A few weeks ago, I took two long car trips. The first one took me to
Ohio, where I dropped off my youngest daughter, Lillian, at college for
freshman orientation. The next week I headed to western Missouri, where
I left my next youngest daughter, Madeleine, at her freshman
orientation. Their two older sibs, Frank and Magda, had already bussed
and driven themselves back to college by the time I returned.
Like most parents, I had been thinking about this moment for many years.
However, I was not actually prepared for how it is turning out. Yes,
once again I experienced the terrible sinking feeling of driving away
and leaving my dearly beloved children to find their own way in a new
environment. Yes, the home seems quieter since they left. Yes, it is
neater, too. Yes, our food bill has dropped drastically. But still, our
“nest” does not feel quite as empty as I expected.
For one thing, my “empty nest” still contains two college-age children,
Mercy and Gregory, plus my oldest son, Theodore. The reason is that
these two “middle children” are each taking community-college programs,
at different local colleges. Though Greg and Mercy both were offered
attractive scholarships at four-year schools, our local community
colleges turned out to have options unavailable at large universities.
So before they eventually transfer to four-year colleges, Mercy has
enrolled in a two-year LPN/RN program and Gregory, who eventually wants
to become a lawyer, is finding out more about the world of law in what I
was amazed to discover is the oldest paralegal certificate program in
Theodore, who is physically handicapped, so far has needed to stay at
home. He earned his college degree mostly online, and serves as our
webmaster, as well as consulting and doing outside design projects.
Meanwhile, the children who supposedly have “left” keep popping back for
visits and college vacations, and even when they are gone, the phone
keeps ringing and the emails keep coming.
For example, during Labor Day weekend, our daughter, Magda, who had just
left two weeks ago for her last year at Columbia College, surprised us
with a visit. She picked up her sister, Mercy, and together they
traveled to Ohio to visit Lillian, our homesick youngest daughter. While
they were gone, my wife and I talked each day with her slightly older
sister, Madeleine, sharing such wisdom as we have about how to deal with
common college problems she was encountering for the first time.
This has prompted me to revise the way I have been thinking about the
stages of motherhood and fatherhood.
In my old, naive days, I used to think of it like this:
- Homeschool through age 18 or so
- Off to college and gone
Now I think of it like this:
- Babyhood-just plain fun, plus diapers, sleepless nights, and
cleaning up unmentionable messes
- Time when Mom and Dad are child’s only teachers-this passes more
quickly than you would believe
- Time for outside activities and gradually adding in outside
training (e.g., clubs, online courses, and finally dual-credit college
- Away to college (except when living at home and attending college
locally to save vitally needed $$), but still needing lots of love and
attention, not to mention care packages, fatherly wisdom, and occasional
rescue missions when cars break down, etc.
- Married and finally on their own-ish, but actually calling now for
advice about career, entrepreneurship, parenting, homeschooling, etc.
I’ve been sitting here examining my feelings about all this, and have
come to this conclusion:
I am just fine with “being here” for my children, whatever their ages.
In fact, I feel honored that they still consider our house their home.
Some day, I hope our nest will be even less empty, when we are able to
come to the door and hear happy shouts of, “Hi, Grandma and Grandpa!”
Bill Pride is the father of nine totally homeschooled children, six of
whom are now in college. The remaining three have already graduated from