Fifteen years into the 21st century, the world does seem a smaller place. As humans we have traveled and relocated and merged and intermarried and have multi-ethnic children and customs. Between my husband and myself we share three countries, two ethnic backgrounds, three languages and two religions. Our children have multiple citizenships and family members across the globe. It would seem we have come a long way as a species. And yet so much has gone backward as well.
It is ironic that this advanced world of electronics that keeps us continually connected is also an age of great divides. The racial tensions in the US in the past year, the anger over more gay rights and rigid religious views continue to polarize this nation. In many ways we bemoan the fact that our children do not have much of a childhood when faced with such attitudes. I worried about the world and how it would affect my children’s worldview. They have grown up in a much more violent time. I recall the horrific tragedy at Columbine High School and the aftermath. Now in addition to fire drills and earthquake drills, my children had active shooter lock down drills at their schools. “Good Lord” I thought “what a world”. How do you raise fearless children in such a place?
And yet, this was their childhood. They did not know any other. And there was always the question of nature versus nurture. Would my children be products of their environment or of what we passed on to them?
There seems to be so much more to worry about then when I was growing up. I recall as a young child being out of the house for hours, riding my bike around the neighborhood or hanging out with friends. My mom could call out that it was time to come home and it seemed no matter where I was, I could hear that call. Now we send texts. Now there is not so much worry about the stranger walking down the street but the stranger on social media. Children have to become savvy in so many different ways. Parents urge caution but it’s the way of the world for a teen to have 500 “friends” on Facebook or Instagram and not have a care about the photos or personal information they are posting. They seem to have a false sense of security that the people in their networks mean them no harm. Sadly the news and multiple TV reports tell another story. And yet that again begs the question. How do you raise children to be cautious and yet fearless? Do you scare them senseless in an effort to keep them safe?
Electronics, the Internet and social media can open up the world to a person and blur the geographical boundaries. But it is a Pandora’s Box. The irony is that I too enjoy having this access. I can catch glimpses into my children’s lives or my friends and family so far from us. I can send a text or video chat and have an instant conversation with a loved one across the country. What message do my children get when they see me involved on my phone or the Internet? It’s that old contradictory adage; do as I say, not as I do.
In reality so much is out of our hands as parents. We can teach them as best we can but in the end it is their choices and decisions that will determine their path. I pray I have done my job. I pray they have heeded my advice. Out in the world they are on their own. I have to trust that they’ll be fine. But I’ll send them a text just to make sure.
The empty nest syndrome refers to the time when children leave home to forge a new life on their own as young adults. Some parents view this time as celebratory. Their children are launched and they can go back to being a couple and continue with their own lives. Some parents view it with dread. Their entire lives for two plus decades have been dedicated to their children’s needs and now they feel lost. Most parents probably feel a bit of both because it is time to forge a new life for themselves however happy they might feel for their children.
I think we fall into that middle category. We are about to become empty nesters for the second time. The first time our youngest left for college so in many ways we were still parenting her as she navigated the educational system and independence. Circumstance and economics brought her back home for a year and a half but now she is launching into her professional life and I suspect this time she is out for good.
Our son left home for college a decade ago and continued to stay on his own and make a very happy and successful life for himself. This gives me so much peace and gratification. But I am surprised at the mixed feelings I have for our daughter. Certainly the timing is right for her and she is ready to go, all the stars have aligned and it’s time. Yet I abruptly realized the days of her in our home are numbered. Suddenly I want to do things I have not done for years. Fold her clothes, make her lunch, tuck her into bed at night. Grab a hold of her as she rushes into her future and hang on tight. The smell of her perfume reminds me she is all grown up now but that little girl who clung to me so many times is just visible at the corner of my eye.
I’ve often wondered about that momma bird when her chicks first fly from the nest. Does she close her eyes and hope for the best? Does she nudge them ever so gently until they jump to either soar or crash to the ground? Or does she watch every step with bated breath until that baby bird flies off on her own? I think that’s what I would do. I would watch until I couldn’t see them anymore. And then I would watch some more. I send little pieces of my heart out into the world with them so they will know how loved and cherished they are.
It’s the time of year when many of my friends and acquaintances are experiencing the same thing. Children are leaving for college or jobs or adventures on their own. September has always represented new beginnings for me, hopeful things, starting over. This September will also be an ending for me. All the joy and happiness I feel for my chicks does not negate the bittersweet feelings I have. Their rooms are still next to mine, their beds are still here. This will always be their home. But they are making new homes and that is how it should be.
I get the courage of that momma bird and I admire it a lot. I only hope my own will not fail me as I watch my little bird fly into her very bright future.
Family vacations are great opportunities to introduce your children to the wider world. My family has wonderful memories of camping, flying off to distant lands to visit historic sites and museums and enjoying a myriad of food and cultures. But a vacation to the extended family is another thing altogether. Suddenly, as much as you try not to, you are thrust back into the family hierarchy you have been in all of your life. It can revert you back into that child you thought you had grown out of with all of her sweet and thorny past.
It’s a challenge to decide how much of my past life before marriage and motherhood I should share with my own children. Ideally of course, I see myself as an older, wiser person who can bestow the wisdom of my experience to my young charges. The reality is, not so much. When I was a younger person, I was in the shoes they are in today. I was finding my way, stumbling and falling, exploring and experimenting the many paths life had to offer me at that point. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but did I really want to share all of that with my kids?
Some of the choices I made back then were strong and smart and some were just downright dumb. Would it help them at all to know that I had been this vulnerable person making mistakes along the way? Granted not all were mistakes and I am proud of what I have accomplished to this point. But I wasn’t sure I wanted my kids to realize that the mother in charge right now was once a wild child in her own right.
I had the good fortune recently to travel back to my childhood home without my children. When I was younger, I never truly felt at home in this city. I was too odd and I didn’t fit any of the accepted roles that seemed to be prominent at the time. I didn’t wear the right clothes and was generally considered weird, even by those closest to me. So it should come as no surprise that I left my hometown as soon as I humanly could, went as far as I could and have never returned. Until forty years later. And it was surprisingly lovely. I found the ghost of my young self everywhere and yet she was okay. The epiphany came that as odd as I had been, I still belonged there. There is no cookie cutter human and the melting pot of personalities is what makes life so tasty.
Still many of memories that rushed back to me were ones I had not shared with my children. In fact I had forgotten quite a few of them until I revisited those places I had inhabited as a teenager. But it made me realize that I could share with them if I wanted to or not. What was most important was what I had learned about myself during my own journey thus far. Full disclosure is optional.
We are all writing our own life story as we travel through time. It is ours to keep private or to share as we choose. My children are writing their own stories too. I know some pages will be private and some they will share. They are both in an amazing place in their lives right now. I am so grateful for that. And yet I cannot wait until they have written their next chapters. I know they will be too good to miss.