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By Jennifer Venuto

“Parenthood has two big transitions, when our children arrive and when they leave.”

Today is the day that my son starts his freshman orientation at Florida State University.  Exciting right?  The thing is, he will be orienting from the office in our home, logging into a Zoom meeting to learn about the school and get a virtual tour, meet some of his classmates, meet his advisor and register for his classes. Not the start we had envisioned but it is the start we have been given so here we go! 

Surely, I am more prepared for this pending goodbye as it is not our first rodeo.  My husband and I moved our precious firstborn into a dorm at the University of Central Florida this same week two years ago, to begin her freshman year. We know how to do this. We know that as long as they are doing okay, we will be okay.  We are old hands, right?  We got this, right?  We know Ann Lander’s famous words, “It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.” But therein lies part of the fear.  What if we haven’t done enough? 

All my life I have wanted to be a mom.   I know that sounds simple and maybe even unambitious to some, but it is my truth.  It started with my love of baby dolls as a child and moved into years of steady babysitting jobs as a teenager. I chose the field of social work and worked towards my master’s degree so I could work in the field of adoption, allowing me to help others fulfill their dreams of becoming moms and dads.  So, when it was my time to become a mom, it truly was my dream come true. 

For the past 20 years, I have been living the dream that far exceeded my parenting expectations. Our children, Paige and Parker, have grown into magnificent young adults.  But let’s be honest, there were bumps along the way.  We didn’t always get it right and sometimes the goal was just to make it through the day, the hour, or the minute. There were days when breakfast was last night’s reheated chicken nuggets. There were grocery outings that ended with a fully loaded, abandoned Publix shopping cart in aisle three and a screaming, thrashing two-year-old in my arms as I apologized our way through the automatic doors. There were phone calls from teachers, late-night pick-ups from unsuccessful sleepovers, loss of friendships, urgent care stitches, and sleepless nights and prayers that tomorrow would be better, that tomorrow I would do better.  

As parents, my husband and I learned from our mistakes but continued to make new ones, and the learning never ends. Oscar Wilde said, “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” Every day we did, and do, become more experienced. As parents, we continue to learn to forgive ourselves and do better, and that is what we want from and for our children too. So, we teach them to take chances and be courageous. We teach them to be kind and to be forgiving of themselves and others. We teach them about God and relationships. We teach them how to share and how to stand up for themselves and others. Along the way we taught them some basics like how to pour a glass of milk, then how to drive a car; how to build a sandcastle, then how to make a meal; how to make a playdate, then how to schedule a doctor’s appointment; how to register for Club Penguin at age 12 and now how to register for college courses at age 18. Look there – we have done better than we thought.  We have prepared them by laying the foundation and giving them roots. Maybe now it’s a matter of trust and having faith and believing in their ability to soar. 

So, my husband and I turn the page today to the next chapter as empty nesters, wondering what awaits but trusting that we have given our children not only roots but also wings. We will take the advice of parents who have gone before us and plan a fun activity for ourselves on the day that we return from Tallahassee, so we don’t notice how quiet the house is. How blessed we have been.  How blessed we are.  And by the way, Paige and Parker, Dad and I will always be here for you. Go, Knights! Go, Noles!

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