WE deposited another son at university at the weekend.

I should be getting used to this by now. It’s the fourth time we have had to load our car up with everything an 18-year-old boy might need for living away from home.

“Can you think of anything we’ve forgotten?” I said, peering into the stuffed-full car. He promptly rushed to the kitchen to grab an essential: “Corkscrew and bottle opener,” he grinned.

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He’s been working towards this moment for the past two years and can’t wait to be living independently, more than 300 miles away from home. I know he’s not going off to fight in a war; this is a positive and life-enhancing move. And the whole point of parenting is to encourage them to fly the nest. But it still doesn’t get any easier.

Each time we’ve returned from dropping one of the boys off, our house is that little bit quieter.

There’s one less place to set at the table, one less bed to make.

As we got closer to Exeter, I couldn’t help thinking of the nursery rhyme we used to sing when they were small: “There were five in the bed and the little one said, roll over... then they’d all roll over and one fell out...”

Today, Roscoe was falling out.

There’d be just one left, but I couldn’t remember how the nursery rhyme ended: “What happens?”

I asked my husband. “Do they all get back in the bed, or what?”

He looked at me as if I was mad and said, rather wistfully, what he always says as we pulled up outside the university halls: “I wish I was starting out at university again.”

There were other parents, like us, unloading cars, carting boxes of things upstairs, along corridors and into rooms, smiling, giving each other knowing looks. As we filled fridges and kitchen cupboards, we made polite conversation, inquiring where people were from, while our teenagers looked slightly embarrassed, willing us to leave.

I noticed Roscoe’s playing cards, the ones he used to do magic tricks with, in his room: “Good idea. You can enjoy games of rummy and pontoon with your new flatmates,” I said. He rolled his eyes: “It’s for drinking games, Mum.”

After I’d made his bed up, helped him put away some clothes and put his new lamp together, he made it clear he didn’t need any of my suggestions about what he should store where. “I’ll sort it when you’re gone, Mum. When you’re gone…” he said, testily. We took the hint.

“I hope he’ll be OK,” I said, as we made our way back to our car in the rain.

Roscoe is the boy I worry about most, mainly because, on three occasions over the past 18 years, I’ve been rushed to hospital with him in an ambulance, complete with flashing lights and siren blaring.

Once, because he jumped from his bedroom window when he was sleepwalking. Another time, he was rescued from the sea in a near drowning. And then he collapsed, ending up in a high dependency unit for a week, after a near fatal asthma attack.

On top of that, he has to carry an adrenaline injection because he suffers from a potentially deadly allergy to bee and wasp stings.

None of this has ever fazed him, of course. So I try not to let it faze me either. But sometimes, just sometimes, the worry creeps in.

He sent us a photograph a few hours later, captioned ‘Plans for this evening’. It’s a picture of a mixing bowl filled with a disgusting looking liquid, with four coloured straws in it, surrounded by playing cards.

His older brothers told me the liquid is known as ‘dirty beer’.

“There’ll be beer and vodka and all sorts chucked into it.”

I wish I hadn’t known that. But I was pleased to see there were four straws: “Four straws. He has friends,” I said delighted.

Then, while passing the time on our seven-hour drive home, our youngest, who will now be the last boy at home, did an internet search on his phone to discover the last line of that nursery rhyme.

“There was one in the bed and the little one said: ‘Alone at last!’,” he announced triumphantly.

“I am going to be king of the house now.”