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Child anticipates taking wing.
Child anticipates taking wing.
Her mother anticipates the inevitable moment of parting.
Her mother anticipates the inevitable moment of parting.
A last view through the airport glass as child #2 prepares to fly east, leaving her South Dakota home behind.
A last view through the airport glass as child #2 prepares to fly east, leaving her South Dakota home behind.
Her wings really sprouted while attending Augustana.
Her wings really sprouted while attending Augustana.

Leaving Her South Dakota Nest

Aug 7, 2013

This is the big day, maybe an infamous day — certainly, apparently, an inevitable day. One of our young’uns is taking to her wings and leaving the nest. She’s even leaving the 5-7 zip code. We spent twenty-two years encouraging her to learn, to question, to explore — but we never really figured she would use those talents and traits to fly so far from home.


Twenty-five years ago we were blessed with our first little child. In our faith, the catechism says: “A child is a creature and a gift of God, which comes to earth through the love of their parents.” They also come without wings.

Through holidays and home-creating, through activities, travels and books, parents work to expand their children’s understanding of the world about them. It starts simple — “stove hot”— and advances to more complex concepts — “work and sleep good.” Every generation finds new ways to expand their children’s worldview. Growing up in Day County, going to Philmont Ranch Boy Scout Camp in Cimarron, New Mexico, was as extreme of an opportunity as I understood existed. Our kids have travelled the 5-7 zip code and the globe, learning and understanding more about the world about them than their parents did. That’s where I see that whole wing problem starting to develop.


When our eldest took off across the middle United States as a cold-calling door-to-door salesman, calling on retail accounts for the Mad Bomber Hat Company, his mother was a little scared, but his dad thought it was pretty cool. When it’s your son, and he’s big enough to handle an idiot with an attitude, it just sounds like an adventure for the young in spirit. Besides, our firstborn was coming back to the 5-7 zip code at the end of the summer, and so we could embrace the experience.

If parents are honest about it, those who are fortunate enough to have their children land close to the 5-7, maybe as far away as Minneapolis, Fargo or Omaha, feel very fortunate. The others feel a little green with envy. It’s partially about access — you want to see the little buggers, even if they aren’t little any more, but it’s about more than that.

Here in the 5-7 we’re a pretty big community. We’re a group of people who embrace reasonable political perspectives, respect the practice of faith, affirm life, and have a healthy understanding of firearms and the outdoors. Even in our only metropolitan area, Sioux Falls, while the complexion of the residents has been changing, the perspective hasn’t — be they Norwegian, Lakota, German or Sudanese, they are pretty comfortable knowing that they have created a community of safe homes, neighborhoods and schools.  

But out there — outside the 5-7 — I’m not so sure. We see their news. There are surely some normal people to be found there, but the latest collection of misfits battling to lead our nation’s largest city only reaffirms that the values and practices out there — well, they don’t meet the standards here at home in the 5-7.


So back to where this bleak day started. Our second child boarded a plane for Baltimore. This college graduate flew off to work natural disasters from Maryland to Maine (seriously – that’s the job). We’d be lying if we said we weren’t scared. When our first one left home, he found great opportunities in Sioux Falls, and we get to see him — we like that. He uses his wings for business opportunities, and he still finds his way home for food every couple of weeks. But this East Coast thing, that’s a little scarier deal for all of us.

Today was a day to remember the kids each in turn packing their backpacks and going off to a new first day of school. The whole wing-sprouting thing started there, and we encouraged it. We packed them off to college too, but the wing thing hadn’t really sunk in yet then — they came home every holiday and some in between. With number two child, I think I blame President Rob Oliver and his Augustana for shipping her off to India and Cuba, and who knows where else, in her four years there.

So while we packed number two off on the plane at 6 a.m. to Baltimore, we tried to control the tears. We understand that this is about using the wings God gave her and we helped grow — but it’s still a little tough to sort out.

Sunday at Mass, my formerly little girl did snuggle up against me one last time during the recessional. As I shook a little at the thought of losing her to this public service she feels driven to, the words of that hymn provided some inspiration, solace and maybe some understanding:

We are called to act with justice.
We are called to love tenderly.
We are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God.

So, we have to be ok with our daughter’s decision to spend a year saving some part of the East Coast, but the message I think each of us 5-7 parents hope each young flyer takes with them is that even in the feathered world, the homing instinct is strong. Those geese fly south in the fall, but those same wings bring them back to their roots here in the 5-7 to raise a family each spring. I like those wings.  

Lee Schoenbeck grew up in Webster, practices law in Watertown, and is a freelance writer for the South Dakota Magazine website.



02:43 pm - Wed, August 7 2013
Heidi said:
A beautiful story Lee. Thanks for sharing.
07:43 am - Thu, August 8 2013
Bernie said:
I sympathize with you and Donna, but as you know the world needs those 5-7 kids, we can't hide them away here. And it could be worse. When we were in Morocco we ran into a young lady from Rapid City, much like your daughter, who has been working in the Peace Corps in Africa and now is hoping to start an import/export business to help small farmers and businesses sell their produce and products. All I could think of was how her parents back in SD must be feeling about her being so far from home in such a strange land. The East Coast is strange, but it's all relative. But as you suggest, hopefully she'll fly home some day and your girl too.
07:49 am - Thu, August 8 2013
Jan S. said:
It is hard to let them go, to miss them so terribly!! We know your pain!! Donna's face says it all. :') But how proud, how very proud we are to call these kids with these mighty wings 'ours'!! God Bless them and He will take care of them!! God Bless you and Donna too!!

The other "Lee" and Jan
10:41 am - Thu, August 8 2013
Roger Holtzmann said:
Great story. I can relate because I have a 20 year-old daughter in Chicago. What amazes me is how well small town kids like her get along and cope - learning where not to go, using public transport, and most importantly, finding the kind of friends who appreciate and value who she is.
12:33 pm - Thu, August 8 2013
Vicky Maag said:
Your story brings back some not to distant memories of our children leaving home. The kids grew up helping us on the dairy farm north of Watertown. I used to tell them often that the skills they were acquiring working with us side by side would really come in handy. Of course, at that time. what did parents know!! We are so happy that our sons, after secondary education, found good jobs right in Watertown. Our daughter followed my footsteps and is an RN at a hospital in Fargo; so not too far away. The moral values and work ethic children learn here in the midwest serve them well and I know they will be an asset anywhere they go. We are blessed to have the churches and schools in the area that support good character, life long learning and strong christian values. Thanks for the memories, Lee.

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