or maybe not... as rucksacks are quiet and generally well behaved, and camping is not something I would contemplate for one moment with his youngest siblings!
He only went this morning, but I must confess I'm missing him already. He's fantastic company, a huge help and great fun. And I'm not a little nervous that in two short years he will be off to university.
Objectively, I can see the fact that he can spread his wings confidently, well prepared for all life has to offer is actually a huge compliment, the end result that all parents hope for when they look at their tiny newborn and ponder what his or her future holds. But it comes around really fast. Too fast.
For a self-confessed control freak I've actually been relatively laid back about my children's independence. I have fretted at the twins' slow development in this area but as I wrote here on my Recipe blog there are good reasons for that. Parents of children with additional needs of any kind are acutely aware that encouraging independence is of paramount importance in a world which is full of challenges which, on the face of it suggest independence is not only unlikely, but even impossible. But as a parent you should always encourage independence, but just as important as not hanging on is not pushing them away too soon.
It is so very true that the secure child who knows he or she can rely 100% on their parents is far more likely to gain the confidence to venture into new territory. There are no prizes for having that first playdate without Mummy early, for having the first sleepover in the class or heading into town for a solo shopping expedition before any of your friends have been allowed. First isn't best, and everyone develops at their own pace. This is especially true of any child facing additional challenges, it's not about letting go - it's about support, and loosing the reins with a heavy duty, reinforced safety net. Watching H head off to our local park with his new friends has been wonderful and yet utterly terrifying, but such an important step for him. We have rules, checks and requirements to make his new found independence less scary for all concerned (especially us!), but essentially it's about working with him at his pace.
There is an often quoted song title "If you love them let them go". But parenting isn't and shouldn't be about letting your children go. It's not about pushing them out of the nest, to leave home by a certain date. It's not about insisting the crying baby "cry it out" or the toddler cope with being left at Preschool, or planning sleepovers (because everyone else already is) if your child isn't ready. For us it's about respect and understanding, and pace. And that's their pace, not ours.
The huge irony is that too much too soon is actually more likely to set your child back and delay independence, at any stage.As parents we hold the reins - the guide ropes if you like, and learn with our children as they grow. We watch for signs of readiness and loosen those reins gradually - I'm not sure we ever completely let them go. But what I perhaps hadn't bargained for is the lump in your throat that accompanies the pride and joy their growing independence brings.
He'll be back in a few short days, ravenously hungry, with a pile of washing and a desperate need for a bath to bring me back to the here and now. I think I will be appreciating our time together even more with this realisation that another milestone is reached - over the past couple of weeks I've seen my boy is well on his way to becoming a man.