The Empty Nest
Red geraniums are my favorite summer flowers. Not only are they beautiful, possessing a wonderful earthy scent, but they are a hardy floral specimen that can withstand even the most extreme weather. They merely need a little water, sunlight, and deadheading once in a while. Unlike impatiens, the drama queens of summer, geraniums aren't fussy. Every year, I fill my front porch planters with them, along with a mixture of ivy, vinca vine, and creeping Jenny.
Last May, as I was admiring these determined flowers, I noticed something. A tiny bird’s nest in our iron planter. After further inspection, I spotted three blue eggs. Though a bird choosing my house to build a nest isn't unusual; I've had many birds do so over the years, this one was special. It was low to the ground, allowing me to get a closer look than normal. I was overjoyed at the prospect until I realized that in order for this small family to survive, I would have to make a sacrifice. I could no longer tend to my beloved girls, the names I lovingly bestow upon any flower I come across. No more watering and pinching away the dead blooms because I couldn’t risk scaring away the mother.
If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you know I adore flowers. But one thing you might not know about me is that I’ve always had a soft spot for birds. One of my first and favorite pets was a cockatiel named Big Bird. I know it wasn’t a creative name, but he was bigger than my sister’s parakeet, so it seemed fitting at the time (little sister syndrome, I suppose). I was seven years old when Big Bird came into my life, and I had no idea at the time that he would live for twenty-two years. He was with me when I graduated from high school, then college, got married, moved to Tennessee, and proceeded to watch me bring two children into our home, though he wasn’t particularly fond of my "new" pets (aka Calister and Alex). If they put their little fingers near his cage, he wasn’t afraid to express his displeasure with his beak. Make no mistake: Big Bird was my first child. Maybe that's why I felt such a strong connection to this family of birds who literally showed up on my doorstep. Every morning, I would start my day with a quick trip to the front porch to check on the nest. Mama Bird, as I called her (again, not a particularly creative name on my part), would sometimes be out foraging for food. But most days, she was just sitting on her eggs, keeping them warm. The strange thing about this particular bird was that I never scared her off. Not once. And I got pretty close. Crazy, I know, but I felt a bond with this creature. A few days later, they hatched. As excited as I was when I spotted those eggs for the first time, this took it to a whole other level. I scooped up Harley, my seven-pound Shih Tzu who is secretly plotting my demise, and I rushed to tell my husband the good news. However, he lacked my enthusiasm, as did my children, but I was over the moon to see these tiny baby birds.
My daily check-ins with this feathered family quickly became one of my favorite things, leaving me awestruck each and every time by how quickly the baby birds were changing. They were growing by leaps and bounds. No longer did they look like bald aliens, but their feathers were filling in nicely. As thrilling as this was to experience, my joy was tempered by the fact that I knew they would be leaving me soon. It’s nature’s way, but I still couldn't stop thinking about how lonely I would feel without them. Then it happened. What I had been dreading. As I tip-toed outside for my daily glimpse, I was greeted by an empty nest. The sight caused my eyes to sting and my throat to tighten. The birds were gone. I always knew it was going to happen, but that didn't make it any easier. After a few minutes of gazing down at what I’d lost, I went inside and grabbed my phone. I felt compelled to take a picture. A photographic reminder of this little family’s existence. Let's fast forward to this past Saturday. It was a beautiful April morning in middle Tennessee. The sun was shining and the temperature was a perfect seventy degrees. Spring weather in this region is notoriously fickle, so this was a blessing indeed. Though I hate to look a gift horse in the mouth, I was having trouble embracing this glorious day because a heaviness had settled into my heart. In a few hours, I would be watching my daughter participate in her last athletic event at her school.
Over the years, my husband and I have sat through hundreds of sporting events, braving all kinds of elements: brutal heat, torrential rain, suffocating humidity, and even sleet. All five of our children have played various sports for their school: football, tennis, basketball, track and field, lacrosse, soccer, bowling, golf, cross-country, and one ill-advised attempt at cheerleading by my daughter (she’s an amazing athlete, but we found this sport was not in her wheelhouse). When the final seconds began ticking away on the scoreboard, my eyes began to water. Until now, I'd approached every milestone this year with my two seniors, a son and a daughter, with a steely resolve and a stiff upper lip. Sure, there may have been a couple of sad moments along the way, but I didn’t let my emotions get the best of me because I would chalk it up to, "Been there, done that." I’ve already sent three children to college, so I knew the drill. But when the horn sounded, I realized the next time I would be sitting in this football stadium, I would be watching my children, dressed in their caps and gowns, receiving their diplomas at graduation. My job of being a stay-at-home mother, the one I’ve held for almost a quarter of a century, is coming to an end. No longer is it a hypothetical on the horizon; it’s my new reality. Then it hit me. The empty nest from last summer. After I arrived home, I went through my phone, looking for the picture I’d taken last summer. After a few minutes, I found what I was looking for, but I also stumbled across something I didn’t expect. Something I’d forgotten about that particular day. According to the time stamp, I took two photos on June 20, 2021. One was of the empty nest, while the other was of a glass of celebratory wine sitting next to my computer. Then the memory came flooding back to me. The reason I took that photo was because I had just completed a final line-by-line edit of my first novel, Where The Grass Grows Blue, my labor of love, the one I’d spent three years writing, editing, re-writing, and then editing some more. The day of Mama Bird’s exodus was also the day I made the decision that it was time to let my manuscript go and begin the querying process.
In July 2021, I sent out my first query letter. In August, I joined the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, connecting with dozens of talented writers who are some of the most generous people on the planet with their time and advice. By November, I had three offers to publish my manuscript, and in early December, I got the call I was hoping for from Red Adept Publishing, offering me a contract. Where The Grass Grows Blue found a home. My viewpoint has shifted as a result of writing this blog about my own impending empty nest. It no longer fills me with dread and fear. Don't get me wrong: moving my children into their college dorm rooms in August will still hurt like the dickens, but Mama Bird taught me a valuable lesson that I didn't realize until now. There were four occupants living in that nest built from twigs, grass, and mud, three babies and one mother. The reason it was empty wasn’t just because the babies used their wings to fly away; it was because Mama Bird had a pair of wings herself. Instead of sitting in that cozy nest, the place where she kept her eggs safe and warm, she ventured out, searching for her next adventure. An empty nest isn’t the end, it’s a new beginning. I’m taking a cue from my feathered friend. It’s time for me to test my own wings again. They might be a little stiffer than they used to be and certainly have fewer feathers than when I was younger, but they still work. Am I ready for this next chapter in my life? Who knows, but there’s only one way to find out. Until next time…