The truth is that the nest doesn’t have to be completely empty to leave you feeling…well…empty. The emptiness can actually be felt while the nest is being partially emptied. It makes me think the whole Empty Nest Theory is misleading and that perhaps should be renamed. Perhaps they could call it ‘De-nesting’. As in, the undoing of nesting. The undoing of the days, weeks and years we spent creating a nest, or warm spot for this child. The definition of nesting alone makes me want to cry: an assemblage of things lying close together, that fit within each other. So we are going to undo what we have done for some 18 years, let one of the chicks flee from the nest and simply carry on? Why would the nest have to be completely empty to feel the pain, when one missing chick is enough to create imbalance? Why is it so painful? After being tortured through the teenage chaos and upset imposed upon us during senior year, it would seem that one flying away would create relief. Yet it doesn’t. Even with upset, it is the nest we know. Even if unpredictable, overwhelming or frustrating, it was our nest. Rough eggs and all. Even if there were moments, or days or weeks that we wished to be free of the upset, it was not really a wish of ours at all.
I read this and picture my little babies snuggled up next to each other with that little look on their face. With those little eyes that say, I love my family. When life was about summer days, lunches by the pool, mommy and me classes, finger painting, and reading bedtime stories. We cheered at their first steps. We cried as they waved goodbye on the school bus. We yelled with joy as they scored the winning goal. But with a minutes notice, we were no longer at the center of their universe and felt proud and excited as their independence began to take shape. The pride and excitement quickly took its own shape, though, as they began to fight for their freedom. They yelled and argued with every rule, said the laws were stupid, and every so often you could see their twinkle of ‘I love you mommy’, turn into, ‘Are you really my mother?’ It was maddening to watch, and frightening to be a part of, but there seemed to be no escaping it…that is, until College. Out of nowhere, the August calendar appears and I freeze upon noticing how close Drop-Off Day is to…today! We often talked about living in Florida on our vacations there and wondered why we would want to endure another cold winter in Jersey. And now…this was where my son’s life would begin to take shape. A plane ride away. Without me. My heart begins to burn as I slowly count the days. My mind flashes to my first born son leaving 3 years ago and I cringe, trying to assure myself that nothing could be that painful again. But as the calendar calls me to look once more, I hear my heart plead, “Do you promise?” No, it can’t be like that. I mean, this little one has been preparing me for his departure for a decade. Claiming his independence since the age of 6. Six. That was the last time he needed me I believe. I look at the calendar again and pray for long, slow days ahead. I pray for moments with him like the ones I have had this summer. Moments that he walked in the door with his arms open for a hug, no longer fighting for his freedom. Moments when he understood that letting himself love me did not mean he was weak, but yet strong and ready to fly. I cry just thinking about saying goodbye to him. I don’t cry because I am worried, nor concerned that he isn’t ready. It is simply because I am not ready. But how can you be actually ready? For what? Are you ever really done being mom? Done caring for them, loving them in a way that makes you feel needed? Done watching them nestled together? I sure don’t feel done. The truth about the nest emptying is that it is a grand celebration of life, that will surely make you feel proud and empty, all at the same time. It is one that will make you feel whole and balanced, while unsteady too and one that will surely make you question what you will do next. As for me, I am not sure what I will do with the loss when it arrives in 12 days, but I’m working on it. I may just hand him a nest and say, “Make it your home, but remember to come back to the tree that it came from.”