Copyright © 1997 Henrietta W. Hay
September 5, 1997
Breaking away. Leaving Home. Freedom. Sadness. Growing up. Giving
up. What a mixed up collection of emotions September can bring to
Birds kick their young out of the nest a few weeks after they hatch
them. If the little ones can fly, they fly off to do whatever adult
birds do. If they haven't quite learned how to use their wings, they
are in major trouble.
Humans take a lot longer and are usually more compassionate before
kicking their young out, but the results are not all that different.
Parents have to stand by and watch and grind their teeth and pace the
floor and hope that the kid's wings are strong enough.
I am watching several young men moving out of the family nest this fall
and remembering what it was like for me all those years ago.
My two very independent sons left Colorado for California and college.
John left first for Stanford on the California Zephyr, by himself
because he wanted to do it that way. I stood and watched the train long
after it had ceased to be a speck on the western horizon. Several
years later his brother Dave took off by plane for Claremont, also
strictly on his own at his own insistence. I stood for an hour by the
old wire fence at Walker Field and literally pushed that plane safely
into Los Angeles.
I thought they were gone forever, but of course they weren't. You let
them go as children and they return to you as friends -- if you're
lucky and their wings are strong enough.
Leaving the nest can mean moving into an apartment down the street or
moving to another continent. Either way the kids are feeling
liberated and free. They are celebrating their freedom to live as
adults. They're scared, too, but it will be years before they will
Parents know very well that the kids have to go and you want them to
go. You have spent 20 odd years getting them ready. But the actual
break can be very painful. That beautiful tiny baby you held in your
arms just yesterday is a mature, independent person who doesn't need you
any more, or so you think on that day of parting. Don't kid yourself.
Life goes on, and so do your worries.
But there is another side to this situation involving newly hatched
adults. There are big advantages to the departure of the kids. You
are not losing children. You are losing teengers. Donald Kaul, a
Sentinel columnist, wrote, "Personally, I always looked forward to the
time when my children would leave home, largely because I knew the place
wouldn't be the same without them. What adult in his or her right mind
would choose to live in the close company of teenagers? It's like being
occupied by a foreign army." So now they've moved out. You have your
house back. Little brother or sister can finally move into the long
coveted bigger bedroom. The refrigerator has some food in it
occasionally. You can start the rest of your life.
The kids are not selfish. They leave mementos behind to keep you from
being lonely. You get lots of pets that way. Son John once acquired a
beautiful German Shepherd puppy. When he went off to college Dave
inherited Hans and they were real buddies. When Dave went off, Hans,
who was by then the size of a young horse, became my friend and reminded
me constantly of his former owners.
Two daughters of a friend of mine moved back in with their parents for
several months while they were between jobs. Each one arrived with a
kitten. When they left for their new apartments across the country they
could not take the kittens, which had, of course, become cats. Guess
who now owns two cats.
I wish them well, these young men I know, and all the other young men
and women who are breaking away this fall. They drove us nuts, but we
The ultimate revenge is grandparenthood. We can sit back for however
many years it takes, and look forward to seeing our kids face up to
being parents of teenagers. We are, of course, too polite to say, "I
told you so."