Boarding school is a lonely experience for mothers too

There are many things no one warns you about. It’s like the world conspires to sit on the sidelines watching you go merrily about your life, knowing fully well that out there somewhere is a heartbreak with your name on it and does nothing to prepare you for it.

Then again, nothing can prepare you for the emptiness that greets you when you walk into your child’s room the morning after they leave for boarding school.

You take the first step in and freeze mid-stride. For a moment you panic. You wonder where she might have gone so early in the morning. Then it all comes flooding back.

Even more crushing is the realization that from here on, she is no longer a permanent resident of your home. She’s but a regular guest spending three months tops interspersed throughout the year. That she has begun to prepare for a life independent of you. You walk in, head bent and sit on the edge at the foot of the bed as if she might be sleeping and you don’t want to wake her.

I always thought, this would be a seamless transition. I didn’t even think that. What was there to think about? She had always wanted to experience boarding school and we had agreed that High school would be ideal. I knew that by God’s grace and all factors remaining constant, this day would come. So, driving home from our after-church lunch the Sunday before she reported to school, I was surprised at the sadness I found myself plunged into at the realization that the following Sunday and each one thereafter until the midterm break in February, she would be away. Something about Kenny Rogers the radio singing I know your plans don’t include me made me want to cry.

Empty nest syndrome is a feeling of sadness and loneliness parents may feel when their children leave home for the first time, such as to live on their own or to attend school

As I lay down trying to put the baby to sleep later that afternoon, I wondered, though I’ll never know, whether my mother had wanted to cry when she sent me to boarding school.

One afternoon a few weeks after I reported, someone knocked on our 3 South classroom door and told my teacher that I was to report to Sister Muthoni’s office at once! I looked at her wide-eyed, silently asking for mercy but knew I had to go.

I wandered into the Head mistress’s office, wondering what I had done to deserve this my eight-year-old heart threatening to jump out of my chest. In my childhood eyes, that office was the size of a football pitch and somewhere in its vastness sat my mother. The Nuns who run my school were ruthless. Parents were NEVER allowed to see their kids outside the visiting day. For them to have broken this cardinal rule, my mother must have wept.

Back to my misery and in a desperate attempt to prove my sanity, I sent a text to my friends and family who were going through this transition or had been here before.

“Is it normal to feel as sad as I feel right now about the prospect of sending my child to boarding school? Did you struggle emotionally? This has caught me by surprise.” It read.

“Hata kulia utalia” came my sister’s response. This was both comforting and troubling. I pictured myself crying uncontrollably, embarrassing my daughter on her first day of school.

“Hahaha not to burst your bubble but the day you leave her in school… will be the emotional climax… start preparing psychologically… thereafter it’s easy” came Nyahan’gi’s response. I was sane after all in an insane way but sane nonetheless.

My friend Angela told me that each time she dropped her son off, she drove back weeping uncontrollably. “This term was even harder for me after 2 months at home with him” she confided

Fast forward to the reporting day I was the queen of calm. Everything went well but for the huge lump lodged in my throat that was going nowhere. Not even the tea they served us on arrival would wash it down.

Thankfully, my daughter was quite at home here. She had picked this school from the get-go, had been there on an orientation tour and a few of her former classmates were also enrolled.

When it was time for us to leave, I found myself blinking frantically trying to hold back tears. I avoided making eye contact. I gave her a quick hug and quickly disappeared into the car.

No sooner had we driven out of the school gate – I’ve always wanted to write that, no sooner-   than the floodgates opened. I replayed Angela’s post drop off scene quite  dramatically. I felt so relieved. Pretty much the way you feel when emptying a full bladder or breastfeeding after many hours away from baby. The husband remained silent through it all. He is a wise man Mr Mama Approved, he knows when not to speak least he says the wrong thing.

When I had calmed down, he offered to buy me lunch. I ordered a double southern comfort on the rocks before my steak arrived. Several doubles. It wasn’t even noon yet, but I didn’t care. I’m not even a whisky person but here was a confused drink, a whisky-based liqueur, that promised comfort. I was taking all the comfort I could get.

I’m not going to give you any coping tips. I’m not a psychologist and until a week ago, I didn’t even know that crying because your child is going away to boarding school was a thing. Apparently, it is going by the responses I got. What I’m still wondering is why no one talks about it. Same way no talks about crying when the milk wouldn’t  come or crying because its all they wanted to do post partum.

In the meantime, I’m beginning to take the advice given by my daughter’s new head teacher.

“Let go and let grow”

3 thoughts on “Boarding school is a lonely experience for mothers too

  1. Mama Approved

    Thanks, Irene and Pam. It does get easier. one week down and I feel better – thanks to life and its distractions and its demand to be LIVED. Now counting down to the midterm break. 4 weeks to go 🙂

  2. Irene Wambugu

    Gaal……you write so well. One wants to read the next sentence…..and the next para….well done!!
    I can imagine the emptiness you feel…..I wonder whether my mum felt the same way….av never asked her. By the second or third term, am sure it might be different…..all the best darl! Let us know when she’s back home 🙂

  3. pam

    Very good read. But ha ha ha! As for me and my brothers we were so many my parents couldn’t wait for us to go to school to cut on the budget. Take another round on me


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