Ever have those moments in life when you wish that you were someone or something else? I’m reminded of the movie I watched as a child, The Incredible Mr. Limpet. “I wish I wish, I wish I was a fish, ‘cuz fishes have a better life than people,” says Don Knotts who subsequently falls into the ocean and miraculously becomes a fish. I’m not saying that I want to become a fish. No way. I want to become a mother hummingbird and here’s why: baby hummingbirds, merely three weeks old, start stretching and pumping their new wings readying themselves for their departure in the ensuing days. Even when they’ve started their new, autonomous life, the mother hummingbird still feeds her babies for two to three days after they have left the nest. With great care, she ushers them to the best places to catch insects and to gather nectar. Then, she chases them off to live on their own. Evidently, she’s absolutely fine with the fact that they’ll never come home again for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or birthdays; they’ll never call her on Mother’s Day; they’ll never, ever need her again in the span of their lifetime! Think of it, she suffers no identity crisis, no depression, she has no need for extensive therapy, or weight gain due to copious amounts of food trying to fill the void. Her empty nest is merely…empty.
Being the only daughter, and youngest member of my ‘flock,’ I was never allowed to wander too far from the family nest. My middle brother, the proverbial black sheep of the family, moved to New York with his wife and infant son in tow. My family was aghast, and my parents literally sat Shiva. My remaining brothers and I stayed close to home.
The night my son was born and I witnessed the miracle of his tiny mouth suckling my breast at long last, I was reminded of the prose from Khalil Gibran: “Your children, are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing itself. They come through you, but not from you. And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”
In that quiet and gentle life affirming moment, I inhaled joy, and exhaled a profound sense of sadness. I promised my son, Jacob, that his wings would not be clipped as mine had been, and that he would be encouraged to explore his own thoughts and dreams wherever that would take him. And then I kissed his fuzzy brown head, and cried. No longer holding him within my body, sharing, nurturing, growing, containing him, I realized he was his very own soul, complete unto himself, with his very own journey. It felt like a small part of my heart calved like an iceberg off a mighty Alaskan glacier – a new Self was being born.
A few weeks shy of his first birthday, my video camera had become an appendage in my right hand. It was more than apparent that Jacob wanted to walk, and I could literally hear Neil Armstrong’s voice, “One small step for baby, one giant leap for Jacob.” And then one night, he let go of our round, pine coffee table and walked. Camera in hand, you could hear me crying and laughing, as I got a great shot of our brown carpet – technical, I’m not. I missed the first few steps, but once I gained my composure, I got the next few tippy toe strides. Another piece of my heart calved; a new Self was being born.
It happened again on his first day of kindergarten. I walked him to school, and brought him into his new classroom; a kiss, a hug, and off he went. I waited outside with the other moms just in case he needed me. I caught a glimpse of him playing blocks with a little girl. After a while, he got up, walked to the classroom door and told me to go home. I looked at the woman next to me whose terrified daughter clung to her leg like mussels on a pier piling. “You should be proud of yourself, you did a great job.” My eyes welled; another calving.
And so it goes with each changing cycle of my son’s life. Graduating elementary school, middle school, high school, piano recitals, sleep-aways, Bar Mitzvah, school trips to Europe, proms, getting his driver’s license, buying his first car, going away (far away) to college, falling in love, having his heart broken…more pieces of my heart, suddenly falling and breaking away. A new Self was being born.
The concept of an empty nest was painfully introduced to me on the first Christmas my ex husband took our son away to Denver. Empty nest defined as: “The stage in a family’s cycle when the children have grown up and left home to begin their own adult lives. Note: For parents, the empty nest sometimes results in midlife anxiety.”
Jacob was five. The divorce had been amicable up until the moment Jacob’s father announced it was time for his son to participate in a traditional Colorado Christmas — without me. Anxiety doesn’t begin to describe how I felt when Jacob left for a week. I haunted the house like a soul trapped between here and the afterlife. I cried myself to sleep every night. I sat in his room, held his favorite stuffed animal close to me, and felt as if some huge shift had occurred, and that life would never be the same again. Surrounded by Jacob’s childhood cherishables, I realized that NOTHING stays the same. Every life experience carries the seed of change. Right then and there I knew that in the blink of an eye Jacob would be pack up his adolescent life, and take off, leaving behind his beloved toys, his books, his loving dog, Bamsa, and me, soaring out of reach, out of sight to places unknown. In that moment, with that undeniable, unquestionable truth, my resolve to hold my child with open hands, and a resilient heart, allowing for his inevitable flight, encouraging it, assisting it, insisting upon it…became my mission; like a kindred soul with the mother hummingbird. And for both Jacob and me, a new Self is being born.