The Days

Kathryn Streeter Empty Nest

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The days keep coming, rhythmic as the chugging washing machine.

They arrive with their frantic needs, mournful unanswerable questions.

They arrive with deep sighs and requests beating in dark corners.

They close with storytelling,

Little running feet and laughter.

One can’t stop any of it.


You lift your eyes and there is a bird across the street perched on the topmost point of the firehouse bell-tower. Why does she just sit there? What does she see? You need to follow the way of this mama-bird, to get up high above the trees so that you can know where you’ve been and where you’re going.

Truth is, the longer you’ve been a mom the clearer are your failures. The blessing of perspective allows painful truths to emerge that often you picked at blades of grass instead of getting up high. You’ve regarded yourself as a good mom, yet as you gain distance from the early days of babies and toddlers, preschool and elementary school, from this place above the trees you can finally see. Like that mama-bird sitting up high in the tree, you stand now as a humble mom of 17-years better able to discern where you’ve been and where you’re going.

Your husband cautions you to take the long view as you mother teens, but you wish you had taken the long view from the beginning. When motherhood began in 1998, the popular parenting manual among your friends having kids helped them bring order to their newborn’s schedule. But your baby daughter refused to neatly follow the espoused principles. Instead of making adjustments, you persevered. It wasn’t noble. It was stubborn. You refused to be defeated.

This is where you’ve been, day after day. Sometimes the victory is to admit defeat and choose another approach—you would have done well to choose this route.

You wish now that you had comforted your firstborn more when she was crying. In retrospect, you missed the season of straightforward consoling because comforting a teenager is more complex.

Today, you practice more-grace-less-legalism approach because you’re taking the long view. In no way do you want your kids to think that their behavior changes your love for them. Though your toddlers may have resisted naptime because they couldn’t settle down, they were enough. Though your teens may head directly to their room after school and shut their door to you, they are enough. Just as they are.

This is where you’re going, in real time, day after day rhythmic as a chugging washing machine chanting: just as they are, just as they are.

Deep down you’ve always known that motherhood is mostly shooting in the dark. You also knew intellectually that there wasn’t an equation for raising perfect kids, but sometimes you were flush with confidence in your particular way of doing things.

One day you had an epiphany that you weren’t just a teacher in this mom-child relationship. Motherhood had automatically enrolled you as her student, painful as it is beautiful. Certainly this is one of life’s most unexpected gifts, the self-improvement that stems from raising children. Deeper in is where the substance lies, the less straightforward but relentless shaping and sharpening.

It is easy to lose your way when the days bring you more mournful, unanswerable questions. But this is where you’re going.

The teen years promise personal growth for you because this season has a way of shaking foundations. Nothing is guaranteed. Your inability to change your mothering tactics to keep pace with their growth into young adults revealed you were not truly listening. It’s more than taking in the words, you learned. It’s getting up high like the mama-bird to fully hear pleas or complaints in their fullest context. Teens don’t act out in a vacuum. They long to be understood.

This is where you’re going each day, where the days are filled with deep sighs and requests beating in dark corners.

You’ve gradually come to appreciate you held not just yourself, but your kids to unrealistic standards. When your then-toddler son abruptly and decisively stopped eating his veggies you needed his palate to change quickly. In today’s parenting climate, a child who won’t consume greens reflected poorly on you—and you panicked. When he entered his tweens you finally consulted an older mom of three grown sons for advice. She questioned your plan to levy a $1 fine each time he refused greens, pointing to her husband in his mid-70’s who still doesn’t eat his. She gently encouraged you to choose your battles carefully. Perhaps your relationship with your budding young man was far more important, she counseled.

Looking back, it was critical that you listened. In fact, a weight fell off your shoulders that day and you gave yourself permission to stop measuring your mothering success by your son’s diet. You let go of an expectation that had held you hostage and inhibited your pure enjoyment of him.

This is where you’re going because the days include the beauty of running feet and laughter. You perceive now how you nearly shut that out.

Very slowly, you’ve learned to not beat yourself up when you’ve fallen short of various expectations, themselves evidence that you were making motherhood more about yourself than the raw acceptance and enjoyment of your kids.

This is where you’re going, day by day with teens and tomorrow with adult children who are working and possibly raising their own families.

Stepping out of the way to allow your kids organically to select their areas of interest to pursue isn’t easy. Projecting your aspirations on your kids through directing their enrichment activities early on could have hurt more than helped. At the end of the day, you know your kids will work harder and be happier if they are chasing their own dreams, not yours.

On their own, your daughter fell in love with the French language and culture and your other child is an exceptional fencer. You can’t take any credit because you couldn’t possibly have micro-managed these developments. And it’s better this way.

One can’t stop the days, but since they end with storytelling, you need to let the kids tell their own stories.

Like that mama-bird, humbly revel from your view up high. It’s a place you’ve finally found where you can fully see.

Now stay.


About the Author

Kathryn Streeter

Freelance writer, traveler, mom and wife. about people and places. Highly mobile--she's moved 22 times in 23 married years.

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