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  • Roberta Whitney Hughes

The Nest

In early April, I noticed birds flying into our entryway more often. Shortly thereafter, I heard loud chirping through the closed door, and in investigating the noises, found a nest carefully constructed at the bottom of the light fixture hanging in the eves.


What happened in the weeks following, seemed to happen so quickly. One day I noticed the nest, and weeks later a baby bird was perched on the window ledge, confused about how to find his way outside. And then a few days after that, the nest was silent and empty. Seemingly, in the blink of an eye.


I never saw the mama bird tend to her eggs; never saw how or when the eggs hatched. She built her nest, brought her babies into the world, fed them, and taught them to fly, all in the span of a few weeks.


This same cycle happens for human mamas, though over many years. We get about 20 years, from the time we start building a nest to that inevitable day when our babies spread their wings and fly.


The Nest is Where We Love and Teach


When a baby arrives, the human nest becomes a place of love and safety for the baby, as well as for mom and dad. The nest is where we learn to become a family. We learn to love unconditionally, forgive mistakes, nurture each other, and grow. It’s where we teach our babies to crawl, speak and walk. In the first five years, these babies gain independence by learning how to feed, dress and bathe themselves.


It’s within the folds of this nest that families love, teach and learn. Parents become role models, showing their babies how to be both self-expressive and kind to others. They expose their children to the world through reading, communication and play. As our babies grow, we encourage them to think independently, to be inclusive, and respect different points of view.


The Nest Begins to Stretch

The first day of kindergarten is the first big leap human babies take away from the nest. It’s their first opportunity to spread their wings, take a small flight, then return to the nest for respite, love and care. Ask any mother and she’ll tell you she can feel the nest stretching; she can feel the joy and grief that accompany this first great milestone.


As these babies move on to grade school, the nest stretches a little more. It becomes flexible and pliable as young children engage in the world on their own, transforming from dependent babies into thinking, active, engaged human beings. As their minds expand, they gain strength and develop the momentum to explore the world with curiosity.


From grade school to middle school, the nest stretches once again. Children now have ideas of their own. Their bodies begin changing, and they become more self-aware in communicating their wants and needs. It is in these years when mothers feel another tug on their hearts. Kids’ friendships grow stronger and family time shifts to activities and social gatherings away from home. From here, it seems as though middle school resembles the sands flowing through an hourglass. The days no longer feel long, and the years seem to slip away.


Within the blink of an eye, middle school comes to an end, and the children are now in high school. The days are too short and the years are passing much too quickly. Those sands of time seem to be running free. It’s in the high school years when a mother knows it’s time to prepare her child for flight. There are feelings of exhilaration mixed with sadness throughout these years, and from freshmen year to senior year, the nest gets stretched, rocked, and shaken. If we’re lucky, it remains sturdy, unbreakable.


The human nest is built to last. It withstands challenges and disappointment, celebrates each milestone, and nurtures every setback. Whether the nest is fully occupied or temporarily vacant, it remains strong and ready to receive and welcome all who come to settle within its folds. This nest is where children learn that no matter how far they fly or how high they soar, there always will be a safe place for them to return.


Time to Fly

Teaching our children to fly is an experience like no other. It’s the perfect blend of joy and grief. For all of you who have children preparing to take flight, give yourself grace. Let your heartbreak into a thousand pieces. Feel the grief and feel the joy. Let yourself ride the waves of sorrow and delight. Make room, unapologetically, for every emotion that floods your soul.

This is both your child’s time and yours. Feel your feelings and celebrate theirs. Remember that the nest you have built stretches far and wide. It will withstand the test of time.


While it may get quiet from time to time, the hearts that have built it and the love that has grown within its folds will never leave it empty.


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