Empty Nest? Prime Magazine

GRACE
BY KELLY JO MCDONNELL
My son had training wheels on his bike for a long time. Longer than most, I would say. The reasons vary—perhaps I was too soft, and would keep my hand on the back of his bike too often. I’m a single Mother, and on occasion I carry the “mother Hen” role a bit far. Or that he just seemed to be perfectly happy with them on, so I left them on, long after the neighborhood boys took theirs off. He would adamantly deny that he was ready to take them off, even when I raised them up so they weren’t really even touching the pavement. When I tried to take them off, he insisted that I hold onto the back of the bike. He didn’t think he could ride it without my hand holding it up.
But on Mother’s Day in 2008, that all changed. It’s a very specific memory, since something in my heart “dinged.” A ding that meant I’d be feeling this again, but in a different circumstance. We were heading out on a bike ride, myself, my son Hayden, and my long-time partner Cy. Cy announced to Hayden that he would be riding his bike without the training wheels; he proclaimed this as he was taking them off his little bike. I still remember Hayden looking at me with complete fear and uncertainty in his eyes. “You hold onto me, Mommy?” he pleaded. I figured perhaps it was time for me to release my grip. But I really didn’t want to. “You can do it,” I reassured, and climbed onto my bike next to him.
My baby climbed onto his bike, and stared down the driveway. I expected a wipe-out, or at least a stagger getting started and trying to turn out of the driveway, so I braced myself. Without looking back at me, he started pumping his pedals and away he rolled…successfully. Down the driveway, then he turned and continued down the road. It was there he stopped and put his foot down, looked back and exclaimed to
me, “Did you see me! I did it all by myself!” And away he went down the road, not waiting for his mother to catch up. As I watched him go, I couldn’t help but get a glimpse of things ten plus years down the road. My little Hayden was well on his way to growing up, and when he leaves for college and leaves me with my empty nest, he probably won’t look back then either. And deep down, I don’t want him to. But it makes the heart sting just the same. I knew I would have to accept that Hayden would someday ride off into his own future. Then what? How would I handle that? With grace and composure? Not sure.
Other friends of mine, most of them baby boomers, are dealing with this issue currently, the dreaded “empty nest.” I notice that some have euphoria, like a newfound freedom. And some seem completely lost and are downright lonesome. And of course, I gleaned the most from my parental birds, who
According to research by Del Webb, 26 percent of baby boomers say they felt like newlyweds when their kids were gone.
seemed to soar after me and my siblings left the nest back in the 1980s. According to research by Del Webb, 26 percent of baby boomers say they felt like newlyweds when their kids were gone. 58 percent said they are or were ready for the kids to head out of the nest. The older the boomers become, the more ready they are to clear the nest. After researching both

books and friends, I’ve come up with a few gems that I’m going to keep in mind when my time comes.
First, and the most important in my book, is to keep the magic of “Challenge” in your life. Keep doing your routine in your nest as nothing happened will reveal parenting holes. What the heck else would you like to do? Learn Yoga? Learn how to make sushi? Get a tattoo? There are a lot of opportunities out there, and you only have to hop out of the nest to find them. I was confused when my 70-something mother decided to take up kayaking just last summer. “You have a bad back!” I blurted out. “Gotta have a challenge, honey,” was her answer.
Second, keep things interesting, especially yourself. I’m amazed at my mother and father who are always trying new things, including kayaking and fly fishing. Whether it’s a hip new TV show, the latest news, or a weird fashion fad, they keep up on it. While they have lifelong friends, they also keep “younger” friends. She and my father are interesting to talk to, and everyone likes their company, no matter the age. They don’t hole themselves up in the house I grew up in. Far from it. Seems like I can never catch them at the nest…they’re always on the road looking for a new adventure. And keeping it interesting.
Third, don’t let the technology at your fingertips allow you to “hover”over your birds once they’re out of the nest. There are many options today for staying in touch with our kids—texting, email, chat, Skype or just calling them on their
cell phones. I have one baby boomer friend who seems to keep constant dibs on her daughter while she’s in college. I think it’s her full-time job. While we’ll always worry about our kids, it will send the wrong message if we seem to be nagging them all the time…via technology. Use it here and there, as it used to be “in the old days.” Being a hovering parent isn’t good in the nest, or out of it.
And lastly, just like when your children were small, remem

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ber the little things. It’s those tiny moments that keep us going. It doesn’t have to be, “Now let’s sell the house, shave our heads bald and join the circus!” Take a look back and see what really mattered once. Look good enough and you’ll see it. What adventures do you want to have? They can be little adventures, not huge ones. Were you once an inspiring writer before family life got too busy? What were you passionate about at one time? Perhaps that flame never extinguished…it’s still there waiting for you. A small, tiny gem, but a gem just the same.
It will be interesting to see if I will handle myself grace- fully with my own empty nest. I hope to. Until then, I continue to watch my growing son head out on his bike, spending more and more time with his friends. His training wheels still hang in my garage, but he doesn’t need them anymore. On occasion he’ll wave to me as I watch from the door, but mostly he rides away full throttle without a single look back.
Grace.␣

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