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as the bird leaves the nest
by stuart zitin

My little girl, born only just a moment ago, is now eighteen years old. Rachel can vote, kill or be killed for her country, be tried as an adult in court, serve alcohol, but still she cannot legally drink it. Watching her grow up, supporting her, being in awe of her, being incredibly frustrated with her, all of it has been amazingly rewarding. Now it’s time to really let go. It seems so easy. She’ll be going to college this fall, and I am so proud of her - who she has become, as well as what she has achieved.

She is smart, funny, compassionate, articulate, motivated, and gorgeous, among other fabulous character traits. She has worked part-time at the same job since she was sixteen, and they really appreciate her there. She has close friends and an active social life, and she has consistently challenged herself in school and done well. So I got no complaints.

Raising my two children with my wife has been the pinnacle of my life. I suspect it will always rank as my finest accomplishment. We laugh and love a lot, argue some, yell a little, cry occasionally, and play and travel well together. We are all so different from one another. All along I have been constantly changing, adapting, detaching. I’ve learned lots about myself and others, and I have considered my fathering, with all the mistakes and pitfalls, to be “good enough.” I had an excellent role model in my now deceased father, who was nurturing, strong, and well loved. Although I grew up in a loving, supportive family, I have deepened my emotional intelligence as an adult, due in no small part to my wife and daughter and son. I have learned to cry sometimes and to ask for help on occasion, and even to ask directions, albeit seldom.

Now my oldest is a young adult leaving the nest. She already knows how to fly, so although my job is probably never done, my work seems to be about—yup, letting go. I can do that. My wife Maureen is all about the joy and pain of it. She expects to sob uncontrollably in the beginning. In my mind, I got it handled. It is so right, so now, it’s all good. Maureen says I’ll be one of those guys who’s fine till the first night, when I’ll break down and dissolve in a puddle of feelings. I have a friend who was also confident and then felt himself “crack wide open” (his words) after his first-born left home. He describes being on the verge of a nervous breakdown, with all kinds of unexpected feelings coming up. It caught him by surprise and took him a while to recover.

So what’s my lesson here? Well, it hasn’t happened yet, so I don’t rightly know. I feel certain that Rachel has all the tools she needs to make a go of it. I firmly believe my job as a parent is not to “empower” my children, but rather to focus their awareness on the power inherent in them. I want them to be exposed to all the nuances of life—the stress as well as the ease, and to know that they can embrace all of it. In the paraphrased words of the eminent physician and child specialist, one of my heroes, T. Berry Brazelton, our job is not to determine what our children will be, but to find out who they are. My hope and confidence are bolstered when I look at who Rachel is. We’ll give her a small bottle of mace to protect herself, a few useless words of advice, and send her off. She’ll be just fine.

The question is how will I be? I’ll still have my thirteen-year-old boy, Ari, at home, so I’ll have to try to keep it somewhat together. Sensitive and loving as he is, we’re likely to be crying together, maybe moping around in a daze. We’ll get over it. What comes up for me? First of all, I’m aging. I feel it, I look it. As I am fond of saying, we all grow older at exactly the same rate. Since having children, however, time seems to have accelerated tremendously. The feeling of holding newborn Rachel in my arms—the awe, the profound love —it is all so sharp in my memory, as if only yesterday. I am the same person, only forever changed.

When we are empty nesters, Maureen and I will make a new life for ourselves. We’ll have a freedom we will relish, and a sadness that will pass. We'll travel, plan retirement, God willing and the Republican creek don’t rise and engulf us all. Hopefully we’ll become grandparents, spoiling the wee ones and then returning them to their parents. Our lives will continue to have the meaning that we have always searched for. We will begin a new phase, the final phase. We will grow old together, even grayer than we are now, hopefully vital, if a bit bent over. we will count on this next generation to instill a feeling of overwhelming pride in our hearts. We will rest on our laurels. We’ll have to clean the house by ourselves, but it won’t get dirty as quickly. We’ll buy less groceries, cook simpler meals. We’ll sit around with our friends and talk about our kids—not what they’ve become, but who they are. And it will be good.

Did I mention how proud I am of this young woman whom I cradled in my arms just yesterday, or was it the day before?

 

Stuart Zitin lives in Asheville with his wife of 23 years, and his two children and a dog. He has gratefully been attending a men’s group here for 11 years, and he values a great sense of humor. He is a general contractor with 33 years of experience in building and remodeling, and a partner in Building for Life, L.L.C. He is dedicated to affordable housing and to promoting a healthy home and environmentally sound construction practices.
[ stuartzitin@charter.net ]

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