Empty House, Full Mind

Views of life from the empty nest

Archive for the category “chidren”

LANDING THE HELICOPTER and LOVING MY SON

He’s had an easy life, but his life hasn’t been easy.

Do I contradict myself?  Not really.  While we gave him every bit of support, love, and encouragement two parents could give, our son has had challenges in his 19 years that, for better or worse, complicated things.  They may be no more or less difficult than what other children go through, but somehow we believed he was in need of…more.  More of us, more attention, more patience, more protection.  

My son, 3 years old, and me
He woke up one morning at 20 months old with a crossed eye.  Besides my initial terror and fear, there was this horrible thought, that he would be “that” kid, the one with the crossed eye, the one who the other kids taunted and teased.  Fortunately he was young enough and was treated quickly enough, with surgery and eye patches and glasses, that by the time the other kids were old enough to be that mean, he looked fine…with his glasses on. It was hard when he went swimming, or to sleepovers. After 2 more surgeries, he now, at 19, has beautiful green eyes that are nearly 100% straight. 

For me, that morning, seeing his adorable face looking so different, was a game-changer.  It wasn’t until his most recent surgery this past May that I realized how overwhelmed I was by it all, that morning long ago – how my heart broke for him, and for me, and how I wanted to make things better, sooner, right away.


Then, at the age of 8, he was diagnosed with ADHD.  We sort of knew that was coming, but now we had to deal with it, with medication and tutors, teacher conferences and fights about homework.  Between his natural tendency towards inertia (much like his mother) and his obsession with all things visual, be it television, computer, or video games (something like his father), school was really, really tough for him. 

But he had a lot of friends.  And that made him really happy.  And since it made him happy, we encouraged them to be at our house, and so they did…growing boys who laughed and fought and ate and slept on floors and sofas.  We love those boys.  Maybe, just maybe we should have said no sometimes, sent the boys home, especially when his grades were poor or his attitude was bad.  

In high school, he found a level of commitment that he’d never shown before while playing football.  Finally, in his senior year, he was starting on the offensive line.  He was doing it, and doing it so well!  What a thrill it was to watch him play, to have him come home, stinky and tired and excited about the game that week.  And what a heartbreak it was when, after a couple of weeks of pain in his leg, we found out that he had a stress fracture in his femur.  He was out for the remainder of the season.  
My o-lineman and me 2009


Now, in college, he’s had a huge awakening of sorts.  He has finally, finally! figured out that he can study, and learn, and take a test and get a good grade.  Most importantly, it DOES matter to him if he succeeds.  Freshman year, he was so anxious, so tied up in figuring things out, that he never really found his people, never really found a place for himself at college.  

So now he wants to come home, continue college here, near his friends and family, in a place where he feels safe and understood, with people who have loved him for a long time.  We understand this, we really do.  But we won’t let him come home…not yet.

Our son is an incredible young man, on the verge of figuring it all out – for himself.  Where I think we went wrong while raising him was to figure out too much for him, and not let him fall and hit the ground without us cushioning the blow.  We weren’t helicopter parents…we were Sikorsky military copters, eagle-eyed and ready to do battle.  Yes, he was stubborn and careless about his schoolwork, but we were stubborn and careless about the amount of energy we put into helping him, about never letting him pick himself  up without us lending a hand.  

My son and husband, 2010
So we’re insisting he finish this year, even though he’s not very happy there, because we know that what he’s learned over the past few months is just the beginning of him learning about how to be a man, and how to be confident, and how to find his way in the world.  

We know he can do it…now let’s hope we can.

MY FATHER, THE PAPA MY CHILDREN LOVED

One of the best things about being a mom has been the experience of watching  my parents be grandparents.  This was especially true of my father, who died four years ago this week – October 16, 2007 – at the far too young age of 67.  To watch him being the fun, loving, kind grandfather that he was really born to be was enormously gratifying, and kind of a reconciliation.

My father – 1977

My father would never have been voted father of the year, not by a long shot – though his intentions were good, his behavior…not so much.  I always knew that he loved me, though he sometimes had a hard time showing it as I grew from a little girl to a teenager, when my behavior and demeanor drastically changed after a cross country move at the age of 14.  I do remember being enchanted by him when I was a child – he was my big, strong, handsome daddy who would swoop me up in his arms and calm my fears when I had nightmares, who would watch Batman with me and take me with him on Saturdays to get the car washed.  But my father was difficult. He had very little good luck and even less common sense, and it caught up with him.  For all his charm, his great sense of humor, his knack for being the consummate party host, be it backyard barbecues or all night poker games, my father never really understood what it meant to be responsible for anything…and that was his downfall.  He was a dreamer, a gambler, immune to anyone’s advice or opinions – and having lost his own father when he was 26, he’d somehow also lost the ability to see the writing on the wall, no matter how big the font may have been.


But then, my children were born.


My father became Papa, and he was the most loving and involved grandfather I could have asked for.  Though he still stumbled through his life, continuing to veer off course instead of following the road he was on, when he was with my children, all of that was forgotten – and he got such joy from being part of their lives as they grew up.  He went to their sporting events, cheering loudly (very loudly!), and spent countless evenings at our house for dinner, and, for a time when things were bad for him, even lived with us for a while. My son and my father had a particularly special bond, beginning with their shared birthday, and culminating, at the end of his life, with the thrill my father, a huge football fan,  got from watching my son play football in high school.  He gave so much love to my kids, and they loved him back so purely – because none of his shortcomings, his imperfections, or the mistakes he made had any bearing on them at all.  With them, he could just be Papa, with no real responsibility or accountability – and so they got the best of him.

Adam and Papa – 2001

The greatest part, though, was I ultimately got the best of him too.  Now that I was a mother, I could relate to him in a different way – and he finally could see me not as his “darlin’ daughter,” as he sometimes called me, but as a grown woman taking care of my family.  He grew to respect me in a way he never had before, and I learned to love him despite whatever pain he might have caused me as I was growing up. The similarities in our personalities became more apparent as I grew older, and I could hear my father in my voice on more than a few occasions…as could my husband!  One of the things I learned when I became a parent was how easy it is to make mistakes, to make bad choices, to miss the moment because I was too busy looking at the big picture.  I began to understand my father in a way I never had before, and we became closer, and – more importantly – comfortable with each other.


When my father was diagnosed with Lymphoma at 65, it was the beginning of  a difficult three years – for him, of course, but for all of us who loved him, too.  The disease took away what he prized the most – his physical strength and independence – and beat him up badly, as cancer does.  We did everything we could to help him, to be there for him, to love him – and losing him was by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever been through.  Because in the end, though I knew I’d told him I loved him so many times, and shown him in so many ways, it just didn’t seem like I’d done enough. What I’ve come to realize is that’s what it means to miss someone you love after they die.  You never feel as though you’re finished with them, but there’s no more time. I miss him every day.

My father – 2005


I’m not a very spiritual person, but every so often I have a dream about my father that seems so real, it’s as if he’s come to visit me in my sleep, and it affects me so profoundly…and though I’m sad, I’m also very grateful.  Because, even if it’s only in a dream, I get to see him and hear his voice again – and to let him know just how much he is still with me, with all of us.

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