I recall a time, not so long ago, where I’d smirk openly at parents who claimed to suffer from a “syndrome” called, Empty Nest.
Seriously? Were these people just trying to garner some sort of cheap sympathy, like a guy afflicted with the nefarious -and apparently near terminal- man-cold? I couldn’t imagine bemoaning an empty room laid out before me like a blank canvas. A room rife with possibility. It could become my own studio, library, or shrine to all things U2.
I would never be distraught over one less load of dirty socks. Who would miss that?!
Turns out, I would.
Nobody bothers to tell you that it is not the emptiness of the nest that brings on the syndrome, but the life that it was once filled with. That room doesn’t hold possibilities, it houses memories.
The time he insisted it be painted black, but you talked him into Navy (which in the end was just as bad). Sitting as quiet as you could outside the door so that you didn’t break the spell as you listened to him compose a new song. Holding him as he fought valiantly to hold back the tears of his first broken heart. Watching him cradle his baby sister in his arms, the two of them connecting in a language forever known only to them. Standing near the window, evening sun streaming through the curtains lighting up his clean-shaven face as you pinned a single crimson rose to the white lapel of his prom tuxedo, your breath caught in your throat. Who was this man standing before you. Hadn’t he just been learning to walk yesterday?
Those memories live in the space between the four walls of this room, joined by millions more drifting like wraiths amongst the dust moats. Memories of the surreality of holding in your hands six pounds of life that fought so hard for its birth. Watching him charm his way into the heart of every babysitter. When you looked into those huge blue eyes, knowing for the first time in your life, that you were capable of wondrous things.
Even the memories that took your patience, not your breath, away now haunt this room.
“Turn down the TV, it’s after midnight, everyone else is asleep dammit!”
The silence left behind is heart wrenching. You know that the days of lecturing him about coming home too late or piling his dirty clothes on top of his clean stuff are gone. Yet, you’d give anything to do that… just one more time. Anything to get back just a little time. Time with his head in your lap, your hands in his curls, him giggling in his sleep.
You see, we misunderstood when they told us parenting was a hard job.
We let ourselves believe that the hard part was the work, the struggle to make it through each day with some semblance of sanity left in the tank. When all is said and done, it is not the endless hours of cleaning, worry, annoyance, pride, joy, doubt, fear, laughter or tears that make it so difficult. It’s the kissing your baby on his cheek as he opens his eyes in this world for the first time. Blinking. Then craning your neck to reach high enough to kiss that same cheek just before he boards a plane to leave your home for the last time. That is what makes this job hard.
My heart is heavy. Hopes, high. Nest, empty.
Soar on my son, but always, always find your way back under my wing.