Rob Campbell on taking the teenagers to uni
There were no tears this week. A year ago, in contrast, dropping our son at a halls of residence for the start of university was the closest thing to a bereavement when the object of one's grief is alive and kicking.
If I'd known then just how many weeping parents would be crisscrossing Britain's motorway network I'd have bought shares in Kleenex.
Second time around, driving him back to the strange northern city where he studies, we've all grown up about it, and there's a greater sense of mutual respect about our divergent lives.
When they're 16 years old, announcing that they think school is rubbish and asking why doesn't everyone live in a bivouac instead of having a mortgage, and what's wrong with drinking vodka until three in the morning – well, the generation gap is unbridgeable.
I'd struggle to take seriously someone whose life is so at odds with my own, and I'm not surprised that they thought we were a joke. The only hope is they banked some of what we said in a mental file called "go back to this when I'm older".
Now, in late teens and early 20s, with the nest half-empty, parent and child can look each other in the eyes again freed from the cycle of giving and rejecting advice. It was, I think, the shared house that did it. Someone has seen fit to trust one of our offspring with the front door keys to a property. A real house in a real street. True, it's a dump, but nobody leaves a key with a child so that must mean he's an adult.
We unloaded the gear – bike, kettle, books and bedding – and he asked if I wanted to stay for a cup of tea. There were no cups, and no tea, and no milk, but it was the grown-up thought that counted.
Housemates arrived as we sipped imaginary tea. They discussed a junk shop nearby that sold cups, and one of them mentioned a source of tea, too. A cleaning rota was aired, and plans for buying communal rice to save money.
Just then, it was tempting to wade in. I did all that, I wanted to say, back in 1982. The rota fails the minute someone leaves a stinking curry pan in the sink, and the rice will be crawling with weevils within a week because you'll forget to seal it. Your cups will vanish into bedrooms, never to emerge. The damp will lay at least one of you low with bronchitis. You won't be able to study because there's a drum kit in one bedroom and trumpet in another.
But, instead, I put the imaginary cup back in the kitchen and set off for home – a half-empty one now, but filled with a new sense of calm about those who have grown up within it.