This summer, here at Chez Cahalane, we have been blessed to have a robin build her nest at eye level in the shrub next to our driveway. So far, our prolific little birdie has produced two sets of three eggs and six live robin chicks. We, along with our neighbors, who happen to be our children and grandchildren, have kept a watchful eye over the broods as they moved through the stages of gestation, hatching, and flying away. Mom robin has even become accustomed to our daily visits, calmly watching us from a branch in a nearby tree as we admired her little ones. In lieu of in-person science classes, our little nature experiment has been a wonderful way to enjoy a little hands-on, non-Zoom learning.
Last week, as our second set of three little ones peeped away in the nest waiting for their next meal, my grandson Declan and I peered into the nest. Their little heads turned towards us and I gushed, “Oh, Declan! Look at how cute!” Dec, always the realist and the master of the zinger, reminded me that nothing lasts forever. “Well, you know, Mam, soon they’ll fly away and leave the nest.” Although intellectually I know this fact, my heart sank.
As we passed these months, locked up here at the Compound-my label for our two houses side by side, I have become keenly aware of the growth of our own little ones. The pandemic lockdown resulted in rapid maturity in both Molly and Declan. Surrounded by adults all day, every day, they sound like mini-Me’s, picking up all of our expressions and habits, as well as a few of our neuroses and quirks. Their parents have worked diligently to juggle their own jobs and the kids’ intellectual enrichment, no easy task when you are fending off kids who, like little addicts, so eagerly crave a Roadblocks stupor (it’s a video game of some kind…I have no idea either). Science and cooking projects, and a recently added drone, have kept us knee-deep in entertainment and food. But in a very subtle, dramatic way, our kids have changed, and I don’t like it one bit!
I knew I was dealing with a whole new animal when my granddaughter walked into my bedroom last week and asked me if I still got my period. Apparently, my daughter thought that this quarantine would be a good time to fill Molly in on the details of “the facts of life.” Now ten, the child is full of questions, I know, but seriously, a little heads up would have been nice. I have successfully dodged her prodding in the past, referring her to the Parent Department for Customer Service issues. Now cornered, I started to explain and she cut in with, “Oh, yah, you’re probably too old for that.” It was like a one-two punch…and way too much information to process in rapid succession: she is growing up and I am getting old. (Insert misery emoji here)
When my son left Boston for a new life in Texas a few years ago, the Italian mother in me took a good hit. While he was thirty-two at the time, I sounded like my father when I reminded Scott that “we,” that is, our family specifically, “don’t do things like that,” aka “move away” or leave the nest. Four generations have played hot potato with two side-by-side properties in West Medford, and Scott, before his grand exit to Austin was living in a two-family house near Tufts University that has been in our family since 1926. We don’t leave, and it’s almost to a clinical level.
Our robin’s nest is once again empty. We observed the Mom Robin as she coaxed her babies to try out their wings, making a monumental leap to the branch from which she barked her orders. Now I look at my pandemic-weary, formerly-little grandchildren and acknowledge, as Declan reminded me, that they will someday leave the nest, as well. At some point, this arrangement-two houses, side by side, everyone up each other’s butts, every day a perpetual family reunion-has to end. I don’t like it one bit but it’s a reality that, while a few years away, I must get used to.
I know I have been lucky to have lived with my family near me every day for my entire life and I don’t take that for granted. The closeness has certainly made the pandemic easier to stomach. Until my nest is empty, I will revel in watching my grandkids become little adults, and prepare myself to field those really tough “can I spread my wings?” questions like “Will you take me for a driving lesson?” or “Can I borrow your car?” Now that I think of it, I may never be ready for those requests.