Tom and Alice would quite happily get on a train to go back to university, weighed down by clean washing, toasters and new hats. But when asked if they'd like a lift and a few groceries to restock bare kitchen cupboards, of course they say yes. And we are delighted to oblige, although I have to admit I still feel too young to be the parent of two university students, and do all I can not to fall into the classic routine of asking inappropriate questions/commenting on the state of the bedroom/kitchen/bathroom when we arrive.
Family life changes all the time, but goodness me the departure to university and the fact/possibility of not seeing your offspring for up to eleven weeks is a big one. Tom and Alice rack up just two or three nights a term back at home; even though they are pretty close (same city, different institutions) they were clear that we all had to behave as if they'd gone to universities miles away, which is absoutely understandable. As time goes by, Simon and I are finding that it gets easier with each departure, and that we simply get used to them not being here, although it helps enormously to know that they are both having a really good time.
At the end of term they return in need of sleep, a full fridge and a washing-machine, fill all available space, strew shoes everywhere, gradually re-adjust to home (sooooo boring), and it's as though they've never been away. Then they are back in the jug agane. The return journey is filled with talk of what they will be doing, what they are looking forward to - and I wouldn't miss that time in the car for the sake of an afternoon at home. We drop them off with rice and pasta and spices and pastes, carefully avoid any mention of domestic arrangements, realise after five minutes that we are no longer needed, and leave. It's a quieter journey back, but it doesn't take long to separate ourselves geographically and emotionally. I'd be more worried if it did, having watched Alice go through a very unhappy first university experience.
It still feels a little odd to have twins somewhere else other than home, but this is what growing up and moving on is all about. It's what you want to happen - you want to get them launched into the world, going off and seeing us and home from afar. We feel a great sense of achievement in getting them this far without any major mishaps (always thankful for this, having seen what can and does go wrong) and we are having to separate ourselves from them, just as much as they are separating from us. It's life, it's the way it goes, it's not a surprise, but when it does happen it makes you realise you have crossed a significant line, and that it's time to look forward. And it's always lovely to see them when we do.
Plus, for a little while, we still have one at home.