Flying Out of the Nest

When Your Teenager Grows Up Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week I’m sharing about my oldest turning eighteen.

I dreamt of this day, but somehow it always seemed such a long way off. During the diaper and stroller days, and the sticking band-aids on boo boos (and imaginary boo boos), and reassuring during the awkward braces stage, it’s hard to believe that one day it may all be over.

And it is. Last weekend my oldest child turned eighteen.

She’s got a year of university behind her already, and she’s working full-time to earn a pile of money this semester, all with the goal of moving out next September. My baby is flying out of the nest.

People say that time goes by so fast the older you get, but I don’t feel as if the last eighteen years have been a whirlwind. Instead, it’s more that I forget what life was like before she entered the world. When Rebecca was born, who I am today was born, too. I became a Mom.

To be a mom is to have your heart permanently walk around outside your body. You never dreamed that you could love someone this much, but when you look into those little eyes you realize that you are staring into the rest of your life. Certainly that means that you notice threats where you never noticed them before; I spent four years in downtown Toronto teaching Rebecca the mantra: “Cars are bigger than Beccas!”, so that she would learn to be careful on the streets. Every stranger is a potential abductor. Kitchen utensils are ominous.

Yet it is not the fear that I remember as much as it is the wonder of discovery. Having a child makes you see the beauty of the world again. A child loves those pesky seagulls—they fly when you run towards them. They laugh at squirrels. They’re fascinated by dandelions, and worms, and rainbows. Now, wherever I go, I’m always a little melancholy if I’m by myself, because I think, “Rebecca would love this.”

This world has become bigger because it is a place where she can explore, and discover, and leave her mark. And, that, I think, is also what is most exciting about this period of our lives. As she leaves home, I’m excited to see what she will choose to be, what she will choose to do, whom she will choose to love. I struggled with that for a time in her teen years; she is so much like me—she looks like me, and she acts so much like me—that I found myself taking her successes and her disappointments a little too personally, as if I were the one reliving teenagehood (though the very thought of reliving those years gives me the willies).

But we’ve both grown up recently. I have many regrets, but I can’t change that now. I did the best I could do, and she did the rest. She is who she is, and I am who I am. She doesn’t need someone to tell her what to do anymore; she just needs a cheerleader, and a confidante, and hopefully someone who will show up on her doorstep with food every now and then.

As this is published we’ll be in an airplane together, heading down to Mexico for a week to celebrate her adulthood. I considered doing something profound—bringing photo albums and journals so that we could mark this moment with the gravity it deserves. But I left them at home. Instead, we’re bringing snorkel gear. We’ll discover new things together, and we’ll laugh, and reminisce. And yet forever I will know that my heart is still there, outside my body, destined never to return.

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My daughter Rebecca writes her own blog where she talks about growing up and navigating the Christian life as a young adult. Check out Life as a Dare!


  1. My daughter is little more than 4 years from that age. As I write this, she is on a day trip to district chorus festival with a few other kids and their director. Not alone, but as close as she needs to be at 14. She is my flight-ready girl, though. Me, but a little taller. She wants no instruction or assistance, she manages her money, she knows how to stand up for herself, but does a better job defending others.

    I can’t wait to watch her fly, but at the same time, I feel the need to nurture as far as she’ll allow it (not much). Some days, I want to push her out of the nest, others, I want to clip her wings so she’ll have to stay.

    Motherhood. No one can tell you how it feels and have it sink in. The emotional attachment only grows greater as they grow older, but I think that’s when we learn how far our hearts can really expand.
    Amy recently posted…Tales of a Business Traveler’s Wife: JealousyMy Profile

  2. Congratulations, Shiela! And happy birthday to Rebecca. Such a bittersweet joy… but mostly joy 😀

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  3. Even though the childhood stage is over, there is so much more to look forward to with your daughter! My mom and I have gotten much closer since I turned 18, more like friends than mother-daughter. I ask her advice, call her just to chat, and I really treasure the time we get to spend together. It’s not the ending, it’s the beginning of a new and awesome chapter in your relationship!
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  4. Stephanie says:

    Oh, the tears. My oldest daughter will be 15 this summer. It may sound funny, but I am just now starting to realize how much she means to me. I have always loved her fiercely, but there’s something about being the mother to a “child”–one you have to remind to do everything, to bathe, the cook for, to educate, on and on–to being the mother of a nearly grown person who will soon leave your nest. It’s like suddenly I want to cling a little. Instead of looking forward to a moment’s peace from her incessant talking, now I realize that someday soon that chatterbox will be talking to me over a phone rather than in our home.
    So yes, congratulations to you and have fun in Mexico. Make those memories. I am sure it will be a time you will never forget.

  5. This is beautiful. (And good grief, are you trying to make me have a nervous breakdown?!)

    Hope y’all have a wonderful trip – rain and all!

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  1. […] a week with my 18-year-old daughter, celebrating her birthday. I wrote about her trip last week in my column, and about how it feels to have an adult […]

  2. […] And the child is now ready to fly out of the nest. […]

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