Fledgling birds know instinctively when it is time to leave the nest. Thing is, for them there is no going back. Bird nests are high up in trees, making it impossible for baby birds to hop back up. Once they jump out, they are on the ground and must learn to find food, fly, get up early and otherwise survive on their own. Baby birds do not have any time for hokey-pokey or fooling around. Move it or lose it never took on such meaning
Empty nester is the term used to describe a parent whose children have grown up and flown the coop, leaving the nest empty. Or so the theory goes.
Fledgling humans, otherwise known as 18-year-olds, instinctively long to leave the nest. Thing is, they often come back. Emptying the human nest isn’t as simple as emptying the bird nest, because most kids memorize their address by kindergarten. In many cases, kids don’t leave and stay gone the first time. If you are a parent, some of your friends will tell you this happened to them, but they are also the folks who invariably win big at the casino – if you catch my drift.
I call this period of life half-empty nester syndrome. I suppose you could also call it half-full nester syndrome, depending on your optimistic tendencies. Either way, it works best if your house is equipped with a revolving door. It’s a time when our newly adult children, who are grown-up – sort of, almost – learn and practice the niceties of independence. Often, this takes patience from a parent’s perspective, because becoming independent isn’t as easy as blowing out 18 candles on a birthday cake. Far from it. The process can take years as our baby birds learn to navigate through this thing called life.
And there is much to learn. Like windshield washer fluid is not the same as brake fluid and thank goodness your dad caught you before you poured it into your car. Like the rent must be paid over and over, every single month. The same goes for the electric bill. Like what is life insurance and why would anyone want to purchase it if they’d be dead anyway? Like the garbage company will not haul your trash away if you do not bring it down to the curb. Like everyone has to pay taxes, even you, even though no one likes it. Yes, life isn’t fair. Like laundry is an active sport, requiring energy and effort and if you don’t want your clothes to smell, you’ve got to participate. Like when you run out of gas and call your dad, there’s not much he can do from 100 miles away. And so on.
I’ve got a couple of fledglings myself and never quite know if they are coming or going. Usually it’s a little bit of both. They often arrive home unannounced with empty gas tanks, empty stomachs and full laundry baskets. Some days they say they are coming, but something comes up and they don’t make it – even though I’ve made their favorite meal for supper. Other days, they show up unexpectedly and know that my husband and I want nothing more than to stop whatever it is we were doing and focus on their visit.
Which we do. Because, darn it, we are glad to have them. This half-empty nester thing goes both ways. Baby birds may not be completely ready to leave the nest, but truth be told, many parents aren’t quite ready to have them leave, at least not completely, at least not yet.
So we do this dance. One foot in the nest, one foot out. (You’re a half-empty nester and you turn yourself about.)
My kids may return home toting laundry. Then they help me find a new ringtone for my phone and show me some funny pictures on Reddit. We talk and laugh and lean on each other – because we can. For now. And whether we’re half-empty or half-full doesn’t matter much, because whatever it is, it feels pretty good when we’re all together.
And that’s what it’s all about.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, playwright and author of "The Do-It-Yourselfer’s Guide to Self-Syndication." You can read more and follow her column on the Slices of Life page on Facebook.