My 19-year-old son threw his body across the foot of my bed as I planned the next day’s to-do list. This was the last night Everett and I were going to live together. Tomorrow I was moving out of our two-bedroom condo. It was empty nesting in reverse…instead of his being pushed from the nest, it was I who pushed myself. After 15 years as a single mom and 13 years of marriage before that, I needed to live alone. I took a job as a property manager to help a friend turn her two-million-dollar estate into a vacation rental on VRBO.com. The home was on five acres in a ritzy part of Louisville, and I was to live in the carriage house across from the historic home. It had been my lifelong dream to live in a tiny house in the country yet somehow also in the city, and the opportunity fell in my lap.
“What are you doing, mom?” he said.
“Trying to decide what to do next. How to arrange the furniture. How to do the Feng Shui. Stuff like that.”
He stretched his long, lean body across my papers and magazines and pretended to yawn.
“Can I help you?” I said.
“No, your bed’s just comfortable,” he said while stretching his arms even further to cover the notebooks and magazines strewn across my bed.
“Wanna see my plans?” I said.
“Not really,” he said.
He lingered a while. We chatted a bit. It didn’t really matter what about.
And just as quickly and deliberately as he threw himself on the bed, he sat up and said, “Ok, this was fun. I’m going back to my room now. Love you…mom.” And off he went. Emphasizing my mom title was one of his ways of labeling and elevating me at the same time. That along with mommy and mother, depending on his mood.
I was going to miss this kid. I had no idea how much at the time, but I knew this was a special moment I’d never forget. This was our last official night to live together. You never know what a momentous occasion that is until you never have one like it again.
A few days later, I was unpacking boxes in the garage underneath the carriage house, surrounded by the lush wooded property that abutted Cherokee Park to my right. An original owner of the estate, Frederick Law Olmsted, was commissioned to design a park system for Louisville in 1891 that highlighted the topography unique to each sector of the city. He designed a system of interconnecting parkways to link them. To me, I was standing on sacred ground and felt like I had won the jackpot. I was excited about living on this magnificent property while ensuring my freedom to launch my book writing career and live on my own.
Suddenly, a baby bird flew in through one of the open garage doors and scrambled to perch onto something…anything. It flew toward one of the windows, grasping frantically, chirping wildly. It finally gave up and managed to land on one of the chains of the garage door opener. It perched a while, noticeably shaken…its wings fluffed and puffy…teetering a bit as it pondered what to do next.
“It’s okay,” I said in what I thought was a very encouraging voice. “You’re going to be fine. It’s going to be okay.”
It blinked at me, not quite ready to try taking off again.
“Really, it’s okay. You’ll be fine. No one’s going to hurt you. Just fly out the door. Fly that way.”
I pointed toward the open door and the trees outside. I sounded like a crazy lady. A kind and helpful one, but crazy, nonetheless.
My words didn’t work, so I decided to inch toward the bird with the hope that it would take flight. Its parents were chirping madly on a nearby tree as if to say, “Come this way. Do it this way. Don’t get near strangers.” As I moved closer, it took off, but made a wrong turn and landed on a window sill. I moved closer again, trying to help it turn toward the opening…turning back toward its freedom. And this time it did. The baby bird took off with great ceremony, out into the world, and landed on a nearby tree.
I thought at the time of the irony. Here I was, embarking on my new life, just like that bird. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it or how it would turn out, but I was sure as hell flapping my wings…even if it did look like simply emptying boxes.
Inside one box was a Mother’s Day present Everett had given me when he was about 10 years old—a Star Wars Y-Wing fighter made of mostly grey and white Legos. As I carefully held it up and turned it from side to side, admiring his handiwork and remembering the loving smile on his face when he gave it to me, I started to cry.
And then those simple tears turned into something loud and gulping with wrenching sobs. My tears mixed with the dust from the boxes, so I soon had grimy lines of brown grit running all over my face. Wiping my face with my dirty sleeves helped nothing. I was all alone, in a garage, on a gorgeous estate, feeling things I had never felt before. I was one big mess running into the house with the Y-wing in my hand. I gently placed it on the dresser and threw myself on my bed, where I remained for about an hour with intermittent sobbing.
This wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought.
In fact, this was to be the first of many such crying jags to follow in the months ahead. Empty nesting was not going to be the full-fledged fling into freedom that I thought it would be.
When Everett was approaching puberty, I began daydreaming about what it was going to be like to be free from early wake-up calls to drive him to school, juggling a full-time career and single motherhood, feeding him every day and night, endless grocery shopping, endless emergency errands for things like poster boards and colored pencils, and all the piles of his clean clothes that covered the dryer in the laundry room. I pictured the joy of dancing without his saying, “Mom, stop dancing!” as he walked toward the kitchen. I imagined it would be like me in my twenties when I left my parents’ home for the first time and had my own apartment. I saw myself being able to undress without closing my door and other niceties like the smell of candles wafting in the living room while I quietly read books and drank a glass of champagne. It was going to be heaven.
This was not to be the case.
Flying Lessons details the bittersweet truth that single moms must actually learn to fly just as much as their chicks. Transformation requires the courage to step outside of what’s safe and step into a place where you end up having more questions than answers. It’s an epic paradigm shift away from the construct in which you lived. This book is set up to help you move out of the old paradigm and into the new. I hope the experiences, practices, and lessons I share in this book will help you work through your own transformation from parenting to post-parenting with joy, humor, and love. It is true that our babies will always be our babies, we just have to learn how to stop treating them that way.
Using personal stories, cutting edge research on parenting adult sons, expert advice, and methods for creating a new relationship with your son, you’ll be able to discover your own path while your child discovers his. Flying Lessons will help you navigate the challenging transition that comes after years of being a single mom. You’ll both be able to take flight with preparation, planning, expecting the unexpected, and, with practice, spreading your wings.
A week or so after my son’s and my separation, he visited me for dinner. He probably did so more for the mom-cooked meal than the company of mom herself. But that didn’t matter. He was there, and he’d been living his own transformation day by day. He looked older.
“Mom,” he said, looking down at the plate of spaghetti and picking up his fork. “There is nothing that should be more respected than a single mom.” He took a bite. “At least the good ones, that is.”
I paused, not knowing if I should ask the obvious.
“Do you include me in that category?”
“Yes,” he said while shoving another forkful of spaghetti into his mouth. “And, thank you for that.”
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