As it turns out, anti-nesting is much like nesting. At least that is my experience so far. I’m less than one week into this new stage of life called empty nesting. Nesting, they say, is that exuberant energy for cleaning and organization pregnant women experience in their desire to prepare their homes for a new baby.
Anti-nesting, I say, is that exuberant energy for cleaning and organization that a mother experiences when her nest empties and she realizes what is cleaned in Vegas (or wherever she lives) stays clean in Vegas.
I’m living in Vegas, baby. Or Florida. Whatevs. I’m living where what is cleaned stays clean. I’m anti-nesting.
Anti-nesting is much like nesting. Though you’re saying goodbye rather than hello to children in your home, you still clean and prepare for a new life. Your own.
Last week, I began a blog titled “I want to write something permanent.” I wrote only one sentence: “I prefer weeding.” (And, no, you didn’t miss it because I didn’t click “publish.”)
Why? Because weeding makes a difference that lasts longer than the 30 minute reprieve before my husband and last, lingering, at-home child come home and make a mess. And because the results of weeding last longer than the resounding impact of a well-written blog post – hence the title, “I want to write something permanent.” Unfortunately, weeding makes my back hurt, which also lasts longer than a clean house or a blog post’s impact or even a weeded patch of yard. (See Six things I learned from back pain…)
I know that the results of parenting – whether good or bad, actually – last longest. As in life long, actually. And, believe me, I loved parenting and tried to impart good things to my children.
But I am visually stimulated and, therefore, mentally disturbed or unsettled when what I see is out of whack. So I try to clean and make my space visually attractive, and this attempt was constantly frustrated by living in a family of seven. (You would have thought I’d go into still-life photography, shooting photos of those clean rooms, right? Oh, that’s right. I did on occasion. And then print them so that my children knew what a room could be like.)
So desiring weeding over cleaning was simply a desire for something that visually lasts. But all that is over now. Not only have I been forbidden to weed — due to back issues — but I have entered that period so many lament: the empty nest.
Rather than lament the loss of constant contact with my children or the fact that my husband has no one to annoy but me or that grown children signal my own older age, I have an overwhelming, joyful anticipation of a clean house. Like a pregnant woman actively anticipating a baby by “nesting,” I am (finally) actively anti-nesting, anticipating a clean house because my five children, one by one, have all left the nest.
Empty nest syndrome?
Some people get depressed over the empty nest stage, calling it “empty nest syndrome.” What is wrong with you people?
Actually, Saturday evening my husband and I went out for dinner — somewhat spontaneously. A celebration? I would have thought. But, instead, he admitted to feeling a bit lost, a bit uncertain at the advent of this new stage of life.
“That is because I am so much more practical than you,” I declared, and then I reminded him of our early days of marriage when he would attend conferences out of town and occasionally take me with him. (We would occasionally take the children with us, too.) But while I felt relieved, unencumbered by a day or two without children and domestic demands, he would actually verbalize how much he missed them. (The children, not the domestic demands.)
We were surprised by this sudden empty nestedness.
Though my youngest is merely 20 and attending college classes while working part-time, we feared he was far too smart to leave the comforts of home for life on his own. A life he would have to support with his own sweat, blood, and weekly paycheck. So, yeah, never happening.
Until Memorial Day, when my husband and I and this lone, lingering son were home the same morning. And my son intended to visit a friend who had just moved into a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment by himself. Just as my son attempted to leave for this visit, my husband assigned yard work.
The straw that broke the birdie free
Before he had stepped into the shower moments before, my husband had told me, “Don’t let Adam leave before I get out. I’ve got some chores for him to do.”
Since Adam never told me he was leaving, I didn’t get a chance to communicate “chores for him to do.” But my dear, sweet son let his father know he was about to leave. Such a nice, responsible young man. And got rewarded for his effort with an assignment: a father-son activity including trimming back various plants along the driveway and walkway.
Did he say, “Yay! Quality time with dad!”? Um. No.
“I’ll do the trimming,” said my husband, trying to add to the appeal. “You can just pick up the trimmings and cart them to the burn pile.” (In other words, rake trimmings into piles, lift piles into the wheelbarrow, wheel the mess to the back of our acre property and dump, repeat, and, when finally finished, blow the chaff off the drive and sidewalk, put away equipment, and wish you had known about the chore specifics before showering rather than after. Did I mention it was 90 degrees at 9:30 a.m.?)
I heard no “yay!” — just Adam’s vented frustration. I listened, sympathetically, but that was all. Chores were a part of daily life at the ole homestead (along with free rent). So was raucous complaining, usually followed by the job getting done anyway.
One hour later, a sweaty Adam, his chores finally completed, bid us farewell. (Not his exact words.) Five hours later, he returned from his friend’s new apartment, new furniture recently delivered, and said, “I’m moving out.” (His exact words.)
We were dumbfounded. Dubious. Afraid. Overjoyed. Hesitant. Certain this was necessary for his personal growth but uncertain how it would go. Mentally considering his costs. Outwardly verbalizing Adam’s need to consider the costs.
“I am,” he said.
Somehow that phrase did not yield the same confidence we had when it came straight from the mouth of God, but we knew independence and responsibility were right and good for our son, scary though it may be.
He left shortly after that to return to “my apartment,” as he told us, letting us know he’d be back before 11, his curfew (for a few more short days).
Each day after work, I’d pass Adam’s bedroom and notice that it looked cleaner somehow — but it was just that he was taking items, a few at a time, to his apartment. On Friday, he took the bed, curfew be damned. Our boy was on his own.
Same son but somehow different
On Saturday morning, I sent Adam a text, offering to help him sort the remainder of his belongings into “move,” “toss,” and “give away” piles. He was working all day but said he’d appreciate my help on Sunday.
He arrived Sunday, automatically took out the kitchen trash and recycling (all that training finally yielding fruit!), and helped himself to the waffles left over from our breakfast before giving me a distinct sense of “let’s just get this over with” about the room. Meaning, we would get some of it done but the room would not be empty when he left that day. But that was OK. (I had deep-cleaned the den in my anti-nesting adrenaline rush the day before. With Adam absent, I knew I could go there to get my fill of clean.)
We’d deep-cleaned his bedroom through the years, and it had usually resulted into a frustrated Adam and a increasingly thorough Little Red Hen of a mother. And a clean, organized room with a resolution in place to keep it that way. It lasted a week or so.
This time, instead of getting frustrated, Adam told me, calmly, that we would do one section of the room at a time. It worked surprisingly well. As I predicted, we did not get the entire room done, but we made progress and we didn’t hate each other at the end of it.
In fact, he thanked me for my help, assured me he would be back throughout the week to do more, and made piles to take with him when he left — which would be after he mowed the yard (for pay). Before he left, he asked if we had any food for lunch. This son of mine, who had shunned homemade delicacies in lieu of fast food for months on end, looked at my leftover lasagna with desire. He packaged it to take with him, as he told me about the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches he’d been eating and the girl at work who had told him her trick to buying a week’s worth of groceries for $9.50. Then he gave me a big hug and said goodbye.
My nest was emptied and the anti-nesting had begun. I’ve often thought of the saying that “it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” and today I think that applies to me. “It’s better to have nested and watched the birdies fly away than never to have nested at all.”
What better way to make me appreciate cleaning?
(Plus, I do love all my birdies. It has been a privilege, this whole parenting gig. I have to admit I spent a good half hour looking for at least one of those photos of one of my children’s rooms when cleaned. I have pictures of people and events and, occasionally, food, which I sent mostly to my son to show him what he was missing by not being home for dinner. The funny thing? I couldn’t find one picture of a cleaned room. Obviously, I do know what’s most important.)
P.S. It was a bit of a shock Sunday night when I had to gather the trash around the house and my husband had to take the trash can and recycling bins to the curb before bed…