The Nest

My Facebook feed is full of sad parents because their children are heading back to college. We get spoiled for a few weeks when the kids are home, only to face the reality of sending them back in January. I commented on the first Facebook college return post I saw, “A lot of us can appreciate your post. We want our children to excel in life, but to do so means spreading their wings and flying, leaving us with a mix of proud yet sad for a piece of our heart is missing.” My son left last Wednesday because he had a conference for his fraternity to attend in Indianapolis before the start of his semester at Pitt. Our daughter left on the first to go on a scuba dive certification trip with her master’s program. She is due home tomorrow for a few days before heading back to Colorado State on Friday.

When I think about the nest emptying out again, two things come to mind. The first is the song “Learning to Fly” by Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne. The second is the dove nest on our terrace earlier this summer. Both directly are related to the concept of the empty nest. The lyrics that most resonate with me are the following: “I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings. Coming down is the hardest thing.” That song came out in July 1991, after my first year of college. I sure took off flying, going to my dream school, Syracuse, but did not know how to land when I did not have the funds needed for my sophomore year. Tom Petty used to say this song was about personal growth and resilience. I can relate to that. A year later, I learned to land and found a way to return to Syracuse. Though I certainly grew as an individual, I decided that I wanted to fund my children’s education so that they did not have to struggle in school and could reach for the clouds and have a landing spot if needed.

Our nest emptied in August 2022. My husband and I stayed in our home for a year deciding what we wanted to do with this next chapter in our lives. We decided to downsize and move to Tremont. We made sure we still had rooms for our children so they would always feel welcome in our home. We raised our family in a great suburb with good schools, but we missed a more urban and walkable lifestyle. We moved in May and as fate would have it, both children were home with us for the summer. We had a dove nest on our terrace and watched it daily. The parents were highly protective but became less afraid of us and let us peek at the eggs. Once the pair of doves were born, we watched the parents nurture them and give them space to begin to explore their surroundings. The chicks responded by exploring the terrace, flying around the house, and then finally taking off for good. We left the nest up just in case the chicks wanted to return, like we made sure the kids have rooms to return to just in case.

The goal of parenting is to raise compassionate and productive human beings. Those are pretty broad parameters. We do this by keeping our children safe, encouraging them to try new things, helping them learn to cope with adversity, and giving them opportunities to find their passions. While in the midst of raising them, we often feel exhausted and like we are going to be knee deep in raising them forever. Now that they are flying and learning to land, we realize how precious that time was and on occasion, how much we miss it. This time of year reminds us of how much we miss having them around. We realized when Cassidy and Ben were home that we do not know when we will be together as a family again. Both children have plans for spring break, Ben will miss Cassidy’s graduation because of a medical trip to Honduras, and both of them have plans to be away for the summer. They are doing exactly what we want them to be doing, flying and learning to land, knowing we will be there to celebrate them and support them. So while each time they leave home, a piece of my heart goes with them; my pride and love for them grows. Here’s to all the kids taking off to fly again and to all the parents who love and support them even when it hurts.