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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Road Trips and Empty Nests

(This article appears as a part of my weekly Practical Parenting Series for the Daily Review Atlas, a GateHouse Media Company in Monmouth, IL)


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My teenage-driving-daughter recently took off on her first cross-state trip; interstates, toll ways and all. It was after only much convincing on her end that she was allowed to go. Also, it helped tremendously that she had her grandfather on her side.

It was toilsome agreeing to let her take the trip. My heart was nervous. My mind wrestled against itself bouncing back and forth picturing worst case scenarios and then feeling ridiculous for imagining such absurd fear.

I couldn't believe the time had come so quickly! My first little bird was crying to be let out of the nest. It had always seemed to me that the day would come when I would ceremoniously instigate her first flight and then sit back with great satisfaction as I watched her soar away. This little road trip seemed more like she was jumping out before I had a chance to even prepare her for the journey.

For days before the trip I would quiz her asking: do you know how to check tire pressure, what do you do if you get a flat, and do you know where your spare tire is kept?

"No!" she said, "No. No." I became fraught as I realized we had a lot of catching up to do in a very short time. I distinctly remember thinking, "There is so much I haven't taught you."


She made the journey without any incident. She had a good time and returned home safe and sound. But something shifted between us. The reality that our time with her is fleeting and there is still so much ground to cover became a stark and uncomfortable realization.

I've spent 17 years nurturing her and making her life as comfortable as possible. I've helped her, prodded her, disciplined her and applauded her successes and efforts. We've done our very best to teach her about work ethic and the importance of honesty and bravery. Before this road trip I would have told you I was facing her big launch with confidence. Now however, while I'm sure we've covered big ideas, I wonder about the more specific facets of daily life.

For example, I don't think I've ever taught her how to choose medicine. For every ailment she has ever had I've administered the proper dosage.  Never has she had to decide what she'll need, how often and when. 

And what about banking? She'll have to take care of her account when she's on her own. Does she know how to fill out a deposit slip? Or manage money until the next payday?

Does she know who her primary care physician is and his phone number? Will she be able to manage her time without my master calendar and does she understand 100% cotton will shrink two sizes if put in the dryer? Does she know the difference between a debit and credit card and what constitutes a proper tip?

I've always taken care of these things because that's what great moms do. I've managed all the insignificant components of life so she can focus on the big important stuff. But now a time is coming when she needs to be in charge of her own details. We are just months away from sending her to college where she'll be out on her own and far away from my helpful hand.

And I'm left sitting here wondering, is she ready? A part of me is certain she will do very well and yet I'm haunted by the fact I've yet to teach her how to read an oil gauge.

But nonetheless, my oldest has reminded me that motherhood is not as it seems, one long monotonous string of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, diapers, time outs and parent teacher conferences. Each and every day of motherhood is a crescendo to the moment when your child leaves to begin his or her own life.

My goal then, as a mother, is not to cram as much activity and make as many memories as I can in the time we have together. No, my aim is to prepare them for the day they leave the nest. Because once they leave the confines of my safe haven it is time to soar. Will my bird crash or fly? Or maybe somedays she will do both, but as far as it is up to me I must do all I can to teach her to take flight. Why? Because I'm the mom and I said so! That's why!

Stephanie's current nest is a bit cramped as she is the mother bird to five squawking children ranging in age from 17 to 8 years. She is also a Parent Educator for the Monmouth-Roseville School District and blogs at stephaniesikorski.blogspot.com


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