worried child No 3 very much as she wasn’t used to me having a cider and she was very quick to quote me the phone number to get a taxi as she checked the alcohol content of the cider (which was well within the legal limit but not the limit she had in mind for me).   Since then 13 13 30 has become a bit of a family joke whenever someone had to be dropped off or picked up from somewhere, especially if it was somewhere they didn’t usually go or where more than a quick, casual kiss good-bye was appropriate, and when child No 3 went on her first solo trip away from the family to visit her friend in Queensland for a week just after she’d turned 13, we said that she can get a cab to the airport. 13 13 30; which was received by an equal sense of humour failure as my own a year and a half prior, so we backtracked quickly and reminded her that it was only a joke.

With child No 2’s month-long student exchange trip to Reunion Island coming up we were discussing who would take her to the airport some weeks before the trip and if the whole family went, whether we’d again stay until the group departed (which I’d do of course), and again I was quoted 13 13 30. Three weeks out from her departure date I already felt I was coming apart at the thought of her going to be away from home in a foreign country for a month, living with a family she’ll only meet when she gets there, speaking a foreign language, having little contact with us plus having her 17th birthday while she’s away. As the departure date got closer she got more and more excited and I got more and more apprehensive. She’s an independent girl and with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I’m sure she will have the time of her life, but I still battled to get used to the idea. A month is a long time and although I know on a rational level that she can take care of herself there is probably some subconscious part of my mind that seems to think she’ll only be ok if she’s in my care. Close to me where I can see that she’s safe and hug her when I want to. How does a parent not worry about their offspring anyway? That’s just not possible. And then I received an e-mail from the mum of the girl she’ll be staying with, saying that she will take care of my daughter just as if she’s her own. That undid me again. Her suitcase was packed a few weeks before she was due to go though – life is exciting when you’re young, carefree and travelling.

Adding to our parental woes, child No 1 is going on a month-long holiday in Europe with two friends at the same time. He leaves the day after child No 2. We have been fortunate to still have him living at home and all of a sudden we’ll go from a full house of five to only three of us for a month. The house will be very quiet and I’ll miss them! My only consolation is that at least he’s three years older than child No 2 and will be with two friends, so he’s not likely to be lonely, and he’ll also be visiting so many places and seeing so many sights that he won’t have any time to miss home. Being a boy though, the packing has been left to the last minute. The planning, however, was an intricate business with the three travellers having got together a number of times and sitting side by side each of them with a laptop checking out train timetables, hotel prices, places to visit, sights and shows to be seen and making bookings as they went along.

As it turns out I’m not the only one who is apprehensive about two of the kids being away for a month – child No 3 is not looking forward to spending a whole month “with only the two of you” (ie mum & dad). The prospects of being the only child for a month is clearly not very appealing and the possibility of getting spoilt as a result is being outweighed by the boredom factor. I suspect it will be an interesting month for all of us, not least because of child No 2 being away for her birthday, but with us not being used to our kids going off on their own for extended periods of time (10 days is the longest any of them has been away from home on their own before) and all of a sudden two of them will be away at the same time to far-flung corners of the earth (or that’s what it feels like) for a month.   I’m really not sure how I’ll hold up saying our farewells, but we brave these things for our kids’ sakes. A blubbering mum is not the way they’d want to set off on an exciting trip! We want them to be independent and then when they are, I feel like saying: “Not yet! I’m not ready!” Either way, I’ll not be calling 13 13 30 and I won’t be tolerating any such suggestions either, with my sense of humour being tested to its limit as it is…

Bon voyage. I wish you safe travels, my children.