Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: A part-time empty-nester

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With her only child off at boarding school, Shelley's having to adjust to a different way of life. Photo / Getty
With her only child off at boarding school, Shelley's having to adjust to a different way of life. Photo / Getty

It felt like the end of an era. After thirteen years at home, this week my firstborn (my lastborn, for that matter) started boarding at school.

When I did my Monday morning tidy-up of her bedside cabinet - books, magazines, notebooks, pens, song lyrics, secrets written in the crude Teeline I'd taught her - it was with a sense of nostalgia rather than the usual mild annoyance.

Her bedroom would be unused until she returned on Friday for the weekend. Her father and I were now official part-time empty-nesters.

Several reasons, some more important than others, led us to decide on boarding. One of them was the fact our daughter thrives on being part of a big group of girls.

Perhaps it's because she's an only child, but she seems happiest, most energised, when surrounded by her peers. She loves being amongst the chatter, the laughter, the drama, the noise, that only teenage girls can create.

Another reason was that we thought it might broaden her horizons. She's a born and bred Aucklander. In her boarding house she would encounter girls from overseas and from all over New Zealand.

Also, boarding away from home should foster independence. There are fresh routines, chores and responsibilities. There is the need to get along with new people. There is prep and set meal times. There are rules about laundry and lights out.

Phones are confiscated at 9pm each evening. ("Yaaay," said my daughter. "That's later than I'm allowed to have it at home.")

The fourth reason was that we thought the early morning starts for sports practice would be less onerous if she lived on site during the week.

Finally, and crucially, she was keen to go, really keen. We're not taking it personally.

There are fringe benefits for me as well. I didn't go to boarding school so now I have the chance to live vicariously through my daughter. I blame Enid Blyton for romanticising the notion of boarding.

Long before Hogwarts was imagined, the Naughtiest Girl and the Malory Towers books enchanted with tales of pranks, friends, midnight feasts, enemies, snobbish new girls and lacrosse, always lashings of lacrosse.

(When I was a girl my mother signed me up to board at a school in Havelock North but I refused to go because I didn't want to be separated from my pony - which I am well aware sounds like the start of another Enid Blyton novel about an obnoxious brat.)

I'm also looking forward to going out without the need to plan ahead and book a babysitter. We can have dinner or see a movie on a whim. We could leave town mid-week without having to make childcare arrangements.

We can be flexible, spontaneous. The opportunities are limitless. Mind you, we will probably end up eating cheese-and-onion toasted sandwiches in front of The Bachelor while wondering what our daughter is having for dinner.

There was, of course, one strong reason not to send her boarding: we would miss her. I peeped in her room after we dropped her off on Sunday. It was true. She really had gone.

For the last couple of weeks, I'd wondered if this was actually happening. I imagined that perhaps her father or I would blink and beg her to stay.

"You know you don't have to go boarding if you don't want to," I said a few times, just in case she was putting on a brave face. "Nah, I'm all good," she replied. Then she packed her bags and carried them downstairs.

"Keep in touch," said her father. "Yes, don't be a stranger," said her mother. "Love you. Bye," said the newest girl in the boarding house.

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Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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