Shortly past 10am on Wednesday morning I was awoken from a deep, post-Matriculation-Formal slumber by a knock on my door. Dragging myself out of bed I opened up to see, bathed in the post-dawn light, the two people least expected in my staircase at such an ungodly hour… my parents. ‘Oh…’ I faltered. ‘Hi.’ This was the only welcome I could eek out as the gravity of the situation filtered through my sleep-deprived hangover. My mother peered past me into the gloom, her eyes taking in the dirty clothes strewn across the floor, the small herds of used mugs dotted across the desk so clearly unused for its intended purpose, and the empty Sainsbury’s Basics vodka bottle collection in the corner. I blinked at her sleepily for a few seconds, until eventually my father asked if they could come in. My panic at this request was moderated somewhat as it dawned on me that he was not, in fact my real father. When my biological parents came to visit they at least had the decency to give advance warning, as well as delaying their arrival until the sun had truly risen. No, the surprise spot-check came from my college parents, who were thankfully willing to laugh about the pigsty-esque state of my room and clear indications that I have yet to do any work towards getting an actual degree.
I have at least learned one thing from my three weeks in Cambridge – that university is not an instant catalyst. My grand ideas about being a new and improved version of the girl I was at school have been sadly disappointed. I am still a messy person. I’m still far too fond of cake and social media. The only thing that has changed is that there is no longer anyone around to supervise me. I’m painfully aware that Cambridge is as far away from an experience of Real Life as university gets (especially at Emma where students are spared the arduous task of doing our own laundry), and yet without parental guidance I have steadily spiralled into a reality in which clothes rarely see the inside of the wardrobe, pasta and chips constitutes a healthy, balanced meal and I spend my days playing cards, browsing the net and trying to figure out how to operate a bike pump.
An advantage of having parents who live in a different country is that I’m unlikely to receive a surprise visit. However, it also means that phone calls and postage are that much more expensive. Unlike my staircase neighbours, I can’t afford to just ring home for five minutes, and when a friend unwrapped a homemade cake sent by Royal Mail I could only look on in envy.
My parents did visit once, four days after my arrival in Cambridge. At that stage the fact that I had not yet unpacked my suitcases or done any academic work was excused as I was still ‘settling in.’ In subsequent skype calls I’ve been very careful to sit on my bed in such a way that the camera’s view is restricted to a backdrop of my bedroom wall and nothing else. They don’t seem too interested in my academic progress though – I suppose that as a fully-fledged adult they probably think I can self-motivate by this point. In fact, my mother’s only concern seems to be that I avoid all contact with male drinking societies.
Before I came to Cambridge, nobody gave a thought to how I might cope without my parents. In Dublin it’s extremely uncommon to move out when going to university – I’m the only one of my friends who did. As such the worry on everyone’s mind was not how I would manage alone, but how my mother could possibly hope to survive without me. We’re very close – partly due to the fact that during the week it used to be just the two of us in the house – but being the last of three children to fly the nest means that my parents are by now used to the idea of their offspring leaving home. My moving out marks the end of an era, but so far neither Mum nor Dad is showing any signs of bereavement. On the contrary, they seem delighted with their new-found freedom, and the sudden lack of teenage angst on their side of the Irish Sea.