After much deliberation, Mum and Dad have decided to sell the family home in Wales. They have already pulled out of two sales, simply because they are finding it really hard to let go.
But this time it’s happening. I know it’s happening because they asked me to drive home to collect my novels, records and trinkets from my teenage bedroom. I had to take down my New Order poster, discard my musty retro suede jacket and confront photos of ‘chubby Lynn’ after I gained a stone by comfort eating biscuit Boost bars to cope with the misery of boarding school.
It’s only now, having been reunited with the forgotten objects of my past, that I share in their sadness. I used to spend hours in my bedroom compiling mix tapes, venting angst in my diary, experimenting with make-up and sneakily smoking out the window. It’s the only place on earth that I am guaranteed an amazing night’s sleep…it’s all so comfy and familiar.
A lot of good (and some bad) times went down in that house. We spent at least 20 Christmas’ there. Mum in particular loved Christmas, it was the one time she knew all her babies, and their babies would come back to the nest and she could go into Chinese cooking overdrive.
Countless holidays have been spent squashed around the dining table eating mum’s delicious stufffed mushrooms, ginger chicken and lobster with noodles. But as each of her babies shacked up with someone else, the opportunities to gather as a whole family fragmented. Those days of 12 people crowded around the family hot pot have practically gone.
Selling the house is absolutely the right and practical thing to do but it is undoubtedly a painfully bittersweet process for mum and dad. Not only has it served as a family home but also a symbol of what they have achieved in life.
As first generation immigrants, their lives were about sacrificing their own personal happiness for the future of their children, and it all went beautifully to plan.
Helena and John Li’s selfless work ethic and resourcefulness made sure all 4 of us attended public school through scholarships and assisted places, then university before we each left home to carve out our life journeys.
The parental role evolves dramatically over the years, we all know this but it doesn’t make it any easier to prepare for emotionally. Soon after my youngest brother graduated, Mum and Dad retired and made increasingly frequent and longer visits to Hong Kong. With each return visit to the UK, one got the sense that they were happiest back in Hong Kong, a country they left as teenagers.
Now, they have settled in the tiny coastal village where my father was born 70 years ago tending their garden, visiting the daily food markets and exploring Asia, just as they had always planned.
The nest is empty. It’s time.