There’s a little, empty bird nest under my deck. It’s not always this way…in the spring it’s bustling with little baby robins, constantly peeping for food. Mom robin bird is obviously (and understandably) crabby, constantly squawking and dipping and diving to the nest. But now…it’s quiet. Empty. Made me think about my own nest, and an article I wrote some years ago when my son was actually a kid for PRIME Magazine. He had just gotten his training wheels off his bike. Now he’s a Junior in High School, and the only wheels he’s interested in are the one’s on his car.
Now my empty nest vision is much closer than it was when I wrote this first article. And you know what? It’s OK. I always remember what my Dad used to say…”Mother Nature has it figured out. Pay Attention.” Now, not saying that Mother Nature has all the correct answers with HUMAN parenting…but I think she’s got it figured it out in most.
My job is to get my little robin bird ready to leave the nest. Both physically and financially (if possible, on the money one). He’s learning, slowly but surely, how to cook on his own, do his own laundry, do chores, hold down jobs in the summer and during the holiday season while he plays a sport, and more. OK, I’ve been an epic failure on the lesson of cleaning his own room and making his own bed. I’ve hounded him for all the years of his life on this one…doesn’t seem to be helping. Just a pre-warning to his freshman year college room mate. Some battle’s you win…some you don’t.
I always make sure he knows he’s loved. He can always come to “visit” the nest, but I know the visits will get far and few between as his life moves forward. And again, it’s OK. That’s what’s supposed to happen. I don’t see the baby robin birds coming to hound mama robin bird at her nest…in fact, I think Mama bird is long gone, enjoying and traveling. On to a different scene, perhaps.
So….let’s see if I can practice what I preached a few years ago…How graceful will I be with my empty nest? Time will tell. But I can already see Hayden taking off in his car to go places…not often does he look back. Nor should he. I’ve taught him to look forward at all times, if possible. Even though it squeezes my heart every time.
Grace & the Empty Nest
Cover Story: Publication: PRIME Magazine (Mar/April)
Writer: 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 on to 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 on to 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 10 plus years down the road. My little Hayden was well on his way to growing up, and when he left for college and left 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 seemed to soar after me and my siblings left the nest back in the 1980’s. According to research by Del Webb, 26% of baby boomers say they feel like newlyweds when their kids were gone. 58% 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 you 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, 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, or the latest news, or a weird fashion fad, they keep up on it. While they have life-long 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…their 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 hover parent isn’t good in the nest, or out of it.
And lastly, just like when your children were small, remember 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 your 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 gracefully 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.