Stepping out of the nest

Famillies share stories of first child leaving home for new opportunity

Famillies share stories of first child leaving home for new opportunity

December 02, 2005|by KRISTIN WILSON

Debra Grove was prepared for "empty nest crying" when her only child, Christopher, headed out the door for college about three months ago.

She expected life to be dull without her son living at home and that she and her husband, Tim, would be bored silly.

In reality, the Hagerstown family of three is adjusting well to this life phase - when a child leaves home to make his or her own way in the world.


Every fall, a new crop of families experience - for the first time - what it's like to help a child pack their bags and move into the unknown world of college, work, or military experiences. Here are the stories of some Tri-State area families who are making such transitions.

The Kifer-Stoner family

From two girls to one

Ariel Kifer was ready to pick up and move out when she graduated from North Hagerstown High School in June. By August she was headed for Indiana University of Pennsylvania in Indiana, Pa. - a three-hour drive from home.

While the first few weeks of college were filled with changes - adjusting to a new schedule, new living arrangement, new friends and new scholastic expectations - Kifer says its wasn't long before she was fully in the swing of college life.

Back home, Kifer's family was busy making their own adjustments and her father, Joey Kifer, was without his daughter on the weekends.

Kifer's mother, 8-year-old sister and stepfather moved to Greencastle, Pa., earlier this year. With the move, Cierra, Kifer's sister, was also starting fresh at a new school.

And Teresa Stoner, Kifer's mother, was getting used to a new family structure.

"It was very emotional with (Ariel) up and leaving," Stoner says. "She's on her own now. I mean, Mommy still pays the bills," she adds with a laugh.

Stoner quickly realized that her role as a mother was changing with Ariel living her life at a distance.

"I can give her advice but I can't tell her what to do," Stoner says. "You're scared. She's 18, but she's still my baby. What if she gets sick?"

Ariel Kifer says her college transition has been easier knowing that she can come home whenever she wants to. Her sister and family have come to visit her at college and she's been coming home at least once a month.

"I do miss my parents," Kifer says. "It's nice to come home and hang out. But when I'm at home, I miss school."

The Breehl-Custer family

In the Marines now

Jonathan Breehl's adjustment to living away from home was a bit more abrupt. As the oldest of three boys, Breehl was the first to step away from home and directly into boot camp to become a U.S. Marine.

From the start of boot camp on Aug. 1 to the last day of the program, Oct. 28, Breehl was not able to talk to his family once. He could write letters, but e-mail and phones were not available to the young recruit.

Getting through three months without real-time contact with his family was hard on both Breehl and his entire family.

"At first you get very homesick and then you make new friends and kind of learn the routine," Breehl says. "It becomes easier to be away from your family."

Melissa Custer, Breehl's mother, didn't have quite the same reaction.

"It was terrible," she says. "I was so on edge. I didn't know what he was doing."

A very trying moment came when the Custers got a message from Breehl that he was in the hospital with a concussion. They had only limited information about Breehl's condition and no way to contact the hospital or their son.

"You didn't know what it was, you just knew that he fell and hit his head," Custer remembers.

The separation, however, yielded a great return, Breehl says.

On Oct. 28, Breehl became a private first class at Parris Island, S.C. and his entire family was there to witness it.

"It was such an emotional experience," Breehl says of getting through boot camp and seeing his family for the first time as an enlisted member of the Marine Corps. "It was a proud moment in my life."

Custer says when she saw her son for the first time since he left home, she saw a changed person.

"He's matured into such a wonderful young man," she says.

The Grove family

Empty nest

In early October, Tim and Debra Grove got a phone call all parents dread. Their son, Christopher, had an accident on the basketball court and he was in the hospital with a head laceration.

Christopher Grove, 18, a North Hagerstown High School graduate, remembers colliding with his opponent while playing intramural basketball at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. He ended up with a one-inch gash above his right eye.

With the help of some new college friends, Christopher Grove found his way to the hospital and managed his condition as well as navigating insurance cards and dorm curfews.

He says the experience made him feel more "at ease" because it showed him that he could take care of himself.

"I feel like I've really matured a lot and learned not to be so dependent on others," Grove says of his college experience. "I have to make sure I go to bed at a decent time to get ready for classes. I'm the one that has to make sure my homework's done and that I'm taking care of myself."

Debra and Tim Grove's first impulse was to get in the car and drive three and a half hours to take care of their son. But the Groves are adjusting to a new phase of their lives.

What makes the transition easier is knowing that their son is doing well, Debra Grove says.

"For me, to see how happy he is has done my heart good," she says. "This is where he wants to be."

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