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Chatterbox: One chapter of many


I stumbled on this June 2021 column, yesterday. Coincidentally timely, it’s totally worth re-reading:

Parents and recent high school graduates are having the same issue right now; something both need to remember. Emotions are running high for many parents because they are preparing for their chicks to leave the nest. It’s a long road and letting go is epic, but it’s epic for the kids too. High school seniors are torn between the fear of leaving the nest and the glory of … well … leaving the nest.

Exciting and promising as it may be, facing the unknown is also scary. Still, the only other option is something unfortunate. So, onward we go because moving on in life is what we do. Whether we’re birds, people or corn kernels, aging begins at conception and continues until death. Just as growing old is a privilege denied to many, the ability to optimize our choices is as well. It’s a process. If we’re lucky, we get to fulfill it.

Having gone through the process four times, my heart goes out to every parent who shopped for extra-long bed sheets in July and is delivering a precious offspring to a mostly unknown campus environment in August. Most of us feel the same way – but, again, let’s remember that the kids are dealing with their own fear of the unknown. They just have the benefit of some uncurbed enthusiasm and naiveté.

While we fear for their safety in their new living situation, we also concern ourselves with the new relationships they’ll forge, meeting people who might drag them down, change them from their genuine selves, create toxicity, or knock them off-course. All our fears are real but the negative energy doesn’t do anyone any good.

So, we put on our brave face, just as we did when they learned to climb stairs, got on a school bus for the first time, and took their first class trip. We hide our fear, perhaps even sadness, and talk a good talk to give them the confidence they need to carry on with the inevitability that is life’s forward motion.

We also experience the feelings of our own parenting job coming to a close: what happens to us now? Well, Chatterbox, January 12, 2012, answered that question with great laughs but it’s always worth iterating that parents are people too. We had lives before we became parents, and we’ve held on to bits of ourselves inside the vacuum of raising children. We’ll pick up where we left off with more time and greater zeal. Yes, we will, but, of course, we are parents forever … it’s the toughest job we never lose.

Life changes, sure. Instead of midnight poster board runs, we’ll get frantic calls from freshmen experiencing their first flu away from home, and even if our kids never call for help, say hello or ask how things are at home, they’ll call … for money. So, no worries, folks … we’ll hear from them.

Emotions, our emotions, their emotions ... well, those are another story. One such story, recently, with a loved one, inspired this column. It serves us well to remember that life is a wonderful, unavoidable series of cycles – I say, again, “if we’re lucky.” We’re kids; we grow up; we grow old. We become the matriarchs and patriarchs. We wear comfortable shoes to weddings and a suit or dress we didn’t buy just for the occasion. We’re seated farther from the dance floor than the bouncing young people.

As we morph into the supplement set, our kids grow up, grow older, and move forward with their careers and their life. They become men and women, new parents, the hubs of the harried family, and, finally, they wear comfortable shoes to weddings. It’s a process.

To panic, stifle, rush or mourn it is to stagnate ourselves and stymie our children, eradicating the very gift we’ve worked all our adult life to give to them, and negating that work. All lives wax and wane, like our beautiful fairy cicadae we spoke of … We work; we watch; we worry. The kids learn, grow, and move on to independence and accomplishment … one more time, if we’re lucky.

Then, the cycle repeats itself. It’s all good; if we’re granted the simple predictability of it, that’s the rainbow’s end. If we find ourselves hiding our tears as we wave our new young adults goodbye on the tarmac or in a dormitory hallway, we’ve reached our goal and brought them to theirs – success ... painful – but still success.

Eventually, they’ll do the same.

It’s a process …