life after the birds fly the coop

Archive for the month “August, 2013”

He’s a bit of a mystery to me…


“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time…”

~Abraham Lincoln


And then there were two… 

 Tonight marks the beginning of the next phase of my life: the “empty nest.”  In several ways I dislike that phrase.  For one, I think it’s overused.  I don’t ever want to lump my lifestyle into one category.  Similarly, I’ve never cared for “stay-at-home mom,” “soccer mom,” or even “working mother.”  I’ve been all three, and never have those descriptions fit my actual life. I worked when I was “at home.”  I was “at home” and still a mom when I worked, and my kids played soccer but I never did.

 James, our youngest of three, is back to school for year number two at Georgia Tech. He says he’s not coming back home…though I’ve heard that before.  I hate to admit it, but by the time the third child leaves home, the ceremony is a little anti-climactic.  His on-campus apartment hadn’t been cleaned yet when we got the keys and brought his necessities up the elevator in one very large orange bin. Because it was still dusty with the aftermath of the previous renters (yuck!), we urged him not to unpack until things were cleaned.  After a quick wipe down of his closet, we declared it good enough to hang his shirts.

A kiss and a hug, or two, later, our goodbyes said outside the music hall where he’ll spend about 50 hours this week preparing for the upcoming marching band/drum line/football season,  Brian and I were off, heading to lunch on our own and then back home to our quiet house.

 Though I haven’t shed a tear yet, it’s not to say I won’t miss James.  I’ll miss his sweet, easy and ever-grateful smile.  He doesn’t complain, he mostly does what we ask him to do, and he seems forever content…but he doesn’t talk much.  So sometimes we wonder. I often don’t know what’s going on in that crazy-smart brain of his. I should say I mostly don’t know…

 My quiet, third-born, music loving child has always marched to the beat of his own drum. No pun intended.  As long as he had food in his stomach, music in his head, or a book in his hand, he was happy.  I often called him my “plant child” because all I really had to do was feed and water him.  Seriously.

He’s not been without his challenges, however.  When he was 7 years old, we were driving home from some friends’ cabin in Kentucky. I turned around in our mini-van to check on the kids and found him in the middle of a grand mal seizure. Yes, just let your imagination take over from there…I thought he was dying. I’d never witnessed such a horrible thing, and this came out of nowhere. None of us in the van will ever forget that life-altering moment. After an ambulance ride to the nearest emergency room, several hours in the hospital, then getting back in the car and driving 3 more terrifying hours back to Ohio, we took him straight to Children’s Hospital, where a good friend of ours, who happened to be a pediatric radiologist, met us, did a CAT scan, cleared him, and sent us home. 

 Through the course of events that followed, we learned James had a condition called benign rolandic epilepsy. It often afflicts boys between the ages of 7 and adolescence. It’s a mysterious disease.  There is no known cause and you can’t die from it.  You just have petite seizures in your sleep (chalk up about 100 nights glued to a baby monitor), may have larger seizures, grand mal included, and your parents worry and won’t let you sleep overnight anywhere.  But you eventually outgrow it.  He did, thank God, at age 14.

 His neurologist had him undergo a 24-hour EEG test before declaring him “cured”.  They plugged a bazillion electrodes into his head, through masses of thick curls, and he carried around a monitor, with the attached electrodes, for 24 hours to see if there was any “activity” in his brain.  On the way back to the doctor’s office the next day for the results, I asked him if he felt weird walking around with these electrodes in his hair.  He chuckled (softly – he’s never loud) and said, “No. Nobody knows me here.” I swear he would have gone to school “plugged in” if I told him he had to.  

 That’s part of the mystery of James. I don’t know many adolescent boys so virtually “unaffected” by their surroundings. James goes through his days quietly and thoughtfully, always kind, always patient, always thinking. I’d give a million dollars to hear what plays in his mind.

But who of us ever really knows our children?  We think we do, and then they surprise us.  Sometimes with great and happy things, and other times with surprises we wish we’d never known.  That is one of the mysteries of motherhood.  We birth them, we teach them the best we know how, we let them go, and we observe.  And yes, we wonder.

I wonder what he’ll do after college.  I wonder if he’ll have children and what kind of father he’ll be.  I wonder what his children will be like.  And yes, I wonder what he wonders about.

 Do you have a child that is a beautiful mystery to you? In what ways do you feel you know them the best?



A lesson from my daughter

“This above all: to thine own self be true.”  ~ William Shakespeare

Last night we moved Lauren’s things into her new bedroom, in her new townhouse, for her new adventure in grad school at the University of Georgia. I don’t have to name the emotions I felt, but I’m going to anyway: excitement and pride for the hard work she’s put into building her future, happiness knowing she’s exactly where she needs and wants to be, and sadness knowing the past year, her living at home, is over.  No more bike rides on the Greenway.  No more walking the dogs together.  No more chats in her bedroom or happy hours before dinner.  It’s also a time for reflection.

I have a painful memory from Lauren’s early childhood.  She was maybe two years old and we were getting dressed for church on Easter Sunday.  I had ready for her a brightly colored dress and matching hat I’d ordered from Hannah Anderson.  Because it was spring in Minnesota, I also had tights to keep her legs warm.

Though I was excited to dress up my little girl, I couldn’t ignore the anxiety brewing inside me.  Even back then I knew Lauren didn’t like dresses.  Or tights, for that matter.  Yet I bought them all anyway. I felt a storm brewing as I took her freshly pressed dress from the closet.  She took one look at it and ran away, into the closet, slamming the door behind her.

With extreme agitation and mounting anxiety, I went in search of my husband.  This was going to be a two-man job.  He saw the dress in my hand, the look on my face, and immediately understood.  

Though she cried, screamed, and kicked while I cried, screamed, and probably kicked too, we managed to get her dressed.  The beauty and mystery that is Easter, though, never did rise in our home that year. At the end of the day, Brian and I vowed we would NEVER put our daughter through that agony again.  If she wasn’t going to be a girly-girl, we needed to let it go and let her be.

Twenty-three years later, she is still that same t-shirt and jeans kind of girl.  She didn’t waver.  She didn’t outgrow her “phase.”  She didn’t learn to love ribbons, bows, nail polish, or makeup.  Instead, she learned to love the outdoors, painting, drawing, hiking, and quenching her insatiable thirst for knowledge.

What I learned from Lauren that day is that we can never be who are are not.  She knew at the age of two what some of us are still learning.

As a young mother, the best parenting book I read was Whole Child/Whole Parent by Polly Berrien Berends.  The gist of Berends’ parenting philosophy is that our children do not belong to us.  They are a gift from God, belong to Him, and our job is simply to raise them with unconditional love.  As she says in her book, ‘The gain is not the having of children; it is the discovery of love and how to be loving.”

Lauren lives by her own rules.  She follows her own “True North.”  She is one of the most authentic people I know.  She taught me how to love and also how to be true to thine own self.

What lessons have you learned from your daughter?  Please share.

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