As my second daughter graduates high school and prepares to go off to college, I am beginning to feel like an empty nester. My son is gaining speed, reaching double digits. I can already feel the moment when it will be his turn, and we will be empty nesters for good.
Whatever I am going through in my life, it often played out in my surroundings. Like a mirror, guiding me to observe and take in what is going on within myself, a gentle nudge. Did you notice this? Don’t forget to feel that.
This is why I was not surprised by the bird’s nest I found a few months back. On a shelf in the garage, it was created within the blanket we had used, sitting on the sidelines for many of our daughter’s soccer games—all those years she played competitive soccer. The same daughter who is about to leave our nest for college.
Since I spied the nest, the mothering instinct inside me has reawakened. With the fiercest momma bird voice I can muster, I gather my family in the garage to tell everyone that they are not allowed to close the garage door until those baby birds are hatched, and big enough to fly away. My family stares back at me, like even at night? I don’t respond; they know the answer. But just in case they don’t, I add, “We will lock the door into the house. Nobody is going to steal our cloth shopping bags, extra paper towels or bikes that never seem to leave the garage.” Before they can argue, I grab the car keys and walk inside the house.
We all know that this feels greater than the bird’s nest. The little obsession I have formed with the nest—checking, protecting—has to do with my own nest beginning to feel empty. As I check the eggs each day, I am recalling those moments of caring for my own babies—each with their wide eyes and big personalities, different yet so full of love and wonder. I can barely recall the feeling of being pregnant, waiting with bated breath for this amazing little life that was forming inside of me. But I know it’s in me somewhere, next to the sleepless nights, finger painting afternoons and all those first days of school.
That mothering instinct stays with us, long after our babies have left the nest. It does not dissolve because there is nobody complaining there is no food in the fridge or trying to stay out later than they should. It does not fly out the window because there is nobody to share the couch, or to play a family game of Apples to Apples. It remains deep in our hearts. And it was created the moment we connected—my husband and I—and imagined our family into reality.
When our children leave home, and we find ourself with an empty nest, or an almost-empty house, it feels strange, awkward, but it does not have to feel empty. We just need time to readjust, to reconnect with life again. To fall in love with our husbands all over again. We will always be moms, but we now have a wonderful space to become more us. We can fill up that empty space with self-love, self-discovery, self-nurturing. We can become our own mother, and give to our own hearts, the way we gave to our children.
And we can begin creating new nests. We are never without purpose, because our children have grown. Sometimes, our purpose is grand, and we will write a book, rent a house in the south of France, finally take that promotion. Other times, it will be small—to run back to the store for another onion we forgot for our dinner.
Today, my purpose is to keep the garage door open. And I will do it with love, care and hope. Tomorrow, well, tomorrow is another day. I will let you know what happens next. Maybe I will take a trip around the world, or read that best seller that’s gathering dust on my nightstand. Or maybe, I will look back on all those years, raising our children, and smile. Thinking, it was far from perfect, more than a little rough at times, but our nest was built it the only way we knew how—with love, care and hope.