Nest Building is Learned at Home



A nd then, one day, they’re gone. That’s how it feels now that my baby birds have left the nest to build nests and lives of their own. In one respect, it’s what every parent longs for: the chance to go to the bathroom without someone yelling, “You almost done?!” Or the chance to run around naked at home, if you want to, without worrying that you might inflict psychological damage on your offspring. And yet, it’s unnerving. The quiet settles on me like a wet wool blanket in summer. I miss them.

Not enough is written about this transition and the subsequent ache. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish for the baby years; I made a mental note to never forget how terrifying it was to have their tiny, fragile lives in my inexperienced, exhausted hands. Neither do I wish for the school-age years; I’ve had my fill of bleachers, sidelines and auditorium seating.

What I wonder about now is this: did I prepare them well enough for what’s next?

I wonder if I’ve given them the tools to live and make the best decisions. I want to know that I’ve taught them enough, intentionally or by proximity, for them to thrive.

Even if I didn’t teach them to cook, which somehow I did not, I wonder if they’ve seen me make enough eggs, French toast, spaghetti, potatoes, chicken and rice over the years to know how to live on the cheap when their lives require it, which they no doubt will.

I wonder if they caught onto my Heloise-like lessons: the magic of vinegar and baking soda in a slow drain. Or how newspaper works much better than paper towel to clean windows and mirrors. Or that a handwritten thank you note beats a text or an email, hands down any day.

I hope they’ve inherited the gene that tells them that duct tape and super glue can fix just about anything. And that, even though they might love their brand names, they can find what they want, if they’re willing to search for it, at secondhand stores.

Although I didn’t sit them down to help with the bills or the taxes or the family budget (that illusive beast I never quite figured out or followed myself), I hope they’ve witnessed the importance of paying things on time, staying out of debt and keeping their financial heads above water. I hope they’ve learned that it’s more important to want what you have, than to get what you want.

I suppose there are things I wish in retrospect I had done differently … that I had sat them down, one by one, and made them balance the checkbook or showed them the difference between an invoice and an Explanation of Benefits. But even as I write those words, I know what we were doing: living. Together, we were managing the daily ping pong of family life, best as we could.

I miss them. I hope that we’ve built the kind of life together that they think to call home when the toilet runs or the pan gets scorched or they can’t tell the difference between a plant and a weed. Most of all, I hope they feel they’ve been given the support and know-how and courage to fly. It’s what matters most, I know. It’s in wistful celebration that I watch them do it.

Eileen Button teaches Communication at Mott Community College. She can be reached at