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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Empty Nesters

Empty nest n. - A home or a family where the children have grown up and left home.


Even on the bleakest days of this winter, I notice it outside our bedroom window - seek it out, actually. Forlorn and droopy though it might appear, especially with our dark and soggy northwest weather, it is a good reminder for me of what does, and doesn't need to be.


The bird that made it is long gone, basking in a warmer clime. But it was a sly one, quietly flitting in and out of the leaf cover to build its masterpiece. Summer was half over before we ever noticed it, although it is nearly at eye level from our second story bedroom window which I look out of every single day of the year. That robin carefully and painstakingly constructed this nest of twigs, mud, grass, moss and feathers, before laying its eggs and successfully raising its young. This was one nest that we couldn't really observe - it was just too well-hidden, wedged into the fork of several branches and obscured by thick leaves. I saw enough, however, to know that the young did hatch, were regularly fed and protected, and did eventually leave the nest for good. And in the life of the adult bird, that was it - having no further use for the nest, she also left in behind, never to return to or use it again. Perhaps there is a lesson here for us...


Most birds build and use a nest for one reason only - as a safe, protected place in which to raise their young. Some kinds of birds return to the same nest year after year, repairing and re-arranging it as necessary; many insist on building a new nest each year. Either way, very seldom do the adults stick around to use the nest themselves after their young have left it; it has served its purpose. And consider what those adults do when their young have finally learned to fend for themselves and are gone for good. They go on with their bird lives, doing whatever it is that birds of their kind do. I seriously doubt that they suffer long, if at all, from "empty nest syndrome".


I have always been a "nester". I attribute that, at least in part, to the fact that I was raised in a safe and cozy home. Although my sisters were teenagers when we moved in, I was a toddler and it was the only childhood home I ever knew. I lived there until I was married; my parents lived there until their deaths.


My parents did all of the work - carpentry, repairing, painting, decorating - themselves on that old house and so I thought that everyone did that. Because we lived next to our family greenhouse and floral business, the house became the center of our existence. In Our-Speak, it was always "the store" and "the house". To me, the house was a comfortable refuge - a warm, inviting place that was often a bit messy and disorganized, but never dirty nor uncared for. The coffee was always on, an extra plate (and perhaps a thinner soup...) was always available to visitors, a listening ear heard many a lament or heartache, and family mourning or celebration took place there. In the greatest sense of the word, it was always HOME for me. And it continued to function in these ways long after I had left it.


Since our marriage, my husband and I have lived in two apartments and five different houses and each of those was a home for us at the time. We followed suit with my parents by remodeling, repairing, and decorating each one to suit our needs. Each time we moved, I hated to leave the house, but quickly adapted to the new place and set about nesting again. 


Some lessons are learned the hard way and one of the biggest and best for me concerned a house. After spending four years in Colorado, where we poured blood, sweat, and tears into an old log house, we moved with my husband's work to Texas. I was heartbroken to leave, although I did adapt rather quickly to a much nicer house in the new location. A year or two after we'd left, my husband traveled on business back to our town in Colorado and I went along to visit old friends there. One of our previous neighbors insisted that she take me to visit our old house, something I truly dreaded doing because I had loved it so. The current owners were quite amicable and warmly invited us in to take the "royal tour" of our old home. It was then I realized that this house meant nothing to me anymore - absolutely NOTHING. Oh yes, the memories of our time spent there were strong (still are) - and mostly happy - but that was then and this was now. Quite simply - it was no longer our house and, therefore, no longer our home. It is the people and the experiences that make a house a home.


We've lived in our present house longer than in all of the others put together. Again, we have poured time, talent, and money into it and in the process have made quite a nest for ourselves.


We were married for some time before bringing a child into the family, but quickly adapted - and adapted the house as well - to having a young one around.


When the turbulent teen years hit, our son was in and out, out and in, and then finally out for good. Thus, we found ourselves being "empty nesters" well before most people probably do. I would be lying if I said this was not painful - for what wonderful, warm, happy memories children bring into our homes and lives. Nevertheless, even under the best of circumstances, children grow up and move out. Who of us would have it otherwise?




Today, our son and grandchildren are always welcome in our home and they do visit. But we know that they have their own lives to live and understand when the visits are infrequent.


Life does indeed go on - we have friends who come by,

 
we occasionally have various kinds of meetings here,


we keep in touch with relatives and friends who live some distance away and welcome their visits when they can make them.


We consider any visit to our home a special occasion and therefore make the coffee, offer the food (and sometimes a bed...) and spend the time visiting whenever possible. We consider it a privilege to be able to do so.


Mostly, we spend time with each other or alone doing the things that we enjoy doing here at home. Because it is our home, we are the ones to enjoy it, but we realize that the house is just a building. It is what happens here - and who is present - that makes it a real home.


Recently, it was tree-trimming, cookie-baking, and candy-making with the grandkids.


Next week it will be Christmas Eve and Day spent with them, our son, and my sister, in our crazy, some-old-some-new ways with mystery packages, home-made goodies, mixed generations, good food, recliner naps, rap music, old time carols, and maybe a game or two.


We welcome all the hubbub and when it is over, we will welcome returning to the peace and quiet once again.


And so, as this season of darkness continues to progress, inching ever closer to a new season, I'll continue to watch the deserted nest from our window. Unlike the birds, most of us DO need a place to call home. One way or another, we shape our own nests as a place of refuge and comfort. It does not matter so much the shape or size of the house, only that it suits our particular needs and offers some respite from the busy-ness of the world. Many of us feather our nests so that we may raise children and, eventually, these children do fly away.

 
 
But life DOESN'T need to become less engaging when the children leave. There are a great many ways and reasons to feather one's nest...


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