My nest is empty. Again. These days, they come home just long enough to eat my food, use all of my clean towels, pack their cars and return to lives far more interesting than the one we live around here. When they are gone, the house is still and it takes a couple of days to get used to the quiet again. I remind myself of the advantages to keep from missing them too much. Like the fact that I can take bubble baths without first having to scrub the tub in the bathroom my two messy birds share when they are home. It’s not much, but it’s something. So it’s all good. I set out to raise two adults. These days, I’m fairly certain that I did.
Back when they were toddlers, I had no idea what I was doing. Who does? There were days, weeks, and even one month during those years when I wondered if we’d all make it out alive. If you are mother yourself, you are nodding right now, remembering your own Worst. Month. Ever. with toddlers. For me, the month was February in 1995. The temperature hadn’t climbed above zero for a week. My normally cute and cuddly kiddos were sniffling, sneezing, crusty little creatures. The type of toddlers my wise and funny Sister regularly referred to as “Glazed Doughnuts” back then. The type you think other people have but never believe you will until you do. They were crabby; I was crabbier. Toward the end of Hell Month, in a moment of what I can only describe as Divine Inspiration, I went to the garage, found their empty wading pool and dragged it into the kitchen. The very act of doing this quite improbable thing made my two sticky toddlers and our huge Black Lab stop whining long enough to stand, shoulder to shoulder, awestruck by the sight of a wading pool in the house. It was as if all three of them were thinking, “We have finally made Mommy insane! But we have a swimming pool in the kitchen!!! We ROCK!!!!!!!”
Going to the pantry, I took out every bag of dry beans I had ever purchased with the intention of making soup (I think there were twelve bags…don’t judge…) which I used to partially “fill” the wading pool. Two wooden spoons, some Tupperware bowls, an egg beater, and two toddler bottoms filled it the rest of the way. The dog, realizing that this plan wasn’t what she’d initially been hoping for, still managed to amuse herself by eating at least a quarter of the beans over the next two weeks. She was bloated and I found beans on the living room carpeting until May that year, but it kept the Glazed Doughnuts busy. Who knew that beans would save us all from February?
Being a young mother was hard. I think that older mothers need to say that to younger ones a lot more than we do. It is frustrating and isolating and draining work to raise adults that other adults will actually want to live with some day. It is a job with lousy pay and a sketchy benefit package. Society does not give mothers the credit they deserve for raising human beings. This is true whether women stay home full-time to raise children or work outside the home in addition to raising their children. The “village” that our own mothers and grandmothers had for help has all but disappeared. I think that this has made the job even harder for many women.
The best advice I got didn’t come from a book or a parenting website. It came from relatives and friends with children older than my own. It came from friends and colleagues who knew me and knew my children and were invested in seeing us all turn out okay. Looking back, I realize that most of it was common sense. Ultimately, I still had to trust my own instincts when it came to the best ways to meet the needs of my own kids. I’m happy to report that as of today, they have both survived having me as a mother. I’m hoping this trend continues.
The thing about raising a child is that you really don’t know how you did until it’s too late to do anything about it. If you’re lucky, they leave you with the skills necessary to thrive, meet goals, and live with strangers who don’t love them nearly as much as you do. They learn to clean up their own messes and brush their teeth and do both tasks regularly. They pay their phone bills. If you’re really, really lucky, they actually come home to use all of your clean towels once in awhile.
When your nest is empty, that’s the best you can hope for. At least until they tell you that you’re going to be a grandmother.
I can wait.