They started falling about a month ago. Wind and rain brought them down, one by one, from their branches' formerly snug embraces.
Z exclaimed every time we saw an empty nest lying on the sidewalk. "We have to put them back! The birdies need them!"
"The baby birds are out of their nests now, Boo. They don't need them anymore."
"But where do they sleep?"
"Those nests were for eggs and babies. The baby birds are grown up now and are out on their own," I said vaguely, not confident in my avian knowledge. (I mean, where do they sleep?)
"But what if they get lonely? Do they still see their Mommy and Daddy?"
"Yes. I'm sure they do. All the time," I said, sure of the right, if not the correct, answer to this question.
About ten years ago, I was giving a massage to woman whose daughter was about to leave for college. I asked her if she was excited or sad about her empty nest, or some other equally clueless question, and she lifted her head out of the horseshoe-shaped face cradle, looked right at me and said "Your nest empties slowly, one day at a time". I was struck both by her sad directness and the use of the pronoun 'you' since I was, at the time, a childless twenty-something massage therapist, dating the third of three men who would eventually tell me "I'm gay and being with you helped me realize it" which at the time I was sure could only mean one of two things: a. I was actually a gay man or b. I was an actively repellent representative for the female sex.
Her words stuck with me though, even if I had no clue what she was talking about at the time.
Our next door neighbor came by yesterday to say goodbye to Z before leaving for college. After hugging her goodbye, Z was full of questions.
"Mama? Do I have to go to college?"
"No sweetheart. Your father and I hope you choose to go to college but we'll also support you following your dreams in other ways if that's what you decide." I said, carefully not adding please don't let that dream be stripping/drug dealing/selling your organs on the black market.
"Good. I don't want to go away to college. I would miss you guys too much."
"I would miss you too. But you might feel differently one day, darlin'. And that's okay."
"I don't think I will. I'll just live here forever, okay?"
"Okay. That's okay with me." I said, glancing at our neighbors house which suddenly seemed overly large.
E has been teething, which is a nice, simple way of saying "two giant, blunt but sharp around the edges, MF-ING molars are forcibly pushing their way through the tender expanse of her gums at an agonizing pace". She's been waking early for a few weeks now, screaming in pain. There is little we can do to calm her. Pacifiers, sippy cups, and ice chips are some of the options that are quickly, and often violently, tossed aside.
I know what would calm her. I know what would give her comfort. And this morning, for the first time, she remembered too. As I picked her up from her crib, she pulled my nightgown down and lunged for my chest. Even though it's been weeks- a month?- since she last nursed and she was the one who weaned herself due to lack of interest, she suddenly remembered and wanted to.
So I held her as if she were nursing, placed her paci back in her mouth and rocked her. I cried and really, finally, understood: Your nest empties slowly, one day at a time.