Our First Bird is Leaving the Nest

By Felicia D. Pinkney

How to cope when your child is about to graduate

T minus nine and counting …

In roughly nine months, we will welcome yet another addition to our family. And what’s one more, really, to a family of six?

We’ll greet our newest one with tears, gifts and shouts of joy, though not the usual baby presents, as this addition isn’t the usual one: Come May, when my stepson graduates from high school, we’ll have one more adult in the house, for a short while anyway.

We knew the day would come soon enough, and I started getting misty-eyed about it a year ago. But it didn’t really register until his senior pictures came in the mail: Our oldest bird is about to fly solo.

And before you know it, the other four will follow him down the path to college and life as a grown-up. Well, maybe not. Our 4-year-old, who hates being alone, has already declared that she’s never leaving home. (Somehow, I believe her. This is the child whose crib went unused; she slept with my husband and me till she was well past 2.)

Many parents look forward to an empty nest. My husband and I joke with the kids about the things we’ll do once they’ve moved out, like trade in our SUV for a two-seater. Or sell the house, buy an RV and hit the road. That way, we can explore the countryside, visit each of them — i.e. get in their business — and keep on truckin’.

But our youngest child is just a toddler, so that RV rendezvous is another 16 years away. Besides, we’re only kidding — sorta. The kids will need someplace to return to if life throws them a curveball.

And that’s just the thing about parenting: If you could, you’d go to bat to protect your children from whatever life tossed their way. Until they’re about to leave home, though, you’re not sure if they’re ready to take on the world. For instance, my concerns about my stepson’s foray into adulthood include:

  • Will he be safe away from home?
  • Is the University of Texas the right school for him? (It’s so BIG!)
  • Will he keep up his healthy eating habits or just eat pizza and potato chips every day?
  • Will he keep going to church or abandon spirituality altogether?
  • Will he bring home a nice girl?
  • Will he remember all those “teaching moments” we’ve tried to sneak in?

Throughout his young life, my stepson has gotten an earful from everyone in his camp — his mother, father, aunt, uncle, boss and me — about everything under the sun, from women to money to manhood. We can’t fight his battles for him, but we can at least prepare him for life’s inevitable twists and turns.

My husband is uber-confident that he’ll do well and that we’ve all done what we were supposed to do to get him ready. Plus, my husband says, it’s time for the boy to man up.

So, over the next nine months we’ll do some fine-tuning to what’s already a finished project. That includes plying our college-bound kid with more life lessons and the same words of wisdom that have been recycled from generation to generation. (Apparently, our parents and grandparents all had the same teacher. )

We’ve told him many times, “if you’re gonna do a job, do it right” and to “take the initiative.”

When I was a teen, I remember doing my chores as quickly as possible just to get them over with — and to get my parents off my back. Today’s kids are no different.

When my husband handed over lawn-care duties to him, my stepson made a royal mess of the yard, at least according to his dad, who has been mowing yards since he was 7. Grass clippings were everywhere, patches of grass were seemingly ignored, and his spirited attempt to design concentric circles on the lawn was quickly shot down by my husband.

Now, we’re often surprised to look out and find the lawn freshly mowed — and it looks like it was done by a professional.

Also, we can tell he’s taken to heart our advice to “lead by example.”

We pretty much assumed that our 17-year-old would have nothing in common with his 6-, 4- and 1-year-old sisters. They don’t watch the same TV programs, and surely their giggling and raucous play annoys him. But they’ve bonded over art, which is one of his passions. We’ve found him and the older two girls sitting at the kitchen table doing projects. He gladly obliges when they want to learn how to draw monkeys, shoes or anything else.

And our teen has proved that he “owns up to his responsibilities” and that he knows “a little hard work won’t kill him.”

In June, he asked his dad to invest in his airbrush venture. Before forking over the funds, my husband had him write a short business plan and outline his payment terms. Because he wasn’t getting many hours at his summer job, we didn’t pester our budding entrepreneur for payment, nor did we expect to see that money ever again.

About two weeks ago, he caught us off guard and said, “Here’s your money — all of it.” Then he handed his Dad a fat wad of cash — $191, wrapped in a red rubber band.

Apparently, he had saved up money from his job and done other odd jobs around the neighborhood to fund his business and pay off his loan.

This is the child, my husband says, who as a baby would run around in circles all the time — at home, at the neighborhood track, pretty much anywhere.

Seems to me he’s walking a straight line now, and we don’t have a thing to be worried about.

This story was originally published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 2007.