Mrs E. and I were at Eastwood Mall yesterday when we ran into friends we have not seen in a few years. They were asking us about our son, Adam and daughter, Mackenzie. We explained that Adam had graduated college and was working. We told them how Mackenzie is in college in Pittsburgh, studying to be a nurse. These friends then asked, “How do you like being empty nesters?” I replied, “I guess I didn’t notice as I’ve been so busy being the doorman for our two cats this winter.”
It got me to thinking about life with my kids. First thing you need to know about having children is that there are two kinds of mothers. The first kind of mother is the type I was lucky enough to marry, they are the type that tells the pediatrician that they don’t want to know the sex of the child. This is the kind of mother that is adventurous, realizes the world is a mysterious wonder and is willing to be spontaneous in life. The type that need to know the child’s sex are the type that to me don’t enjoy life as much because they have less of a sense of wonderment. They are people who need to control way too much in life, and are way too uptight to ride the roller coaster of life. I could be wrong but that’s the way I see it. After all, is it really that important whether you know if you should paint the baby’s room blue or pink? Paint it yellow and get the worlds biggest surprise rush that I did in the delivery room!
I thought my duty as a parent was to establish a code of morals with my children as young as possible. I thought the best way to do that was to teach them about the idea of social justice and the struggle for it. I dragged my kids to picket lines for area workers who were on strike, who were unfairly fired or for safety and environmental issues. Mrs. E. thought I was taking them to such events before they could really understand the purpose of them. I reasoned that I informed the kids with lots of information as to why we needed to support each action, we attended. I realized Mrs. E. was right, that I started them too young when Mackenzie asked me, “Hey dad when are we going to do one of those parades again?” Everything in it’s time I learned.
Speaking of time, I was trying to remember, when was the time I realized my kids were separating from the nest. When had I realized they had grown their own wings, and starting to tune us out as parents? It was the summer before Adam was a senior in high school and Mac would have been a freshman. It was the last weekend before school started and Mrs E. and I realized we hadn’t gone anywhere as a family all summer. It was decided we’d take a short trip to the, Linesville, PA. Spillway to feed the fish. It’s a place my kids had marveled at when they were younger. The marvel is that there are so many fish gathered in one place it is called, “The place where the ducks walk on the fish.”
We all hopped in the minivan and we were off. Before we had left the driveway Mrs. E. was asleep (as happens quite often when she is in the passenger seat). Along the back roads trip I pointed out various historical buildings and events that had happened in the area. I got no response from either child. I looked in the rear view mirror to see that Mac had on her CD’s headphones and was reading the lyrical sheet of the CD. Adam had on headphones to a Gameboy and was conquering some new level of whatever the latest game was. I realized only the driver was looking around at the scenery and I’d better instead keep my eyes on the road.We arrived at the spillway and Mrs E. awoke and both kids removed their headphones and they all asked collectively, “Why are we stopped?” We exited the van, fed the fish and piled back into the van. I turned and looked into the rear seat to see each child put on first their seat belts, then their headphones. Before we left the parking lot, Mrs. E. was back visiting dreamland.
I realized on that trip that my children had grown to the point where from now on they would be tuning their parents out more and more. All we could hope for as parents was that we had taught them enough already so that they could be creative, self-reliant, caring and lead as good a life as possible. I felt so alone on the trip home that I put on an Allman Brothers CD and sang along to, “Ramblin’ Man.”
Last weekend, Mac came home from college for the weekend. Mrs. E. and I drove her back to college on Sunday. On the way back to Pittsburgh, Mac read some things to us from one of her textbooks. The book was about environmental racism. It was a subject she was excited about learning but also wanted our take on. Comments she said made me realize she had actually listened to things her parents tried to teach her about when she was younger. I was glad she still wanted her parents input, but I was glad she was getting backup from professors to show her that her parents had been on the right track. She is working very hard at college because she wants to be a nurse to help others. That attitude makes her parents happy because it what she can best do to, “Honor her mother and father.”
Adam has also chosen to “honor his mother and father.” He has done that for a long time by being a kind person. Adam has taken a job for a company that takes care of travel and other needs for autistic and other special needs children. The job makes him happy because he feels like he is doing something worthwhile for others. In reality he isn’t making much money so I’m not sure he can afford to keep doing the job long-term. Then again, Adam has never been one who is into money. He is now learning some of the harsh realities of life involve money. Things like bills for; gas, electric, water, phone, rent and insurance. Time is flying by fast and my birds have flown the nest but have grown strong wings.
I could say more but this empty nester has a cat that is screaming to be let outside.
Allman Brothers: Ramblin’ Man (sing along with me)
Graduation day is tough for adults. They go to the ceremony as parents. They come home as contemporaries. After twenty-two years of child-rearing, they are unemployed. ~ Erma Bombeck