Metrolink tragedy puts parenting in a new light

If I ever thought an "empty nest" at home meant an end to parenting, as I said in my newspaper column Saturday, the stories emerging from this weekend's coverage of the deadly Metrolink train crash painfully put that notion to rest:

The 72-year-old mother sitting vigil at the UCLA hospital for her critically injured 48-year-old son. The father of a 20-year-old Clarement McKenna College student, struggling with the "absurdity" of his son's death: "He's still a baby," he said. The Thousand Oaks mom who was at the station to greet her USC freshman daughter on her first trip home and spent the weekend by her hospital bed instead.

On Saturday, I wrote about the angst I'd been feeling since my second child moved into her own apartment this month.

Today, I can't stop thinking about the grief of those parents whose children won't be calling or coming home again. And my fretting about whether my daughter can cook a chicken by herself seems awfully self-indulgent right now.

Worrying, after the fact

Still, my in-box filled up this weekend with e-mails from readers walking the road I'm on, wondering if they've over-parented or under-parented as their children "migrate to other planets," as Mar Vista reader Kate Zentall Forward so perceptively called it.

She has a 25-year-old daughter who just moved to San Francisco and a son who's a high school sophomore. The uncertainty of uncharted terrain caught up with her one ----night as she was alone, walking the family dog, rehashing a "vaguely prickly phone conversation with my daughter and yet another version of 'The Look' " from her 16-year-old son. Parents of teens, you know what she means

"I was wondering how I was going to get through the next five minutes," she said, "let alone the next 30 years."

And there was this from Lee Daly, who is about to ferry her first-born to his new life as a college freshman.

"Sure, I'll have access to the washer and dryer more often and will definitely be excited to spend less at the grocery store," she mused. "But the college exodus feels strangely like I'm cutting off a perfectly functioning arm!"

And if I was worried about my daughter's lack of chicken-dinner know how, I had to laugh at Andrea Friedman's story. Her daughter nearly set her T-shirt on fire trying to get wrinkles out with a vacuum cleaner.

I got some heat about my hand-wringing from a few critics like Richard: "Yes, you moron," he wrote in bold letters. "It does reflect on your motherhood. You lib's will expect society to pick up the pieces when your amoeba offspring's falls on their ass in real life."

Well, at least my offspring know how to properly use an apostrophe in the possessive form.


Your comments reminded me that our kids are works in progress, even as adults. And as Kate said: "Despite our fearsome frailties as parents, they are beautiful, thriving, spectacular human beings."

On Friday afternoon, my 17-year-old called me in a panic. The Metrolink 111 is my train, too, on frequent commutes to the downtown newsroom. My daughter knows I usually don't take it on Fridays and that I always get off at the Chatsworth station -- the stop just before the scene of Friday's wreck.

She just needed to hear my voice, wanted me home -- so she could ignore me like she always does.

And the daughter who moved out of the house? She came back this weekend and crawled into bed with mom on Saturday night. We didn't talk about it much, but I knew she was unsettled by the crash, just three miles from our house. Her elementary school was the landing strip for rescue airlifts; her old soccer field, a triage site. It seemed the drone of helicopters would never stop.

So today, I'm grateful for the little stuff: She hasn't lost her new door key or parking-lot clicker. She's working on remembering her new address. And she made her way safely back to mother, just when we both needed it.

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