Now my husband and I are officially empty nests, but this appointment took time to match our reality. When the first of our four children showed up ten years ago, he left home to live in different areas with friends, and there was a feeling that the band was breaking up. Even before this happened, we lamented the fact that each of them was slipping away one by one, taking with them their unique talents and manners. How do you enjoy classic melodies without all the band members? Then our son came home to live when he was between jobs, only to leave forever, a few years later. Others left and returned too, some to other states, one finally landed all the way to Japan. We may have kept saying we had empty nests to prepare for what was really going to happen, but the process was neither sudden nor final. It takes a young man a lot to spread his wings – energy, desire, planning and something lower to keep them on top. Sometimes these things come together, sometimes it takes time to catch the right current. This spring, the last of our four children packed a car with their belongings (and some of ours) and set up a permanent residence in New York City. Finally all the children disappeared.
But at about the same time as our daughter left home, a tiny nettle settled. Every year she or one of her brothers flies to our kitchen with a stick in her beak, announcing spring. One day a dirty pile of straw, left over from last year, begins to move from the sounds of life. One bird or five here? It’s hard to know. At first it becomes weak, but after a few weeks the twittering increases with primary fury. Then suddenly we see their skinny necks straining over the edge of the nest and pushing forward open beaks, pantomimizing the basic requirement of life – to be fed.
Watching how often the Nettle leaves to meet the demands of her brood reminds me of how ridiculously busy being a young mother is. Watching a sleeping baby is like watching a bunch of sleep energy. We, the parents, consider and study the features, comparing the similarities of noses and eyes with parents and grandmothers, but in fact they are all just children-posters for the amazing plan of human life. Feeding what needs to grow fast can be tedious. For a mother, sometimes, these cries strike like a jolt, shouting your name wherever you are, even penetrating your unconscious. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the 24-hour work demands. At first you wonder if I’m doing it right? Are they growing? Is it enough? No matter how often they cry, the mother listens to every call as if life itself depends on it. Sometimes my kids wasted so much energy on feeding that they fell asleep in the process. My husband and I called it “drunk milk” when their skinny limbs suddenly relaxed like rag dolls, milk dripped from their smooth faces, and their pink lips sucked in the air lost in a feeding dream.
My husband and I go in and out of the kitchen door, remembering that an anxious mother is watching us. If we linger too long near the nest, it rushes in and bombards us, reminding us that we have transgressed. One day we were lazy and, bringing food, left the kitchen door wide open. The nettle flew inside, deciding to turn the script over and check OUR nest. She flew across the ground floor, banging on the large dining room window, hoping that one of the many mirages would lead to freedom. We opened all the doors and windows, and finally one. After this exit we completely avoided using the kitchen door.
So we set out to check them out the door window and were once surprised to see all four birds in plain sight. Three perfect miniature nettles doze off in a somersault, freely forming a pyramid of support teams. The fourth bird was dozing by itself, caught half in the nest, half, a happy reminder that even in nature there is room for individuality. They were drowsy and at least one of them was reluctant, but still something pushed them to jump out of the nest and prepare to spread their wings and fly. I take pictures, encourage, but then decide to step away from the window and give them a place from our attentive attention. If we check in five minutes, they are gone. It’s a respectful interaction – close but not too close borderline – with nettles, like what I’m now learning to do from afar with my own running children. However, remembering respect for these boundaries may require my children to be bombarded with dives.
Like the urticaria, I am also a retired mother. What does Mother Nettle do in the afternoon after her diaper rises into the sky? Or does her partner wrap her in his lap and give her a congratulatory peck? Is she torn in the sky, excited by her newly acquired freedom? Does she hide her tired head under her wing and reflect on the passage of time and her own mortality? It’s hard to know. At least, hopefully, she feels a glimmer of satisfaction for a job well done now that her descendants are floating in the blue sky.
CA Laren is a freelance writer living in Gladwin.