Saturday, April 13, 2013

Because I Said So: Keep 'Welcome Back' sign ready for empty nest

My nest may never empty, not even for a night. S spent the night with a friend last night, but GK had one sleep over here. At the last minute, C went to a friend's for the night, so there are only three kids in my house as I write this. Only two of them are mine. I should probably feed all of them anyway.

In this week's Because I Said So column, I write about my youngest daughter's trial run with a
sleepover at a friend's house. It lasted about four hours. Not bad. My first one, at her same age, didn't last much longer than that. That boy whose house I went to is grown now and an ophthalmologist in Midtown with an office not two miles from where he lived then. The house was one on Peabody just off Belvedere and it towered over me just as his siblings did. Brothers and sisters were everywhere, it seemed, and delighted in chasing him down and lifting him up to swing him around by his ankles. It scared the hell out of me. Was I next?

I went home early that evening instead of staying and I'm not sure when a sleepover actually stuck, when I was able to get through my anxieties and fear of the new and unknown to stay all night. I wish I could remember so I could tell GK. Maybe it was the next weekend, maybe it was the next year.

A trial run is good, for them and for us. Having the four kids sleep out overnight would give us a look into the future at what our nest might be like when it's full of peace and quiet. Until then, we'll keep ruffling some feathers and breaking some eggs, and we'll welcome any little birdies who don't mind a crowd.

Keep your 'Welcome Back' sign at the nest 
My youngest daughter found a bird’s nest on the ground the other day and collected it. I can see it from my office window where she left it on the front porch. It puts me in mind of the term “empty nest” as it pertains to a house whose children have left, flown off into the world to make their own lives in their own way. 
I wonder if that nest on the front porch would hold me and this computer. 
There must be a thrill that comes with standing at the door and waving your child goodbye, his car laden down with furniture and books and clean laundry on his way to college, or a second marriage, or for whatever reason it is that children leave home. Don’t get me wrong, I want them to visit, and often, but I wonder about that sensation of seeing them go and then turning back to your empty nest and breathing air that is all yours, tasting the food in the fridge that is all yours and knowing that if you turn off the television, it will stay off. Does Nickelodeon even exist if there are no children to watch it? 
We get a taste of such solitude early on. It’s called the sleepover, and it’s a rite of passage as meaningful as anything else — driver’s license, graduation, that first marriage. My youngest daughter, Genevieve, the nest collector, had her very first sleepover a couple of weekends ago. It did not go well. She was excited, of course; sleeping at a friend’s house is an adventure. It might as well be a trip to the moon with new foods and sounds, a different place to watch television and way of doing things. 
Somewhere around 10 p.m., though, there was a text followed shortly by a knock on the door and there was Genevieve, standing where that empty nest rests. Her friend’s parent was kind enough to bring her home, and kind enough to comfort her before that. Sometimes, these rites just don’t take the first time. 
I told her not to worry, that it happens to all of us. At least you made it past dark, I said. I was in the first grade as well for my first sleepover. The boy lived in a large home in Central Gardens and I couldn’t have been more excited about the chance to stay in such a grand palace overnight. I remember little of it, other than he had a dozen or so siblings if memory serves, and they were a rambunctious bunch who, I see now, loved their little brother. They chased him around and grabbed him up by his ankles, lifting him as high as they could. I might have been next and it terrified my 7-year-old self. My mother pulled back onto that tree-lined street before darkness fell. 
We give our children the things they’ll need in life — manners, confidence, a sense of right and wrong, a toothbrush wrapped in a baggie they’ll probably never use and then leave behind. After that, all we can do is stand on the porch beside whatever trash they decided at one time to collect and wave goodbye, knowing that, if things get rough, they will be back and they will be welcomed.