Life with Liz: Stepping out of the nest
“To raise a child who is comfortable enough to leave you means you’ve done your job.” I saw that quote years ago, either on Pinterest, or in the sign shop at the shore, or shared on a friend’s Facebook page. I don’t remember exactly where, and I haven’t been able to track down one attributable source, but it was a quote that seared its way into my heart and my brain.
I remember simultaneously thinking “yes, that is exactly what I need to do to be a good parent,” and “Oh my God no, my kids are never ever leaving me, ever.” Finding that balance has been the quintessential struggle of parenting for me. Well, that and trying to figure out wherever that smell is coming from, because something always seems to smell, be it the car, the bedrooms, the refrigerator, the kids, etc.
I consoled myself with the fact that “the leaving” was years in the future. I assumed it would happen somewhere between when they turned 18 and oh, maybe, 30. I’ve lulled myself into thinking that they may follow in my own footsteps of going away to college for a few years, and then coming back home and basically never leaving again. I’ve also convinced myself that having kids when I was just a little bit older was a brilliant idea, because I’ll be ready to retire at the same time they’re ready to become independent and I’ll have the freedom to follow them just about anywhere. (I haven’t shared this plan with them, yet. I’m sure they will love it.)
At the same time, I’ve been plotting all this, I’ve been sending them off to after-school programs, day camps, extracurricular activities, any type of activity or program that helps foster their independence. I’ve been dispatching them to grocery stores with a fist full of money and a grocery list. I’ve been letting them cook dinner by themselves and have recently thrown laundry on their to-do list, trying to make them self-sufficient for the inevitable leaving, and yet trying to keep the stove from catching on fire or the washing machine from overflowing.
I really felt like we’d struck a pretty good balance between preparing them to cut the apron strings by the time they were adults and a childhood that has allowed them to be children. Then, they turned the tables on me. At the ripe old ages of 13 and 11, the boys came home from their annual week at Boy Scout camp and had announcements to make. A informed me that he can be a “CIT” (Counselor in Training) next year, and he’d like to do that, “all summer long!” G asked me if any of the remaining camps that he’s scheduled for this summer are “sleep-away camps” and if they weren’t, could they be? And next year, can I please sign him up for some more “sleep-away camps?”
I was stunned. One whole week was bad enough! How could they possibly want to be away from me all summer long? I was quick to point out that working as a counselor was a far cry from the luxurious life of a camper, and A wouldn’t be surrounded by his best friends and several other dads, including his own, that spend the week at camp with them. He quickly informed me that several of his friends were also considering becoming CITs, and I think the lack of adult leadership was actually a selling point.
I thought I knew how to play G. “I could sign you up for some basketball overnight camps,” I said, “but you wouldn’t know anyone there.” I also should haven known better that to try to outthink G. “Mom,” he said, with an eyeroll, “I’m sure that (here he listed several friends) would go if I go, and if not, I’d just make new friends.” That’s G. The unknown is as much of a draw as the activity itself.
Not to be left out, I could see E’s brain synapses firing. Ever one to capitalize on a situation, she immediately figured out that she’d be a “lonely only” for as long as she could ship them out for and have not only our undivided attention, but she’d benefit from our missing the boys and overcompensating with her. It may have been a little too easy to talk me into an extra stop at Rita’s or having ice cream for dinner while the boys were away last week. She was wholly in favor of the boys’ decision to spend next summer “away.”
Within hours of arriving back home from this year’s adventure, the three of them seemed to have planned out next summer in its entirety, and for two of them, next summer’s plans did not include me. This wasn’t supposed to happen for another five to 10 years! I may have done my job in preparing them to leave the nest, but no one told me that I could be left with a mostly empty nest this soon. I must admit, as our grocery bill continues to climb and as they get smellier, hairier and moodier, it’s hard not to appreciate a little bit more space, but to be gone for weeks at a time?
I don’t suppose I helped matters when I welcomed them home by sending them off for a good shower and a nap while I got busy unpacking their boxes and doing their weeks’ worth of laundry. I also had a slow cooker of G’s favorite pulled pork ready and waiting for them. I’m only a tiny bit ashamed of my blatant attempt to bribe them with all the comforts of home. I think of it as establishing a precedent.
No matter where they wander, or where they roam, home will be here for them, full of clean sheets and home-cooked dinners. After we all feast on our favorite foods and they share their tales of adventure, they’re still going to be expected to wash their dishes and clean up the kitchen.
Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.