The Empty Nest

Feb 1, 2013

House wrens finally took up residence in one of our bird houses last summer. For those of you not familiar with house wrens, they are a small bird, smaller than a sparrow, with cute little tails that stick straight up. Their bird call, however, is not small. Their call is loud, long and starts at dawn and continues without a break until well after sun-up.

We noticed this noisy male wren eventually attracted a pretty wren-gal and soon there was the bird equivalent of real estate appraisals. We had three birdhouses for let and for whatever reason, the bird couple chose the one on the left. In short order, the wrens began decorating their new home, utilizing great hunks of dog fur and twigs of the finest quality. So we watched all this activity, grousing about the male and his penchant for insisting the world recognize his mastery of our yard with his crack-of-dawn, never ending chorus of reveille but really enjoying the fact that we had made a birdhouse that actually attracted birds.

Soon there was a lot more activity. Mama wren spent a lot of time flying around on grocery runs, assisted by dad when he could pull himself away from his solo band practice. We saw insatiable bird mouths greet busy parents as the feeding continued day after day.

And then, one day, it was over. Just like that. One day it’s a whacky family sitcom, complete with theme song and the next day it’s one of those dust bowl photographs of the abandoned homestead, curtains billowing in the breeze. The babies took flight, leaving ma and pa and the birdhouse with nary a look back. Ma and pa, their jobs completed, headed to the bird version of Palm Springs where, I guess, they are playing Scrabble with other empty nesters.

There’s the “holy cow” moment, when you realize the birdhouse is empty. There’s the reflexive look at the birdhouse every time you pass, hoping for a glimpse of those yellow, gaping maws. And mostly there’s dawn, quiet and still for the first time in months, no tweety-bird reveille to greet your dream-drenched consciousness. It’s just really quiet and that is really, really disquieting.

And now we know what the empty nest literally means. The same thing happened to the human inhabitants last year. The third and last fledgling flew the nest for that next step in life called college. Her nest is now a room in a house, replete with a roommates who smile politely when we drop by but who don‘t even bother to hide the ashtrays. And, like most fledglings, ours took flight with nary a look back.

One day there’s noise, and dishes in the sink, and cookie dough on the counter and plans to make, and that routine seems like it will last forever. And then one day it’s over. And friends have told me that soon I’ll get used to “my space” and the quiet and a house not cluttered with the twigs and bits of fur kids leave around. These friends also tell us that the fledglings will be back and when they come back, we’ll want them to leave because we’ve grown to like our empty nest. And then, when friends see they haven’t completely convinced us, they play the grandkid card, telling us how wonderful that stage in life is.

I’m sure it is. It really is all wonderful. Like the wrens, it’s all as it should be.

But right now it’s just really quiet and that is really, really disquieting.