An Emptying Nest

I am running out of children.

I used to have five children all in one house (sometimes seven when Andrew’s children were here at weekends and during the holidays).

We are down to three now with the lockdown, Michael having moved out (again) and Caitlin has already indicated that she will be moving out by mid-2021 (ever the accountant, she is so organised that she has given me over a year’s notice.) Shannon announced her intention of moving in with Caitlin while she is still at UCT (not so sure how Caitlin feels about that, but I think Shannon is planning on moving where the family cook goes.)

So poor Liam may be stuck with the old folk while he is still dependent on me. One mean older sib once said to him,’You know, Liam, one day that chore chart is just going to say ‘Liam’ for all chores… every day.’ (Said mean older brother’s main reason for moving out was to avoid chores at the time – he now boasts a beautifully clean apartment – go figure!)

But one day they will all be gone… and so will the most important part of my life’s work. It’s hard to believe how much we have survived over the last 19 years, the kids and me. From stepping off the plane (My sister said we looked like refugees – we were in a way) from the USA days after a plane had crashed in Queens in New York and the whole world seemed to have gone mad with fear of travel, post 9-11, to yet another world crisis, this time with COVID-19 lockdowns wordwide and again travel paranoia and bans.

I shall never forget that fateful day when the custom’s official at Cape Town International Airport stamped my passport after the better part of two days travelling alone across the Atlantic with four children and one onboard. ‘Welcome home,’ he said and wished my eldest happy birthday (He was just 10) and I knew I’d be okay, despite all that lay ahead, because we were home.

I set about ensuring that we always had a place where the children would feel safe and loved and would be exposed to the richness of literature and learning. Who knew the joy and love that I would find along the way! With Liam being in Grade 12 this year though, I face the beginning of the end of that long journey to educate and nurture them to be happy and generous humans. Soon Liam will be on his way to being a real estate mogul (with his dog charity on the side of course) and Andrew and I shall have to talk to one another.

Empty Nest Syndrome looms. It is true that as each of the others have left, I have suffered a sense of grief and loss quite profoundly. Once my whole life revolved around the routine of caring for them and now days can go by without speaking to my older boys, one of whom is in Gauteng, or my heart children (my stepson and step-daughter) one of whom is in Stellenbosch at university; the other donating his body to medical science as a live COVID-19 experiment in the UK, I kid you not. (There is something so noble and yet so insane about that! But so typical of our Mika). Now these young people are on their own flights, their own soaring destinies and it is time for Mama Bear to step back and wave goodbye. I suppose that metaphor is not so good now that planes have been grounded again, but soon they like my children will fly again, just as the world recovered from 9-11.

The thing about family though, is that if there is a bond, they never go for good (and I am not referring to the fact that both Sean and Michael left home and then returned, just when I’d given their rooms away to younger siblings, only to leave again on their next adventures.) In September I shall become a mother again for the eighth time (and no, I am not having a midlife-crisis baby, perish the thought – I have my car for that!). Sean will marry the gracious, smart, funny and long-suffering, Jordan, who will make me a mother to another daughter when they marry. Her mother and I refer to each other as the Northern Mother and the Southern Mother already, fortunately not in any Game of Thrones (hey remember that!) kind of way, but in kinship of impending new parenthood. We both agree that this marriage is a union of two humans who bring out the best in the other. (I’m a bit worried about their children one day though – their dogs are hopelessly indulged…)

So the empty nest will one day become a series of many nests that Andrew and I can visit (like cuckoos!). We have joked that between the seven of them they could keep us in meals for a week, but as we kid them, it’s not about what we can get from them as we grow older, it’s the realisation that a whole new adventure extends into the future, with sons-and daughters-in-law to inspire us and grandchildren to feed chocolate cake to and spoil their suppers like my mother did when Sean was little, who will make us ‘surprised by joy’ as the writer, CS Lewis describes finding God. If there is one thing I have learned over my life it is that love is there, waiting in the depths of despair, to surprise us with joy, as I was when I met Andrew.

And there is God. We are home.

At least there’ll be better wifi.

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…and who knows who will move back in before that!

3 thoughts on “An Emptying Nest

  1. Brilliantly written Colleen. I can relate to that empty nest feeling so well. Incredible journey, so inspiring.


  2. My nest has emptied by one child and soon will with another. Thank goodness they keep coming back and enjoy spending time with the “old folks”.
    Thank you for sharing your story … I enjoyed every line.


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