I left home at 16 to tour with a musical show, (took high school on the road), returned when I was 18 to graduate, then left again at 19, never returning to the nest again.
That’s the way I thought it would be with my own children. Once they graduated and went on to college, I could enjoy their visits and watch them become the people I always dreamed they would be.
I passionately loved being a mother, but having spread my four children so far apart, I was still changing diapers and reading bedtime stories to my baby when my oldest was 16. I added another to the family when my youngest son’s best friend came to live with us. Unexpectedly, I became a single mom for a huge portion of my children’s lives.
In 2010, when I dropped my last child off at Long Beach State, I celebrated. I had done it. I’d delivered all of my kids to the land of adulthood.
I had moments of “empty nest blues,” but mostly I welcomed this new chapter of life by reclaiming the focus on my life. I worked on building my business, began writing again, and discovered the bliss of long baths with a glass of red wine.
Then the unfathomable happened
I got a call while I was at work. My second son was electrocuted and on his way by ambulance to the hospital. My heart stopped. There is truly nothing worse than the fear of losing your child.
And for me… it couldn’t happen again. I wouldn’t survive it. I just wouldn’t.
Trevor was the Director of Operations, of a lighting company that provides equipment for filming television shows. He was testing a light that came back from one of the sets, and it blew high current electricity into him, knocking him unconscious.
Paramedics revived him, but the electricity shot through his body shattered his shoulder, broke his ankle, left scattered burns on his face and upper torso, and exited by splitting his calf wide open a good 12 inches.
But he was alive
Since the electrocution, Trevor has had two surgeries on his shoulder, a surgery to repair his ankle, and physical therapy appointments, doctor visits…plus, endless meetings with attorneys, Workman’s Comp, and the frustration of having his life and his career blow up in one moment of electric malfunction.
When your child leaves home, it feels like such a sense of accomplishment…. that somehow all you’ve taught them over the years will bring them good fortune, a great life, and happiness. It’s a big fat myth.
Parenting to help your child be happy is a big fat myth
You can’t protect your adult children from the unforeseen or the unexpected. They are not in your bubble wrap of safety. They are not even yours anymore. They belong to themselves.
Trevor left my nest 18 years ago. In that time, he became an adult with a successful career, living in Los Angeles.
I also had a whole new life. I’d found love again and remarried. Jim and I lived in two different states because of our businesses, but we made it work, usually together two weeks out of every month. A difficult schedule, but our marriage was worth the tears of separation.
And now we were about to add one back into the nest and start a whole new chapter. I began to look at this time as an opportunity to get to know my second born child for the man he has become. As a mom, you can’t help but want to continue being a guide and a mentor, even when they are 36. When he was young, I had three other kids with schedules, needs, and emotional tugs; now I could just focus on him.
It’s hard to learn to stop parenting
It wasn’t easy at first. Trevor and I had a couple of big fights, mostly about stupid things that boiled down to my lack of understanding his feelings and how difficult this was for him to move home at 36.
I recognized right away he really didn’t need “the parent” part of me. I’m a fixer, and I like to jump in and fix whatever is wrong.
Not this time. It wasn’t my job. I had to resign from “active duty” and just become his mom and his friend. It surprised me to discover if I just stopped and listened to my son, I could learn a lot from him.
I began to see him with new eyes. I enjoyed our conversations and just hanging out. I heard stories about his job, his friends, his opinions about music, movies, and current events. You can’t get this stuff when you just have your kids at Christmas, or for weekend visits.
I don’t think I’d ever fully honored his success and achievements before. I was proud of him, no doubt, but I didn’t fully comprehend what it took for him to get where he was in life.
Trevor started his career at the company in his 20’s. It was just a small business then, and they’d hired him to sweep the warehouse and organize the equipment.
At the time his passion was art, and his work featured in galleries and venues in LA. But, when the recession hit, it couldn’t support him. The lighting company was a side job. It turned out his creative mind was so good at organization, he quickly moved up in rank to become Director of Operations. It soared to a multi-million dollar company serving reality shows like Survivor, The Kardashians, and Deadliest Catch.
But now his 11-year career is gone because of one tragic moment when a light blew up and changed the course of his life.
Rebuilding begins with the basics
He’d lost so much weight through numerous surgeries, so I focussed on making the food he loved, starting with things like pasta, turkey meatloaf, and big fresh salads.
We made trips to the grocery store a creative part of our day. It reminded me of reaping the harvest of my children’s vegetable garden when Trevor was just a boy. After shopping, we’d come home and cook… I enjoyed sharing my recipes and he likes making our salads.
Within a month, he gained 15 pounds. I saw the spark back in his eyes and the strength in his body returning.
We shared good conversations over dinner, and we’d binge watch television in the evenings.
Just shut up and listen
As a parent, it’s hard to learn when you should speak and when it’s time to listen.
In listening, I found a remarkable man had grown inside of my child with sparkling eyes. When did he get so smart? So funny? So wise?
In the six years I’ve been married, none of my children were able to take time away from their busy schedules to see my husband’s ranch in Tucson, but I had a captive child now, and I suggested a road trip!
My youngest son, Jackson, joined us! I had both of them in a car for 7 hours each way, and a full week in Tucson pretending to be tourists.
My husband got to know my sons on a deeper level, and they learned more about him and the business he created from the ground up.
By day we toured the sights of Tucson; we spent nights in long conversations, Netflix movies, and a hockey game playoff on TV.
At this point, I want to share with you that my children lost their Dad to a sudden heart attack when they were still young. He was just 54, and it was a tragedy beyond description. He died after struggling for years with the unexpected loss of our oldest child, Garrett. Our beautiful 16-year old son went to bed with a fever and died 24 hours later of bacterial meningitis.
I know it’s a lot of information packed into one devastating paragraph, but you need to know what my kids have been through and how strong they really are.
Our family struggled through the tremendous grief, and somehow I managed to finish raising our three living children, plus my “adopted son,” on my own. I often write about it in my other blogs, but this article is about Trevor and what he has taught me in this “coming home” experience.
My husband was eager to form a stronger bond with my sons. But he’d never been a father. He had a learning curve. He knew he wasn’t a father replacement, but promised to be my partner in supporting the men they are and the men they are becoming.
We returned home to California, but not without plans for the men to go camping in the future. Without me, of course.
A gift I didn’t expect
Trevor also began spending time with my father who lived nearby. My dad is a 90-year old retired Admiral. He’s as feisty as can be and a hell of a lot of work… in a good way.
But he’s lonely. He recently moved off his 5-acre ranch to a one-bedroom assisted living apartment where he is near his wife who is ill. It’s been a hard adjustment.
Trevor always looked up to his grandfather, but their relationship was only maintained through holiday dinners and quick lunches when my son came to town.
Trevor decided this was an opportunity to get to know “Grandpa” better. He loved his stories of the Naval Academy, flight school in Pensacola, aircraft carriers, and when Dad was in command of Treasure Island in San Francisco. That is the awe-inspiring part of Dad’s life.
“It’s hard getting old,” Dad would say to me.
But when Trevor began taking him for lunch, doing errands, and helping with doctor visits, he discovered the very real, vulnerable, and loving side of a man who has been a hero his whole life.
Dad always wears a baseball cap that identifies his Admiral status with the “scrambled eggs” on the brim. Military people know it instantly.
Trevor loves when people stop Grandpa and say, “Thank you for your service, Admiral.” He usually offers a quick salute and a thank you, but sometimes he’d stop and share a story or two.
The spark in my dad’s eyes returned when he felt like the Admiral he was, and not a 90-year old man using a walker. Trevor stands by patiently, proud to be his oldest and now closest grandson.
Trevor said the other night, “You know, Mom, I think having this chance to be with Grandpa has made me feel like I have a purpose. I want to give him happiness in the last years of his life.”
I can’t even find a darn thing to say after a comment like that. I just listened.
Sometimes there’s no explanation for the magic of timing… thanks, Medium.com
Often I find my greatest inspiration from articles by other writers. Just before Trevor moved home, I happened to read a blog by Nick Maccarone who described his experience moving home and how it changed his relationship with his dad. Nick’s article helped me see so much more than I could have predicted from this experience.
Thanks, Nick for opening my mind to something greater.
Trevor and I are only six weeks into this saga of mother and child, and the gifts are still unfolding. He’s getting back to his art, taking the steps necessary to reclaim his life, and I get to witness it all.
I’m one proud mama
When your child moves home, it’s usually for some dire situation like health, money, heartache, or life transition. What a blessing it is when they have your unconditional love and feel safe enough to return. They believed you when you said, “I’ll always be there for you.”
I can now look at it for the gift it is.
I wake up every morning feeling thankful for another opportunity to be with my child. Most parents don’t get another chance… but I do and I’m so grateful.
I often feel the presence of Trevor’s father watching over the two of us as we navigate this new life together. It can happen when I see a flash of his Dad in his eyes, or when he tells a story with the same tone and inflection his father had. I see it clearly and I silently whisper, “See David! What a miracle we created with our love, this amazing child of ours.”
And I know he hears me.
Update: A few months after this was written, my dad died gently under anesthesia in an operation that was supposed to give him a longer life. Trevor, my sister, and I were there at the hospital, cheering him on, and we were all certain we’d be taking him home that very day. The last thing we did was join him in prayer and tell him we loved him. What a beautiful release of the Admiral’s command, as it should be.
If you’ve got creativity on your mind… I have a complimentary sample for you. A short ebook on how to establish some simple habits to set your creativity on fire: How to Develop the Creative Mindset.
**Previously published on Medium-Thrive Global**