I’m a guy.   I like my space.   I like my stuff.   I love my wife.

For the first time in thirty three years I have them all back to myself.

EmilyDropOffYes, the Dropoff at school was successful and it appears our adorable daughter will merge into the flow of college like a good driver getting onto the freeway.  The road is clear (we like her college), and she’s a very responsible driver.  Worst case she has three brothers and two parents for GPS.

Our empty nest is, of course, relative.  In today’s connected frenzy there is no real solitude (nor would I want that), but JoAnn, my lovely wife, no longer has to feel the compulsion to cook, or be a waitress, or monitor every coming and going in our daughter’s life.

Our grown sons, bless their male souls, have found a wonderful rhythm with us.  They check in, say hello, give brief updates, and then move along their way.  This is fine for me, as it’s my style of communication.  If they want to “get deep”, like talk about their problems or something, I hand the phone to their mom.  They know what type of advice I give best, and they know that their mom will listen for much longer.  That’s the beauty of this thing.

REGJEGLagunaPundits, our friends who have been Empty Nesters for at least one semester, tell us that we have plenty to keep us occupied.  We’ve got a wedding in October and, someday… we’ll be grandparents.  Ironically, as much as JoAnn feels sadness about having this empty nest, she’s not particularly interested in having an infant or toddlers running around right now either.  Even more ironically, I kind of like the idea of grandchildren.  It’s really about finding the new balance.

For thirty-three years we have been parents.  What were once discussions about music, movies, adventure and dreams were partially hijacked by discussions about our kids, their teachers, their sports, their friends… and that was perfectly fine.  In fact, empty nest or not, our conversations are still dominated by issues related to our roles as parents and that’s OK, we love what our children bring to our lives.

JetskiSuddenly, however, we’re back to us.  My career has morphed, and JoAnn’s continues.  For the first time, though, I’ve heard her talking about the possibility of a change – of diversifying her interests and looking at some new things.  Maybe she’d be willing to collaborate with me on my next project… “THIS, I think, is what being Empty Nesters is about!”

It’s day three, and already the possibilities are limitless.  Anyone want to go Jet-skiing?

JealousChildI have a friend who feels that when her little brother was born, he “stole” all the love and affection that her parents had previously been giving to her.

I suspect that this is a common feeling among first-born children.  In this case, my friend dedicated herself to giving her own first-born preferential treatment and, by treating that child differently, created an imbalance in the family; ultimately recreating the situation she had complained about in her childhood.  This would either cause her other children to feel less loved or neglected, or her first-born to become so sensitized and aware of her favor that anything short of extraordinary attention would feel like neglect.  This situation clearly wasn’t going to lead to measured and equal loving throughout the family.

Ironically, this friend — whose child is now old enough to go to therapy with her — explained to us recently that she was shocked to hear that he always felt separate from his siblings.  Because he was always treated differently, he didn’t feel like “part of the family.”

The effort she had made to single out her son had been successful. Unfortunately, it backfired.  Not only did he not feel he was getting anything special; he actually believed he was being separated from the others, and was, therefore, not equal.

BoysAdmireBabyEmJoAnn and I believe in “100% Maximum Love.”  Typically, the group who qualifies includes our children, our siblings (and their families), our parents, our grandparents, and a few whacky individuals who are “family” (phony aunts and uncles, etc.)

Recipients of maximum love have no need to compete for “favorite” – because everyone is the favorite.  When asked by one of our children, “Who do you love more?”  we reply, “We love you all equally — the maximum.”  When we’re asked, “Who is your favorite?” We say, “You are all our favorites.”

GradKidsMaximum love really simplifies family life and allows us parents to completely avoid that whole “How much do you love me?” battle.  When we asked our third son, Coby, if he knew how much his mom and dad loved him.   He said “ “You love me as big as the sky.”

He was absolutely right.

BackyardShotgunsBefore we get to the Newlywed Thing… As many of you know, our youngest child, and only daughter, is leaving for college tomorrow.  This photo represents how the males in our family feel about that.  Note that their mother is not in the picture because she objected to being in any photograph that included guns – even when they were PROP weapons borrowed for effect in this photo.

Now for the Newlywed thing.

BlogLite21JoAnn and I got married at age 24.  Our first child was born when we were 26, and we’ve had a child in our house for 33 years since his birth.  This weekend, when we drop Emily at college, we’ll pick up our married, no live-in kids, status at the 3 year mark.

I’m good with that.

EmSleeps_5_00My adorable wife and I are sending our youngest, and last, child off to college next week.  She is our fourth, and her departure comes with some significance.  We started our family in 1980 and added new members in ’83, ‘89, and ‘95 respectively.  Our oldest child is thirty-three, which means that JoAnn and I have had kids in our house for more than half of our lives.

We’re empty nesters all right.  We’ve got a wonderful home that, over the last years has experienced a decrease in noise, hunger, and homework.

Here we are, on the brink of the abyss.

I’m feeling a renewed freedom.  If we want to go to the movies, we can.  If we want to lounge around, we will.  If we feel like traveling, we’ll pack our bags.  For JoAnn, however, there is a significant void.  Intellectually it’s quite easy for her to fill in the hole.  She has a career, but she’s always carried that load.  She texts with our daughter all day – but she won’t need to wait up anymore.  She worries about cooking dinner – now she won’t, but none of this is relief she can feel quite yet.  Frankly, we’re just living in Suckville.

BlogLite08I figure we’ll be living here for a month or so.  They say “One door closes and another opens.” To me, this just means there’s going to be a draft in our house for a while.  There’s no question that we’re going to miss Emily’s morning and afternoon rituals – breakfast on the run, homework on the couch.  We’ll miss the sudden dance performances, and conversation re-enactments.  We’ll miss the drama of the drama, and we’ll miss the sweet late night, no-holds-barred conversations.  I’ll miss the moments when our wonderful daughter stands next to my wife, brilliantly and happily reflecting the wonderful woman who has taught her, so perfectly, how to be an amazing and sweet grownup girl.  Yes, it’s going be Suckville.

EHGJGGBeachAfter a while though, with constant doses of Skype, and love from our other three children – all sons who were raised to protect and honor their mother – we will find the new normal.  We will begin to ignore the void, or fill it with a new type of busy that will include the addition of a new daughter (in the upcoming wedding of our second son), the ongoing growth of our oldest, and the remarkable exploits of our third.  We will be reminded of the luck we have in our friendships, and the strength we find in each other.  We will find comfort in the good fortune we have in being able to send our daughter to a fine school, even when it hurts.  But that’s our job.

Before we know it, she will be home for her brother’s October wedding and after that, it will suddenly be Thanksgiving, The Holidays, and the New Year.

As much as I’d like to think that I’m tough and my daughter is just moving into this new phase, I have to say that I’ll be joining JoAnn as we pass through Suckville.  I just hope the New Normal is right around the bend.

ImageParenting is a long process, and there’s no question that mistakes get made along the way.  Sometimes we just react without thinking.  Sometimes we just don’t want to be bothered with thinking things through.  Sometimes we act selfishly.

Parents are people, too.

Once, after staying up late to finish an assignment, Ben asked if he could sleep late instead of going to school early the next morning.  Usually his carpool picks him up at 7:30 but, in a bid to sleep late, he explained that his first period class was a “joke” (Phys. Ed. – working out in the weight room) and that he had no other classes until 10 A.M.

My reaction was very unsympathetic: “You have a commitment!” “Is school a “joke” to you?” “You don’t just miss school because you’re too tired to get out of bed!”

I felt pretty good about being firm.

JoAnn thought I had been unnecessarily rigid.  (Yes – this information was shared with me in one of those mirroring moments!)

That’s how I went to sleep.

The following morning, when I was up preparing to meet my obligations by going to work, Benjy too was getting his stuff together and waiting for his carpool.  Here he was, being the good son that I expected him to be, and here I was, the ogre father, forcing him to go to school and attend what he considered a boring and unnecessary class followed by sitting for two periods in study hall until his next class came along.  I knew it was the right thing for him, but I couldn’t help having sympathy for the sleepy lug before me.

The best I could do was encourage him to make the most of the study hall and tell him that I loved him.  I also made a point of telling him that I really appreciated the fact that he was going to school early and that undoubtedly something good would happen to him as a result of being at school early.  It was the best I could hope for.

He went quietly off to school, and we never discussed the matter again.  It was just another day for him, one that started a little earlier than he would have liked.  I vowed to be a little more careful about being a knee-jerk naysayer.

But how do you balance your feelings of guilt with your need to maintain a position of strength or authority?  It’s tough; and a lot depends on the age of your child.

Younger children usually don’t even know we’ve made a mistake.  They see us as a force of nature, like rain.  Today we made them go to school; tomorrow we may let them have ice cream.  Our power can’t be controlled, just lived with and prepared for.  If we’ve hurt their feelings, we apologize for hurting them, but we also need to explain clearly what motivated our behavior so that the lesson is not lost on them.

For example, Benjy and Coby are five years apart in age, which means that there was a period of time when Benjy, and all of us, had to be very patient with Coby because he wanted to be noticed.  One night, I’d had it, and I yelled at Coby for interrupting Benjy.  At the time, Coby’s storytelling skills needed a little practice.  He’d tell a five-minute story and it would go nowhere.  After a few of those stories we had a tendency to tune out.  This particular evening, Coby was trying to interrupt so that he could tell yet another story when I reached the end of my rope.

I looked at him and stated firmly, “Be quiet!” and Coby dissolved into tears.  Then, we both had a period of cooling off.  Later that evening I went into his room and calmly explained to him why I had gotten so angry.  We agreed that he would try to listen more and talk less and we sealed our agreement with a kiss.  My father had been very tough on me, but, what I will always remember about him was that he would apologize or explain himself to me after most of his outbursts.

Admitting we might have been wrong, or actually being wrong is something that occurs more often as our children get older.  This is because, as they grow up, their knowledge and communication skills improve.  As a result, our communication with them becomes more sophisticated.  Issues that used to be black and white have new angles added to them.  Absolute bedtimes become curfews with fifteen-minute grace periods.  Answers like “no” become “we’ll see.”

We go with our gut and believe in it.  When we’re making a minimum of ten decisions a day, we’re going to second-guess a few of them and we might actually regret one or two (in a decade).  Sometimes trying to compensate for those mistakes out of regret just compounds them.

We’ve learned not to change our decision-making criteria today because of a bad choice we made yesterday.  That’s like anticipating an umpire who called a bad strike will call a ball the next time the pitcher throws one straight down the middle.  As much as we might hope that all wrongs can be righted, it doesn’t happen that way.  The batter just gets to take advantage of that one, bad call.

Everybody makes mistakes.  We just have to keep moving on.  The best we can do, and this always applies, is love our kids and learn from our mistakes.

MISHAPS AND MILESTONES

BandagedKneeYesterday I had the pleasure of sitting next to an adorable two-year-old named Amelia and her loving parents.  Proactively, her mom pointed out that the small cuts Amelia had on her upper lip and nose were the result of a fall that had occurred that morning “Wouldn’t you know it,” she said, “the day of a big party, she falls and cuts her lip.”

As a father of four, I would know it.

I’d also know that this poorly timed little incident was going to be the first of many.  I can’t count how many times one of our kids appeared in a school play or musical performance with a cast on their arm, a patch on their eye, or a band-aid on their face.  I also recall that when I was about six, I decided to cut my own hair just before a similarly public appearance.

I joked with Amelia’s mom that this wouldn’t be the last of these little events and that the timing of these lessons is rarely ideal, but I was also reminded that each of these escalating things – these scraped knuckles, these first rides on a two-wheeler, these early broken hearts, are all important events along the way to adulthood.

Em's GraduationOur daughter, Emily, will be going off to college in a few weeks.  She’s ridden a two-wheeler, she’s scraped her knee and banged her head.  She’s had her heart broken, and we’ve been there to help her through it all.  Yesterday a good friend sent us an excellent article from the Huff Post written by Marshall P. Duke, a professor at Emory University, who has been watching parents drop their “children” off at college for forty-three years.  What is most satisfying in the article is the recognition that dropping your child at college is just another one of those ongoing milestones that make up our lives as children and parents.  It’s part of the natural flow of things – as much a part as their first step, their first words, and their first opinion.  It’s what’s supposed to happen and, as such, it’s something to be embraced as yet another rung on the way up the ladder.  It’s a really good article and I’ve put a link at the end of this posting.

BikeRidingKidSo, just as sure that I am that Amelia and her parents will be experiencing, surviving, and learning from each of the minor mishaps and major milestones that lie ahead of them, I am equally sure that JoAnn and I will enjoy watching and sharing the new and different challenges that will come with Emily’s independence.  Additionally, we will cheer for her and enjoy her success as she conquers them.  You see, all of those little mishaps, heartbreaks, and disappointments have prepared her (and us) for this – and that’s what they’re supposed to do.

Link to the article:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marshall-p-duke/starting-college-a-guide-_b_3670553.html?utm_hp_ref=tw

Justicehttp://greatmomentsinparenting.com/moments/a-simple-trick-one-dividesone-chooses/