Thursday, August 30, 2012

Leaving the Nest

Dear Young Adult,

Sit down a second from unpacking all your stuff and think about what I'm telling you.  Then remember that I told it to you in about 25 years.  If I'm still around, give me a call and tell me if I was right.  I'm pretty sure you'll know by then that I at least have some insight that you don't have right at the moment.

I think if you chart the pace of the lives of parents, it would look like an inverted "V".  Our lives reach a fever pitch once our kids start school and the socialization process really begins.  Car pools, soccer/dance/football practice, birthday parties, helping with homework, mending the first broken hearts, dealing with the consequences of kids fumbling to try and become adults, just to list a few of the things all parents face.  Some of us, of course, go through even more.  If you suffer, so do we.  All of the hubbub that goes with raising you comes at the very time when most adults are at the height of their earning potential.  We end up juggling a lot during those years.  I think any parent who tells you they don't at least at some point think longingly of the day that they have an empty nest is either in extreme denial or fibbing.  But, kind of like women who say they are anxious for menopause, usually when they are fighting cramps and hormonal-based migraines, when the time finally comes there are costs to it that they failed to take into account when curled up with a heating pad across their abdomen.  Hopefully on those overly hectic days when your parents were the most overwhelmed they didn't do what mine tended to do and think out loud about what it is going to be like and all the things they plan on doing, but even still you probably picked up on those moments now and again.  You're bright.  Therefore, you may be a little confused right now if things seem a little strained as you get ready to cut the cord.

Well, let me tell you why your parents are acting like they are.  I have to tell you off the top, half of it is you.  Search your feelings, and you'll know it's true (bonus points if you figure that reference out).  You're more excited than you are scared, but you're probably a little scared in there somewhere too so tensions are running a little high and you're being a handful without realizing it.  You're parents are probably more the opposite.  They are excited for you - really, they are - but they know all the dangers out in the world that you have yet to face, and they are about to watch you walk out straight into it.  I look back at my first years out on my own and sort of marvel that I'm around to tell this tale.  The world hasn't gotten kinder and gentler in the quarter century since.  Everything about us as parents gears us to protect our young, and sending them out into the cold, cruel world seems counter to that process.  Yet, it's the natural order of things and we all know that.  So, we're conflicted.  Be patient with us.

There are other things your parents are struggling with as they watch you leave home that maybe they aren't even able to come to grips with yet.  I tend to over-analyze everything, so I've spent some time considering my own feelings and concluded that part of the issue is that it's personally a little scary for us too.  On lots of levels.  We've spent years talking to our spouses - whether we're still married to them or not - about who is taking what kid where, about this bill or that one. Now we've got to interact with that person without out all that white noise in the background.  Can we do it?  Are we going to discover that we have nothing left between us?  But there is also that realization that we're beginning to slide down the far side of that upside down V.  And one thing we know and that you're about to begin to find out, time flies like a rocket.  Some of the parents out there are, as they grapple with your leaving, trying to care for your aging grandparents.  Your folks are looking at their parents and seeing their own future.  Your leaving home is the realization that they just took one step closer to it.  Personally, I had an uncle die of a heart attack at around the age I am now.  Even though I'm not related to him by blood, trust me, I think about the story of him standing in the bathroom getting ready for work when it just struck with no warning every time I get a weird tingle I can't account for.  Our own mortality looms large right about now - it's why it's called a mid-life crisis.

Finally, you'll probably act like an insensitive ingrate at times.  I can say this to you because you're not my child.  Your own parents will probably just take the hurt in silence.  Maybe not, but sometimes it's easier to hear the truth from strangers.  You'll be a jerk and not even know it.  There's no ill intent really, and your parents are probably going to know that, but you're so anxious to release yourself from the shackles (which we parents think of as protective angel wings enfolding you), that you'll trample on our egos and feelings.  We did it too, we were all young and dumb once.  But, here's my challenge to you:  be better than we were at your age.  Try and remember all the weirdness that your leaving engenders in your parents and be sensitive to it.  Because, truth be told, I know it's great to be out on your own and all, but when the chips are down, it's us that you're going to call.  Don't try and set that bridge on fire.  You're going to need it.

So, my advice to you is this:  let your mother help you unpack your crap, even if she makes you crazy and puts things where they don't belong.  Move them later.  For now, smile and bear it.  Listen to your dad's lecture about locking doors and windows.  Don't shut them out of the process of helping you getting established on your own because they may irritate you.  I shunned my own parents from it, and it wasn't until just the other day that I came face-to-face with how much that must have hurt them.  And the worst part is that I can't atone for that now or even acknowledge it.    That's not a feeling I want for you.  Answer them when they call and don't, above all, be an ass about it.  It's not a joke to us.  You are not a joke to us.  Call them sometimes first.  And not just when you need something.  You are our children and we love you.  We weren't perfect when we were raising you, and we're not perfect now, but we're what you've got, so work with us.

Love and best wishes for an amazingly wonderful life out on your own,

A Parent

Some young adults installing a waterbed, circa about a million years ago

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