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Feathering tips for the empty nest

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, August 31, 2013

Last Sunday, for the first time in nearly 30 years, my wife and I returned to a house where no offspring live with us. This meant:

  • There weren’t 14 cars in the driveway.
  • The TV wasn’t on with no one watching.
  • Every light in the place wasn’t turned on.
  • There were no Cheerios on the floor, and the milk hadn’t been left out since breakfast.
  • There actually was milk.
  • There were no giant shoes to stumble over on my way to the couch.
  • I could actually find space to sit on the couch.

Over the previous two weekends, we’d taken Son 2 to college for the first time and Son 1 to college to start his sophomore year. Now they both have nests of their own, albeit in the temporary confines of college dormitories.

Bob Buckel

Bob Buckel

Daughters 1 (married) and 2 (engaged) have already created their own nests, albeit in apartments, in Fort Worth.

We will still likely get the boys back, at least for holidays and summers, and it’s possible girls and husbands could need a place to stay between apartments and houses another time or two.

But for now, our nest is empty.

In fact, it’s been literally empty most of the week, since we both work, have had evening activites and mostly just sleep there.

Which prompts the question, why do they call it a “nest” anyway? Isn’t a nest a cobbled-together chaos of grass, feathers, broom straw and string? Did someone post a photo of my garage on Facebook?

My mom and dad’s nest had kids in it for just over 20 years – the result of having two, less than three years apart.

Our nest got its first kid in August 1984 and didn’t officially empty until last weekend – 29 years – the result of four, over an almost-10-year span.

My dad jokingly referred to me as a baby bird (all belly and beak) who snarfed up every worm he brought home.

I remember joking about resenting how much fun my folks started having almost the minute I left the nest (I was the younger of the two). They quickly went from tearful farewells to planning fabulous trips with their old-people friends.

(They seemed so old then, but they were younger than my wife and I are now.)

Farewells aside, there’s a good bit of – it’s hard to know what to call it – nostalgia? angst? It can’t be homesickness because we’re the ones still home. It’s a bundle of emotions that includes joy and relief and freedom, mixed with an ache in the heart for all the problems, preoccupations and pinned-downness children bring.

I expect it will take a while to get used to the change in relationship – with each other, and with the kids – that comes when the kids experience a change in address.

When you think about it, you certainly don’t want them to live at home indefinitely. The fact that they’re not interested in doing that is a healthy thing – it indicates you raised them to stretch their wings and fly.

The nest is a launching pad, a springboard. They know it, and you know it. They’re still your kids. Life goes on.

But maybe, just to ease the transition, I’ll go grab whatever shoes they didn’t take to college and dump them in front of the couch, leave the TV on “How It’s Made” 24-7 and let the milk sit out all day.

Beats the heck out of adopting more.

Bob Buckel is executive editor of the Messenger.

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