August 4, 2008

Now what? Potential helicopter mom worries about fillling empty nest

My daughter wants to come back to Flint.

And once again, my copy of Dr. Spock's baby book seems to be missing the chapter that could prevent me from becoming the next helicopter parent. (You know, the parent who hovers over her child to ensure all is right with her world. You can do that to a 24-year-old, right?)

Broken promises in the workplace had started her thinking about next moves. Her boyfriend's work week was slashed from full time to 32 hours. Her company opened stores in other communities, but no work was done on what was to be her store. Weekly crisis mean no time for her to do different things.

At first, the questions revolved around the delicate balance of seeking new jobs as a newcomer in a small town without losing your present jobs.

Then, the focus switched to a new job in a state with work. Texas? Nevada? Massachusetts?

I thought the rumblings of returning to Michigan were the after effects of her recent nine-hour road trip here. Good times with family and friends filled the brief visit.

Scheduling the rest of her vacation time led her to realize she would not be here for the family reunion, Thanksgiving or Christmas. She would miss more memory-making times.

It is another memory sparked by a Facebook status update of two girls returning home from camp that helps me understand what's really happening. My daughter may live somewhere else, but Flint, Michigan, is still home.

I remember the first postcards from summer camp, the ones that plead to be picked up now, that beg to be rescued from a miserable life, that assure us her counselors are the meanest people in the whole world.

Then, I knew the proper response was to wait for the homesickness to pass. By the end of camp, this sad experience would become the best days of her life.

Now, I'm not sure if I should keep encouraging her to find a job first or invite her to crash here while searching for a job within commuting distance.

Do I listen to Spock once again, knowing I won't "spoil the child" by picking her up when she cries (silently this time) or listen to the elders who suggest strength develops when children learn to soothe themselves?

I replay a comment from yesterday's family reunion:

"It's hard for someone who doesn't come from a family like yours to understand the loneliness of being far away."

The observation slips in as we note who is at the reunion and who is not. Record numbers are set when a couple with five kids make their first appearance. But another record is set because for the first time two of my mother-in-law's grandchildren are missing because they live out-of-state. Both have called their parents, requesting reunion updates and sad that they will not be at the township hall.

In my family, I go months without seeing anyone from my family, weeks without calls, days without Facebook updates or emails. My husband calls his mother almost daily, commutes frequently with his oldest brother, and sees all of his siblings at least once a week.

Perhaps it is because since 1975 my family has been scattered across states and until 2007, all of his family lived within 20 minutes of each other.

Is it that difference in families or a fear of helicopters that allows 474 miles to separate my daughter and I?

Is it time to change my line from get a job first to what are you waiting for - an engraved invitation?

Is it past time to make room in my home to match the room in my heart?

After all, my daughter wants to come home.
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