The Nest, Emptied

empty nest, children, college, alone, love, quiet(In honor of my brother and sister-in-law, my colleagues, my friends, whose last child has just ‘flown the coop’)

For so long, I had listened to the clang of the alarm clocks waking up the children, the limped thump of our son walking stiffly to the bathroom, the feminine growls of his older sister as she demanded her time in that same room.

Suddenly, these morning sounds ceased. Daughter was in Florence for her junior year abroad. Son began his first year at a university thousands of miles away, and I was, once again, childless.

The quiet was surprising.

I had forgotten the time, over 20 years ago, when the only sound was of my breathing, my own steps to the refrigerator or radio, my sighs as I thought out loud, the tick tock of the clock. Once the first child arrived, silence was and child, nest full, family

I never missed the lack of noise, though. Beauty was the baby’s laugh, the tottler’s scream of delight, the sick child’s feverish moan, the teenager’s cry of a friend’s abandonment, the whelp of joy when a college invitation arrived.

I loved the excited conversations after school over chocolate chip cookies, and the sleepy sentences exchanged early in the morning in the car on the way to school.  Dinnertime was never a quiet affair. As the man-of-the-house expanded on his notion of “charm school” and the merits of not talking with food in your mouth and keeping your elbows off the table, the four of us discussed, loudly at times, the politics of the week, the latest football scores, and why 10th graders weren’t allowed to go to unsupervised parties.

republicans vs democrats, conversation, familyAs the two grew, the conversation matured on the topics of sex, the unpredictability of the weather, and Republicans vs. Democrats. The responses were never boring; the walls were never quiet.

sister and brother, empty nest, family

sister and brother, coop flown

But then, a cloud of silence descended upon our household. I could hear myself think again. I heard the wind against the walls, and the old refrigerator’s hum of discontent. The leaves of the eucalyptus tree blew loudly outside my bedroom doors, and the foghorns moaned early every morning. The doves cooed outside the bathroom window, and my footsteps followed my every move.

Silence is not golden, nor is it really possible. The absolute quiet was filled with other sounds, but none were as gratifying as the noise that accompanied the happy home when it was filled with a growing family.


we got a puppy.

empty nest, family, puppy

Weekend Zen

Weekend S.F. Bay sunset

As the sky darkens on a Saturday night, walk me into the house, put a little music on the CD player– Rosemary Clooney, Enya, Vivaldi, the Beatles Rubber Soul– and let the fresh S.F. summer fog meander through the open window. Yes, I’m beginning to get there.

Make the telephone stop ringing, at least turn the volume of the voice mail way down, turn the oven on 350 degrees preheat, open up my closet door so I can change to my well-worn black leggings and soft cotton lavender top. Help me find my rumpled gray socks, and lead me toward the kitchen. Yes, I’m getting there.

Give me an excuse to make my homemade brownies – my son and his family are coming tomorrow for dinner, a friend’s birthday in a day, a neighbor’s dog is sick — and I’ll start to crack the eggs and melt the semisweet chocolate squares, stir in the sugar, drop in a teaspoon of vanilla. As the sweet smells of baking brownies waft through the house, I feel myself getting there.

Husband bangs into the house, racing against the fading light, washes his white-speckled hands under running water, and smiles. He’s had his Zen day out in the yard, pruning, painting, puttering. He kisses me like he means it, then asks in almost the same breath ‘what’s for dinner?’ I point to the eggplant he’s just brought in from our garden, and pick up four round, red, luscious just-plucked tomatoes. ‘Eggplant parmesan?’ I suggest. He hops once with excitement and runs upstairs for a shower. I’m so close I can feel the aura of contentment surround me like a warm coat on a freezing day.

I peel the purple fruit as I listen to Rosemary sing soulfully about love. I dance around the kitchen with a tomato, stopping short as I see the look of concern in my dog’s searching brown eyes. I slice the tomato, feed him the ends, and know he will now love me forever. Then I dip the eggplant slices in egg and breadcrumbs. The telephone rings, and with a sigh, I answer. I smile, though, as soon as I hear my daughter’s voice, just checking in, ending with ‘love you mom.’ Seconds later, my clean-faced husband checks out my dinner preparations, opens a bottle, and hands me a glass of garnet-red wine. ..we toast – “love you” – clink glasses, and I see the colors change around me – the clear lucid light of reality becomes fuzzy with soft rose and warm ivory tones. I’m there. I’ve reached my weekend Zen, and I take a deep breath and soak it in before answering the call of the oven timer.