Baby Boomer’s Empty Nests…Keeping Perspective

Photo used under Creative Commons license from John Spade

After a relatively mild winter in the Bay Area, sorry Easterners, by Valentine’s Day the hills were carpets of green velvet and our streets were lined with cherry blossoms and crape myrtles, showering us in shades fuchsias and pallets of pinks. It was so delicious after the nights of 40 degrees and several days of rain. (It’s why we live in California!)

Then one sunny day in mid-March, as I was savoring the view out of one of my windows, I noticed something very odd: One screen that had been repaired before winter seemed to be missing the entire width plus four inches high of screening material! The mesh was literally gone! I ran around to all the windows and noticed the same emptiness of several other screens! How could this be? These were second and third story windows so I didn’t think anyone was trying to break in!

Sandy Taradash
Sandy Taradash

I investigated outside, looking up and finding nothing that would give me any idea as to what happened to these screens. I was so perplexed! The following weekend my nine-year-old granddaughter—one of those kids who is nine going on 39!— spent a couple of nights with me and I showed her the missing mesh. She looked up at me and gave me a commanding look of “Follow me,” and, of course, I did, to the outside.

She stood in a very intense stance, looking up and around, walking from here to there around the court-yard where the windows faced, examining closely the trees and bushes, easements around the exterior of the building and rain gutters coming down the side of the condo. She looked like she knew what she was doing, with a thought in tow, so I kept quiet because I had no clue what was going on in her very clever mind.

After a few minutes she came up to me and said, with that look and word I still don’t get, “Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuh, Butzee, you have a bird problem. The birds have taken the mesh and used it for nesting materials. Look at all the nests they’ve built around here!”

As we looked at the many nests, I also looked for dead birds who could have chocked on the mesh! None! Shayna said, “Butzee, they weren’t eating the mesh, just pulling it out and carrying it to their nesting place, building a home for their babies.” Hmmmmm, seems reasonable and I felt like a dummy. In fact, we saw one nest with mama bird sitting on the eggs and papa bird hovering over her.

About a month later, I listened to a friend whose daughter had gotten married, moved to another state and seems to have let the mother-daughter relationship lapse, and my friend is now feeling the empty-nest and very sad. For added reasons, she almost feels used by her kids who are leading their own lives and don’t seem to have the time for her now, after all the years she poured love into their day, schlepped them, washed their clothes,  paid for college and weddings.

I don’t  know why but when the conversation was over, I went outside to look at the bird’s nests Shayna had discovered. They were pretty much gone, a few egg shells and mesh and nested leaves on the ground or stuck between the rain gutter and the building. A small memory of what was, a little family that now had flown the nest, all on their own to live out their days.

Wow! Remembering the feeling of my friend, I realized how cyclical life is, one day our birds, I mean our babies, are our focus while we are dedicated to their care and well being and then, poof! They go off to make their way in the world, leaving us to do the same! And in there lies the rub!

How do we suddenly start our lives all over to adjust to our empty nests? We may look forward to it when we are waiting up on prom night for them to come home but after a short time, it is a sudden shock to not have to do all the daily “stuff” we once did for our kids! Given a choice, who wouldn’t rather cook for one or two vs a big family every day, or do only a couple loads of wash vs lots? But the symbolism of the bird’s nests and our own loving homes that we’ve worked so hard to create is heavy. It puts our lives in a different perspective. Do we now take stock of what we’ve done over the last 18-20 plus years and have to reinvent what we do for the next 20-30 years?

Lots of people adjust and find new beginnings with their spouse, friends, hobbies, travel, completing their bucket list. But I know too many people who don’t have a spouse or significant other, not as much money as they had hoped to in the later years and so many who cannot retire as planned and have to continue working. Wow! Often life just doesn’t go according to plan, regardless of how hard you try!

When I saw that the nests and birds were gone, just as my own kids are and who are soaring to their fates, I was very sad as to how fast our lives fly by, though feeling blessed that I’m one of the lucky ones who has all three kids living within 10 minutes of me. I was then struck how the week before my grandson and I had a date to go buy his suit for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah this summer.

Photo used under Creative Commons license from John Spade
Photo used under Creative Commons license from John Spade

I called him on his cell phone to remind him that I’d be picking him up for our trip to Macy’s and then lunch. His response was, “Sorry Butzee, I’m too tired to go with you, I was out late last night at a Bar Mitzvah reception.” “But Jacob, that’s what you said last weekend and it’s Macy’s last big sale day! Your Bar Mitzvah is in six weeks! I’ll take you to your favorite malt shop for lunch afterwards!” “Alllllllllllll right, if I have to!”

It’s my 13 year old grandson and I’m already feeling an empty nest!

Then I suddenly remembered a Chinese poem I had once read and wrote down:

Last year during the family reunion, the lanterns shone as bright as daylight.
When the moon climbed on the trees’ top, lovers met each other in the twilight.
This year during the family reunion, while the moon and the lanterns are still here, last year’s persons are nowhere to be seen.
All that’s left are the tears wetting the sleeves of my spring garments.

And then there is, what is to me, a poem that keeps life in perspective, my favorite Jewish poem:

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the sun….Ecclesiastes 3:1.

Oy vay! What’s a Baby Boomer Bubbe to do? Right now, for me, it’s time to go and watch an episode of Modern Family!

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