She's Leaving Home

She's Leaving Home
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Wednesday morning at five o'clock as the day begins

Silently closing her bedroom door

Leaving the note that she hoped would say more

She goes downstairs to the kitchen clutching her handkerchief

Quietly turning the backdoor key

Stepping outside, she is free.

If you’re a Baby-boomer, you’ll likely recognize those lyrics from the Beatles’ iconic album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band which was released 50 years ago and won the 1968 Grammy Award. In an album filled with original and unique work, Lennon and McCartney’s “She’s Leaving Home” was one of the most memorable and certainly its most poignant piece.

The circumstances are happier and it’s not a Wednesday, but this Friday morning at five o’clock as the day begins, our oldest daughter will leave home to spend a year on the other side of the country. Maggie, who graduated from college in May, is moving to Seattle to do a year of service work with the homeless. It’s not an easy choice that she is making. She won’t be earning much money, she’ll be far away from family and most friends, and she’ll be working with individuals who live at the margins – not a cushy proposition. By most people’s standards, she’s certainly taking the road less traveled. But that’s nothing new for her. When it came time to study abroad her junior year, Maggie picked Kathmandu over London or Paris.

Maggie’s been home from college for just two months. Any parent, at least any honest one, would likely admit that having children return home after graduation requires some adjustments. First, there’s the “stuff.” All the clothes and bedding and utensils and other sundry items your child has collected over 4 years that need to find a place … in your home.

Second, learning how to parent once again with an adult “child” in the house has its challenges and pleasures. On the one hand, it’s nice not to have to enforce a curfew or worry so much. It’s wonderful to discuss their views on the world and watch them live by their own, more fully formed values. On the other hand, old ways of communicating are hard to overcome and it’s hard work to develop new patterns. The leverage points have shifted and there are inevitable clashes while we learn yet again how to be parents.

Finally, there’s that refreshing and readily shared perspective (that comes with four years of independence, reflection and a psychology degree) of your many parenting shortcomings. At least you know all that money wasn’t wasted. And we as parents are sometimes all too quick to forget that this is not the same person who left us four years before, and that indeed, her perspective does have some merit. We continue to learn. The distance that made us appreciate each other in new lights and allowed her to become an adult now gone, we all remember why it is natural and appropriate for kids to move on.

Yet any honest parent would also be the first to say that watching your kids leave is hard. Hard for them and hard for you. The teenage years prepare you a little … when going off to college seems like exactly the right thing to do before you drive each other crazy. Still, you know then that it’s not forever and that every 3-4 months they’ll be back for an extended visit. But when they leave for another city after graduation it feels different. It feels like the end of a major chapter that elicits feelings of sadness and loss, and the beginning of another new and exciting one, full of promise and adventure. It gives full meaning to “bittersweet.”

Thirty years ago I left on my own international adventure – a three-year foreign service stint in England. I wasn’t sure how long I’d be gone, where that assignment might lead, or whether I would find my way back to Boston. And although it came with the perks of working for a high tech firm with a nice support system, salary and benefits, I remember the gut feeling I had as I approached the boarding gate bound for London. My heart sank. The only thought that ran through my head was, “What in the world am I doing?” But I also remember very clearly the support my parents gave me when I was considering that move. My father was especially proud and conveyed only encouragement for my decision. In retrospect, his positive attitude was probably what gave me the strength to take that risk. And as a result, my life was forever changed.

So now it’s my turn to play the fatherly role. When I look at our daughter, I see someone who is making this choice for all the “right” reasons. It’s not self-indulgent, not to escape the clutches of her over-controlling parents (I hope), and certainly not for personal riches. It’s to continue her journey toward living the intentional life that she seeks. To forge an adult life that will be meaningful if not straightforward, one that is joyful if not always easy, and one that is hers to claim.

So, she’s leaving home … and I feel sad. But also very proud and excited to see what the next chapter will hold. Safe travels, Mags, and Godspeed!

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