Soiling the nest


As we celebrate another graduation season, parents the world over are applauding their children’s diplomas, becoming misty-eyed at the first strains of Pomp and Circumstance—and cursing under their breath as they return home from graduation ceremonies to a “nest” that doesn’t look or feel quite like it used to.

My household is case in point.

My youngest son has never been known for his neatness. One draconian teacher, tired of him never being able to find what he needed in his desk, dumped its contents on the classroom floor. Another told me it was a good thing he was smart because he’d need a high salary in order to afford a personal assistant to keep him organized. It used to be cute when he was a tiny absentminded professor. Now he’s a much bigger one that sometimes comes with an attitude.

As he has gotten older, he has also gotten better at ensuring he had what he needed for school. And his bedroom was an area where I could claim eminent domain. It might be his for now but I was paying the mortgage so it had to be presentable.

Suddenly, though, I am dealing with an (almost official) adult living in my house. And he seems to have decided that eminent domain no longer applies. The dishes pile up in his room. Clothes litter the floor, hiding other sundry items he may need. I’m thinking of searching for the desk chair screw I’ve been missing since 2014 but why ruin the mystery?

A friend told me there is a phrase for this—“soiling the nest.” Supposedly, baby birds do this just before they leave the nest. Their parents take it as a sign that they are ready to leave—and I’m sure it eases the transition for both.

My nest is definitely being soiled.

Have you ever seen the episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where Ray and his wife have a passive-aggressive few weeks over a suitcase? The suitcase needs to be taken upstairs (it’s Ray’s suitcase) but Debra is tired of being the one to have to take care of all household chores. So there it sits, at the bottom of the stairs, for a long, long time. The scene where they finally confront each other about it is hysterical. Give it a watch if you need a laugh.

My son and I seem to be having a similar episode with a gray sock in the middle of the upstairs hallway. It’s odd that I have chosen this particular sock as my stake in the ground but oh—believe me—I have. He has a room full of clothes on the floor, a bar’s worth of empty glasses strewn around it—but I choose the lone sock in the middle of my hallway to refuse to pick up. Maybe I’ll keep it there even after he leaves for school in September. I’m picturing him returning home to visit a decade from now with his wife and small children. Cue dramatic music as he walks purposefully up the stairs, a glint in his eye.  And finally, FINALLY, picks up the sock. Tears fill my eyes as I say, “I knew you could do it, son.”

But I digress.

The other delightful element of soiling the nest is the attitude I mentioned earlier. He and I have always been close. We’ve had a good relationship. But sometimes, my very breathing can now annoy him. He snaps at every question. And “I’ll figure it out” is his answer to everything from “What do you want for dinner?” to “How will you sign up for your college classes?”.

There are moments I can actually imagine pushing him out of the nest. From a very tall tree limb. In the pouring rain.

He has also taken to needing his own floor of the house. Meaning, if I’m on the first floor, he is holed up in his room. When I set foot on the second floor, his teenager radar kicks in and he slinks downstairs. At first, a friend said I must be imagining it but then I experimented. In one night, I got in at least a day’s worth of steps (my FitBit thanked me and threw me a tickertape parade on screen) in about an hour. My Machiavellian side kept me switching floors as he did. It was really quite funny until I had to get out of bed the next morning and my glutes screamed.

My mind keeps coming up with random bits I remember I haven’t taught him. Friends were joking about how they showed their son how to apply a condom using a banana to insure he knew the ins and outs of safe sex. A talk went with this demonstration, I believe, but I’ll spare you that. I know my ex-husband is not good about talking to the boys about these things but nothing is more mortifying than having your mother do it. We had reached the age where I guess mortification was necessary. So, as I breezed into his room, I asked him if he needed the banana demo. “No. Covered in school and on the Internet, Mom.” Phew. But then, as I’m downstairs doing the dishes, I remember STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). I look up the rate for college students and find that 1 in 4 has an STD. I yell up the stairs, “Three out of 4 college students have an STD! Better be safe and choosy.” Not more than 10 seconds later, he corrects me on the stat. Damn that Google. How is a mother supposed to strike terror in her child’s heart with correct information just a click away?

A New York Times blog written by psychologist Lisa Damour put it well: “With their parting maneuvers, young people are subconsciously tempering the emotionally intense, landmark moment of leaving home. In moving out, teenagers give up almost everything they have ever known, with little grasp of what they are getting. It’s no surprise that they rely on adaptive, if sometimes off-putting, psychological defenses to buffer such a stressful transition.”

In other words, he is trying to live independently before he actually has to live independently. And I. Have. To. Let. Him.


This is part of his prep work. God it hurts. But it will hurt more if I let him go and he hurts. We’ve been so close. We have a really great relationship. He is a phenomenal human being that I love to talk to, hang out with, laugh with, banter with—there aren’t many humans that fit that bill.

I look forward to doing that with him throughout the rest of our time together—in life, if not this summer. If we’re lucky, we’ll have plenty of time to make up for lost time.

But for now, I have to watch him test his wings. I have to fade into the background. And he has to take off flying like nobody’s business.

I guess I’ll go to the kitchen and eat a banana. I have plenty.


44 Comments Add yours

  1. Laughing at the description of Ray’s and wife’s fight over the suitcase because I’ve left son’s socks and, er, unclothing in the bathroom corner for days ’til he got to them. And yes, your teen wAs seesawing from you. What a great workout you got. They parcel out their own space. We all need it, esp from helicopter mommas! (speaking more of myself than you).

    1. candidkay says:

      Right?! That workout was worth its weight in gold. 😂

  2. Our son wasn’t at all like that when/before he went off to university. Either we were lucky, or it’s an American thing. (Probably a mixture of both.)
    Funnier were the reactions of most other parents. He studied in Spain, so we heard “oh, that’s so far away, how will you cope with that?” But if he had gone to the other end of Germany, it would have been just as far away. Weird how going to a different country will generate that perception…

    1. candidkay says:

      I hadn’t thought about it being perhaps a cultural thing. That could have something to do with it. I also think, though, it depends on the personalities in the relationship. I do think that for some kids – boys in particular – there’s a need to establish some distance before there is a breaking off point where they are launched. Eases the transition! I love that he is getting cross cultural experience at that age. I think it is so valuable!

      1. As always, riveting… engaging and when I got to the end, I was damn, don’t be over.

        I echo your sentiments, I miss those days of teenage disaffection and angst, but I take solace in my adult son reminding us that… “Y’all did a good job, thank you for that.”

        Humbled and honored.

        Fyi..FYI… Kay, you’ve done a great job my friend, I see you!

      2. candidkay says:

        You sure do know how to make a gal’s day, Shun P😁. I’m sure you know there’s nothing nicer you can say to a writer than you didn’t want a piece to end! I love what your son said to you. That’s a true tribute. And thank you for seeing me. Worth its weight in gold!

      3. And… my apologies for the typos.

        (The shame I feel). 😀

  3. Luanne says:

    So is he off to college soon? Is that where he’s going? The summer before my daughter left for college she was the most obnoxious thing. I couldn’t stand her, really. And she lost her precious stuffie and was inconsolable. It was very much as you say “soiling the nest” in more ways than the obvious. Then it was so hard after she left for school that we had to adopt another cat . . . .

    1. candidkay says:

      I think it’s the universal parent child dance before they go to college. Hard for them, hard for us. Super exciting. And super scary and sad. All at the same time. I can completely see why you had to get another cat!

  4. fritzdenis says:

    Poignant and funny. The part about your son switching floors was hilarious.

    My son pretended I didn’t exist. I got my revenge by throwing an arm across his shoulders, as we neared a school entrance, and saying loudly, “I love you son!” He dropped to the ground and stepped back five feet. We entered the building as a two-man procession.

    1. candidkay says:

      It’s a dance so many of us do, right? Them trying to find their independence and us trying to still be a part of their lives without smothering. You made me 😃. I can picture the scene!

  5. Loved this! It reminded me of my daughter. She was always a mess in high school. ADHD tends to have that effect, though. Now, she has a great job and a nice apartment and a dog and a cat. Her apartment is spotless every time I visit. She’s got her act together (knock on wood!) They do grow up and mature. Socks, schmocks! Mona

    1. candidkay says:

      I am hearing that the differences over the next four years will be amazing. And if my older son is any indication, there is much maturity to come :-). Thanks for the words of encouragement! Sounds like you’re daughter has it all together😀.

  6. Laurie Stone says:

    So funny, especially about that sock. Sounds like some of the passive-aggressive fights I’ve had with my ahem, ‘organizationally-challenged’ husband. This age is so poignant (your son’s, not my husband’s!).

    1. candidkay says:

      😂 Are you sure? Your husband’s age could be poignant😉. The sock is finally out of the hallway! But it took quite a while.

  7. My son’s car just before he moved out broke down and we had to go meet him at the garage after dark. My husband had a flashlight to look the car over (he’s a fixer and rescuer). There in the flashlit garbage heap of the hatchback was a little mouse eating leftover McDonalds.

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh man! You’ve just officially given me the heebie jeebies! But laughing also. Just glad I wasn’t there. And now you have me going out to the garage to take a peek . . .

  8. Masha says:

    Funny you mention that episode on Everyone Loves Raymond, I just recently saw it again, hysterical. As always your writing is outstanding, so well written, I can always count on a dose of honesty and laughter. Thank you for this wonderful piece. xo

    1. candidkay says:

      Aw, thank you Masha! It is a funny one, isn’t it? It’s so relatable!

  9. Ally Bean says:

    This is a wonderful post. I know that while it is difficult to come to terms with your son’s recent behavior, it is a good sign that he wants to move out, grow up, get on with his life. And as for being absentminded, it’ll either work to his advantage OR if it doesn’t he’ll figure out a way to get over his own sloppy self. This kid’s going to do great in life.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you, Ally! I know it’s a really good sign when they’re ready to take off even as they’re a bit nervous. I was not that kid–and it would have been so much easier had I been. And I’m cracking up because you wrote “he’ll figure out a way.” So I’ve been told with “I’ll figure it out” umpteen times!

  10. Great essay. You and your son will have many more memorable years together. I love this paragraph: “But for now, I have to watch him test his wings. I have to fade into the background. And he has to take off flying like nobody’s business.”

    1. candidkay says:

      Thanks for the kind words😀. It’s a quote turning the page “moment for sure. But I know plenty of people have gone through it before me so I’m sure I’ll get through it!

  11. Dale says:

    What do we call it when they are both adults, working full-time (well, mostly) and just breathing my air? I can assure you they are definitely soiling my nest!! I am about to push them out, ready or not!
    All jokes aside, in a weird way, it makes sense, doesn’t it?
    I can’t tell you how many things are *there* waiting for them to pick up. sigh.

    1. candidkay says:

      It does make sense! Hate to say it but it does. Here’s to a clean nest but a full heart❤️.

      1. Dale says:

        Yeah. I hate to as well…
        Here’s to a clean nest, birds who can fly on their own wings and peace of mind! 💞

  12. Been there and got the shirt. If it is any consolation when they become employed and over 25 you become so much smarter and so much nicer.

    1. candidkay says:

      Ooh, so I have that to look forward to! But 25?!😯

      1. Yup. Gotta get through. the college ups and downs and then the living alone and working ups and downs.

  13. willedare says:

    You could write about anything, and I would happily read it. And the comments your blog post has inspired are a great continuation of the themes you explore in your post. Let us know what happens to the sock!

    1. candidkay says:

      What a lovely thing to say! I’m not sure you could say anything nicer to a writer😊. I’m so glad that you’ve joined the swim here. Your comments always add value to the conversation! And I’ll be sure to keep you posted on the sock. As of this morning, still sitting happily in the middle of my upstairs hallway.

  14. markbialczak says:

    Congratulations on the milestone, Kay! I agree, soon-to-leave son two’s anxiety level must be soaring, throwing him into this funky behavior. He’ll find his way, you’ll listen and learn along with his journey, and … you’ll indeed cherish the days when he’s a true adult and one of your best darn friends ever. My daughter, navigating her young 30s now, is such a dear friend of mine!

    1. candidkay says:

      I love to see the photos of you with your daughter, Mark! She has your smile and you both look like you are having such a wonderful time together. Gives me hope! Thanks for the words of encouragement.

  15. This was great! I had three boys leave the nest. They all couldn’t wait to leave and then they all came back for visits telling me how great my home was now. Now? It was always great here! Free food, laundry services, free internet, etc… They just had to leave to see it with fresh eyes and a new perspective. When your son returns for visits, he, too, will appreciate the nest he left much more than he does now. Well done!

    1. candidkay says:

      Christine! Nice to see you back! I miss your blog so much. Thank you for the perspective from the great beyond of teen parenting. I will keep it in mind as I grit my teeth. 😬

  16. You had me nodding as I pictured my son and his mess, and then laughing as I relate to dishes piling up in his room and clothes littering the floor. I’ve told him for the past five years not to eat in his room and finally gave up. I remember being irritated by my mother as I became more independent during the college years. Couldn’t wait to have my own place. Is your son graduating this spring?

    1. candidkay says:

      He just graduated! So ceremony and requisite feelings are fresh in my mind. And the eating in room bit–I get it! I’ve said the same but at a certain age, I swear they become cavemen living in their room . . .

      1. Cavemen living in their room. Yup. Right there (chuckle) and a big congrats to your son on his graduation!! And congrats to you for your part in getting him there!

  17. Karen Lang says:

    I agree with David! Your posts are always raw, real and honest stories of a life well known to us all.

    Heads up, my extremely messy, irritable oldest daughter turned out to be the cleanest, most generous and humble adult living out on her own. And my 19 yr old who still lives at home is so clean and easy to live with. I’ll let you know how that turns out. Either way. When they do leave the nest we miss it all. Well maybe not the mess….😜 just their presence.

    1. candidkay says:

      Whoa! TWO clean offspring? Write a book, for heaven’s sake. The rest of us need it:). Wink wink. And thank you for the kind words–real is not always easy. I feel like this is lovely lot here in my blog swim–but it’s hard to be real in a world that can take advantage of that. We’ll soldier on anyway, right? I know you do in your blog and we love it.

      1. Karen Lang says:

        Ha! Yes Please soldier on we need ‘real and honest’ in this very fake world!

  18. David says:

    Your posts always make me laugh and cry in equal measure, this one being no exception. They are ALWAYS an honest reflection on a world where it is often painted on social media in the best light. Thank you for bringing your honest stories to this world, whether I’m crying or laughing, they always make my day.

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, David, what a wonderful end to my day! This comment is really kind–and even better because it sounds like it came from the heart. Thank you–and I’m glad I make you laugh and cry (both!). I do believe I promise that in my blog description–so at least I’m delivering . . . and if we could all feel a bit more, the world would be a better place.

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