“As the nest empties, parents can alleviate the sadness by rediscovering themselves and honoring the strides their children have made.” – Madisyn Taylor, Daily Om
I’ve been sitting on these thoughts for a year now. This post has been in draft mode since last July, as the idea of the nest emptying first began to overtake me. Well, not really. Every parent knows it’s coming, and as much as we think we dread it, or anticipate it, it happens.
That’s just the way life goes when you have children – hopefully.
As the nest empties, holding on too tightly doesn’t work. Actually, the kids themselves are the ones who pull back so forcefully and completely that I had no choice- to let go of the looser strings that were connecting me to their childhood, and trust that the tighter rope, the one of connection and love and trust, would be the one keeping us together. All the way to Boston and Utah, I’ve been trusting on the strength of that rope, woven over decades of trial and error, laughter and tears, hopes and disappointment. I’ve been counting on the ties that will tether us when there’s nothing left but an empty space.
“Instead of feeling proud that their children have achieved so much–whether the flight from the nest refers to the first day of kindergarten or the start of college–parents feel they are losing a part of themselves.”
When I first started this blog in 2011, I knew it would be called mamawolfe. I knew it would be part of my journey, a way to remind myself of what’s important – not just as a documentation of memories from parenthood, but also a start of regaining a part of myself I lost. Or maybe a part I never allowed myself to find. As the nest empties, I’m wondering if I’m really finding myself – or if a new me is just beginning to unfurl.
Parenting hasn’t been an easy journey for me. I doubt my decisions, I search for the handbook that’s telling me which way to go. I wondered how ‘Jenny’ would survive all this change and uncertainty and lack of control. Parenting became the one thing I wanted to do right; I didn’t want to look back 18 years later and wish I had made different decisions. Oh yes, I now know that those wishes would always be there – that’s part of growing older and wiser and knowing better, and doing better. But the regret – I couldn’t live with that. Or the guilt of putting other things over this incredible challenge of giving my best to these two tiny, fascinating, challenging little humans. They became part of me because I wanted so desperately to let them know they were loved and safe and that there was a person in this world who put them first. So isn’t it natural that now that they’re gone, that I feel like I’m losing part of myself? That something is missing when I walk down the hall, unable to step into their empty bedrooms without feeling that something is gone?
The hummingbird feeder
A new hummingbird feeder hangs just outside Lily and Cameron’s bedroom windows, nestled among the anemones and dahlias, just in view of my morning reading space. I’m waiting, hoping, imaging new little hummingbirds discovering the sweet nectar inside. I’m hoping that the salvia and butterfly bushes in bloom will attract them to my space, delighting me with their gentle, yet fleeting, appearance.
After two months, it has finally happened. Not one, but two creatures discovered the feeder. They dart between the flowers and the feeder, taking what they need and then flying away. I watch them every morning, smiling as they take what they need and fly away. One day we came face to face, and I froze, eyes connected, barely breathing. The significance of their visit isn’t lost on me – I know it will be cooler soon, and they’ll find somewhere else to make their nest. The blooms will fade, leaving only the artificial red flowers to beckon them back. But it will be there if they need it; I won’t take it down. I want them to remember me, and this space, and know that they have a safe spot to land. I’ll be here, waiting, tending, growing.
Change is hard. I like safe, consistent spaces. Surprises make me squirm, and routines find their way into my life every year. For teacher moms, September is the new January.
Slight changes are manageable. Flexibility is a learned skill, I’m discovering. I’m meditating daily, forcing myself to be present right here, right now, with the breath and the ground and all the beauty that is in my safe space. I know in a few days school will start again, I’ll get caught up in teaching and planning and celebrating. His bedroom door will close while I’m away at school, he’ll take his bags and his backpack and his big, huge heart and head back east. He’ll be smiling, anticipating the familiarity of a second year in college and the freedom of looking forward to new experiences. He’ll leave his bed unmade, the laundry basket half-full and shoes on the floor. He doesn’t need everything to go with him just yet. Leaving a little bit behind is OK with me. I’ll still be here waiting, tending, growing.
He’ll take a huge part of my heart with him, too. There’s no doubt that the strings will loosen as the rope tightens, that the man he’s becoming will pull back a bit – or a lot. I’m ready, I guess. I’ll plant my self, grounded in the relationships we’ve created and those yet to come. And I’ll watch for the hummingbirds – maybe they’ll leave a feather behind before winter comes, too.