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.