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“And Then There Were None”: Reflections on an Empty Nest

I love Mother’s Day and I know that Mother’s Day loves me right back—the proof is in the three bunches of flowers before me. Much like their senders used to do, each is jostling for its rightful place in my living room. Some leaves are crushed and crumbled in the battle to take centre stage, others are still as achingly new, as when they first came to bloom.

All three, upright and full of cheer, are all I need to make this mothering Sunday a sunny day. And so, because I’m good with numbers, I’m counting my blessings o-n-e by o-n-e.

No honestly, I’m loving today. These are just happy blots of mascara. Perhaps its manufacturers simply forgot to test it on Mama Birds, whose not-so-little ones, have all flown away to pastures new. And on a day like today, the only sound that echoes in my empty nest is my poor, old ruffled nerves.

Although in my opinion it is definitely worthy of an Oprah Special or two, no one appears to give this ‘empty nest” syndrome the gravitas that is its due. Browse through Amazon and you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to all the manuals you’ll find on how to cope with the perils of life after “proper” retirement. But your “I’m Feeling Lucky” search would have hit the jackpot if you find just one used book that tackles the vacuum as big as China that a mother faces when stripped of her unpaid responsibilities.

Hard as I try, its occasions like these that make a mockery of all the effort I’ve put into pretending that my empty nest is as jolly and busy a place as it used to be.
Despite, of course, all my husband’s best efforts to highlight the bright side.

Surely, he argues, it’s a wonderful thing to find that the satellite bill is finally earning its keep now that we can roam the airwaves as we please. What about the unbeatable feeling of living in a hazard free zone? No more tripping over the latest and greatest bicep building machine!

Even I, he points out, must appreciate the drastic improvement in noise pollution. Isn’t it wonderful to be able to speak without having to compete with a drum kit bought on the cheap when one of the boys was going through his Ringo Starr phase?

And what about the thrill, he asks, of reaching out for a cold Coke and actually finding one in a full fridge that doesn’t need replenishing the day after my weekly shop.

But I’m having none of it. His carefree cajoling is completely lost on me.

I repeat, one more time, the sorry tale, of how the other day, I made a complete fool of myself at my local supermarket. There I was, in the queue to pay, when I burst into tears. I had just realized that half the stuff in my trolley were goodies I was accustomed to buying for three teenagers, whose cravings and hunger bangs, were worse than any of those found in a packed prenatal class of yummy mummies-to-be.

I was also not giving in to my husband, when with unbridled glee, he started to move in all his beloved DIY stuff into one of the boys’ bedrooms. My rant of refusal contained more X rated words than all the nuts and bolts in his handyman box. Unreasonable behaviour, it may well be, but it’s my way of dealing with how surreal it was when I first visited my eldest at his university dormitory.

He pointed out, proud as punch, that this is where he studied now. My face, with no surgical help, beamed right back in frozen splendour. It helped deafen the growl from my heart that was whimpering in disbelief “oh no you don’t. You study at that old battered IKEA desk that nearly broke your dad’s back as he carried it upstairs to your bedroom when you were thirteen.”

So, here I am and there they are. Unnaturally, uncluttered boyhood desks, waiting for their owners to make them a mess, once more. Alongside beds, which were home to one of our favourite bedtime rituals.

We would all get into one bed and start singing, that old as time, nursery rhyme:

There were ten in bed and the little one said “roll over”
So they all rolled over and one fell out…..

They had been taught at school that, as one by one they rolled over and out of the game, the last one would say, “goodnight.” But my youngest changed it to “there were none in bed” when his older brothers had grown and flown.

There was no heart clenching sense of poignancy, then—he was still there. But, in time, he spread his wings too, and somehow it doesn’t work anymore, with just his dad and I left to play the game.

I know they won’t – but it won’t stop me from trying to get them to reenact it, when we are all together again. Maybe, just maybe, this time, if I dangle the keys for the new car tantalizingly long enough in front of them, they will humour their batty old mama. Anyway, thankfully, I don’t have to wait too long—Mothering Sunday means ‘here comes summer” and the boys will be home soon.

But until then, I just know tonight’s going to be one of those when my I-pad’s “5% Battery Left” sign is going to be dismissed. I know that I am going to be left with a tablet that has overheated on emotions. It will need to recharge its batteries before it can go on.

But recharge it will, just like me and the rest of the world’s merry band of redundant mothers. We’ll go on, connecting and reaching out. And while I’m at it, I might as well finally pluck up the courage to remove “There Were Ten In Bed” as the ringtone on my mobile.

From now on, I’m going to answer all calls to the anthem of my own youth: “We are Family.” Perhaps, an equally cheesy ditty, but nevertheless, it’s going to rock this nest! Across a twelve hour time difference and a continent or two away, we are family. Forever and always. Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!

Photo by Robert Couse-Baker, licensed under a Attribution 2.0 Generic license.