Empty Nest Prepping

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, Mom…grace.


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.










Balance Awareness Week..who cares? Nowadays…me.

There’s national days for everything nowadays…there’s even a National Bloody Mary day …and a National Hangover Day, go figure.  But there’s an awareness week coming up that I do give a hoot about…at least I do now. If you’d asked me last year if I had heard of “Balance Awareness Week” from Sept. 15th-Sept. 21st…I would have cocked my head like an owl. Who? What?

But if you’d ask me today…I’m aware. Fully, 100% aware, unfortunately. The kind of awareness that only comes when you’re personally suffering from a disease, or have someone close to you suffer.

National Balance Awareness Week’s goal is to raise awareness for those folks who have difficulty maintaining balance due to vestibular disorders. Meniere’s Disease is one of these disorders…a bad one. No cure. And lo and behold, that’s the one I got diagnosed with this past spring. And yes, I had to google it. Who can remember that name, anyway? Meniere’s? It’s hard to spell…..

Any vestibular disorder sucks. Period. To add insult to injury, people can’t tell you have it. It’s an invisible disease. Always there, but never acknowledged.  Well, until you have a bad vertigo episode. And if you have one in public, then everyone knows. At least, they  suspect maybe you’ve been drinking too much.  And that’s how I explain it to people when they ask what it feels like. Remember those fun bed spins after a long night of partying in the 1980’s? And what happens after the spins? That’s what it feels like. Sometimes everyday. And without the fun beforehand.

I’ve been lucky. All my vertigo episodes were at home. And I was by myself. Nothing like getting in touch with oneself while sitting in the bathroom all night feeling nauseous. Worshiping the porcelain Gods, we used to call it. (Except again, without the fun beforehand)

Like many, I keep my daily routine as normal as I can. I’m on a low sodium diet. Can only have #1 cup of coffee a day…Tragic. (and no caffeine after that cup). I still work out (although some yoga poses are out of the question now), I still bike, walk, do weights,  kayak, and yes, still swim. Although I have to be mindful at all times of being “thrown off”. My balance is comprised now -it just is. And will always be. My inner ear fluid doesn’t work like it’s supposed to. And the bonus with Meniere’s is, you usually lose your hearing in at least one ear-it’s already happened with my right. But hey, I wear aids that bounce the hearing to the other normal ear, so that’s something. Some have it both ears, so I’m grateful. Still vain as hell, though. I matched the aids to my hair so you can’t see them. Hey…baby steps. large_A-balancing-act

I’m so fired up about finding more about this disease, that I started a podcast called The Meniere’s Puzzle Podcast (it’s on spotify, breaker, radio public, google podcasts, and pocketcasts) Still waiting for the giant itunes/apple to pick it up…all in good time. Hopefully this will help me and the listeners put some of the pieces together.

So…this year, I’ll be sharing some stories and listening to other’s during Balance Awareness Week. After all, there’s 69 million of us that suffer somehow from some vestibular-something-or-other. We’ll band together. Hey….perhaps that will help us all stay upright.



Messy desk = Creative Mind? I hope so….

It is said that a messy desk can encourage creative thinking….Well, then my son must be another Picasso. Seriously. (the picture below was snapped this morning)

I do try and be “open” to creative flow and thinking. I’m a writer myself…and take the creative vibe very seriously. But I also have a stern, Swedish organization gene from my Mother (thank God), which makes clutter and dis-organization make me sweat. A little mess is OK…pic below is something else. In fact, below makes me think of my late father, who was a legend in his own right…Hall of Fame Iowa Girls B.B. Coach, Teacher, Outdoorsman…but by God, he did have a messy desk and den. That was legendary, too. Although he’s been gone 7 years now…Hayden remembers him well and fondly.

When asked to clean it up, my almost 17-year-old son informed me that Grandpa used to have a messy desk. And he always got a lot done.

Well played, Kid. Well played.


“Monsters are real…and sometimes they win” (Stephen King, The Loft Wordplay, May 11th, 2019)

Ever since I cracked open my first paperback copy of Carrie around 1980….I was a loyal King reader. (Carrie, was published in 1974, however I didn’t read it until I was around 10 years old. A respectable age to begin reading Stephen King, or so my older brother thought)

Reading was, and still is, one of my favorite hobbies. I’ve read hundreds of different authors and genres. But King has remained one of my favorites through the years. The reason is simple. He is one hell of a storyteller.

So when I read that King was coming to Minneapolis as part of The Loft Wordplay event this weekend, I figured this was my chance to get a glimpse of the man behind the stories. He isn’t an easy author to meet.

I headed out early to get a good spot in front of the stage. King was to take the stage, along with moderator, Benjamin Percy, at 10:00 a.m. I was skipping my high school son’s baseball game that morning. When I asked if he was OK with Mom skipping this one game he simply replied….”Mom…you have to see the King.” (yep, my son is a King fan, too-especially with the resurgence of the I.T. films)

I wasn’t the only one thinking of arriving early…and by 9:00 a.m. there was already a sizeable crowd in front of the stage. When he took the stage promptly at 10:00 a.m., the crowd was so large, it wrapped around and blocked some of the other tents and exhibitors.

My immediate take on King. He’s an even better storyteller in person. And he has the best laugh. (think classic Vincent Price-sounding. Cool yet slightly creepy) Mr. King did not disappoint. I ended up missing my sons base hit to right. (they lost 4-0) But hey, I got to see a storyteller legend. And tonight my son and I are having a King movie marathon, starting with I.T.   Long live the King.

Top Fav King Quotes:

If you can read, you can write. And if you can read and write, you can own the f***ing world.

I don’t know when I’ll get an idea, but I’ll be charmed by it…and I’ll think…I really ought to write about it.

My wife is a CNN junkie. I am a Price is Right junkie. You get a certain age man…you have to watch the Price is Right.

I like to write to write about people who are sort of falling apart.

Sometimes (ideas) they fall right through…and sometimes…they just stick in the filter

(King explaining his idea about writing Finders Keepers, a crime novel published in 2015) I’m not sure this is what people want from me…it’s about a cop and a serial killer..it’s not supernatural, and I remember very clearly walking and stopping and saying, ‘listen you dumb s***. You don’t exactly need to pay the mortgage this month. You’re doing OK. Why are you worried about whether or not you please people. This isn’t how you got here…you please yourself before you please everybody else.

The Outsider is going to be an HBO series next year (King’s latest book, published in 2018)

I even got a shirt, that say’s “Minnesota Nice”

Did you see the story this morning about the clown handing out candy? He was an old guy, does it every year on his birthday…everybody got scared and worried…and I thought ‘I did that.’ (and laughs-the crowd loved it)

I love an idea, and I say to myself, I want to write it down, and see what happens

I do my best thinking when I’m walking or lying in bed, drifting off to sleep.

(after Ben asks about a sequel to Salem’s Lot) Jesus…it’s like Led Zeppelin…or Lynyrd Skynyrd…Play Free Bird! But it’s great….

Monsters are real…and sometimes they win.