Empty Nests

Paw Prints and Clean Slates

Nothing is quite as peaceful as an empty nest. And nothing as magical as when it is not.

My daughter, son-in-law and their border collie just pulled out of the driveway—away from the Christmas festivities and extended family time. Our holiday house was chaotic and loud and messy, especially with the two “cousin” dogs that lived here along with our mutt Reese. We swept up enough hair to make a pillow and three sets of paw prints revealed the erratic (and, often, angry) patterns of canine chases through the house.

The three dogs could not differ more in personality and demeanor. Reese, our blue heeler, is territorial and not thrilled by guests. Stocky in frame, he is a canine garbage disposal, requiring a lot of food to fuel his busy days of herding people and other dogs. Coda, the Border collie, is sleek and elegant with a ball obsession. She spends her days using her slender, ladylike nose to push the ball to whomever looks like they might throw it for her.

“What’s with that girl?” Reese seems to say with his eyes.

“Why does he pee every few feet when we walk?” Coda says with her eyes.

The trouble with having two herding dogs together is that there’s no rest. At night, Coda will slip around the corner to see why we’re still up, and Reese immediately springs to action.

“Hey, sis, this is my turf. I’ve got the humans settled where I want them.”

And on and on it goes. Then there’s Pinot, the chi-weenie. The stereotypical annoying little sister. A Chihuahua/ dachshund mix, she is 10 months old and has no self-awareness or sense of personal space. Every lap is hers. She thinks nothing of climbing onto the chair to spring onto Reese’s back. (Coda will have none of it). Walking the three is more aerobic than any Zumba class. Reese and Coda prance together at the front of the line, while Pinot pants, “Hey, wait for me!”

But now the kids, the dogs, and the gassy smells (from the dogs, not the children) are gone. The Christmas decorations are put away, and I know I only have about two days before I’m ready for them all to be back—scattering clothes, talking over each other, telling stories, and laughing. Goodness the laughter that can arise from the three daughters whose faces are adaptations of each other. Thank God for them—the best three creations of my life. Whenever I’m feeling sub-par, I only have to glance at their pictures to think myself spectacular. (Of course, my husband gets some credit—their dreamy brown eyes, their intensity, wittiness and passion for life come from him—but since no one ever drank from his chest, I’ll claim more than half the credit for myself).

In packing away my Snow Village, I lingered a minute on the Tudor house. Its case was lost years ago, and I remember asking my 8 year old Elena to label the Styrofoam packaging. There it is… plain to see: “TOOTER House.” I run my fingers across the third grade handwriting and wish, for just a minute, to be braiding hair, reading a bedtime story or holding fidgety toddlers on my lap. At times like these, my nest feels so very, very empty.

I close the attic door to the holiday décor and to my memories. It is a New Year and decade, and I am facing forward. I love the cleanness of January—the starkness of the mantel, the blankness of my calendar. I could never have imagined, at the start of this decade, what my life would hold. The last time we rang in a new decade, all three girls were under our roof. My oldest had never thought of South Carolina as a college destination, nor could we have envisioned her South Carolinian man who is now one of us. When 2010 started, I had not yet been laid off from a job I loved; I had not yet found my university job in which I’m very fulfilled. I had not yet begun to empty my nest.

There were still Polly Pockets, leotards and Barbie shoes everywhere.

A decade ago, my hometown of Nashville had not yet experienced a great flood. My father’s heart had not yet been bypassed. My parents were spending New Year’s Day 2010 in their own home, making black-eyed peas and packing away their Christmas decorations. Now they are both gone and, with them, so many others.

It’s both fascinating and a bit frightening to think of how many changes a decade can bring. In the span of those 10 years my husband and I have consoled each other in grief, fumed over totaled cars, pushed through times of financial stress and clutched hands in moments of celebrations big and small—weddings, graduations, young drivers arriving home late at night.

I can’t help but wonder what the next decade holds. Will there be little grand-feet when the roaring 20s end? (And, egads, more grand paws?) I feel blessed beyond measure to know that, whatever it holds, the joys and triumphs, sorrows and worries, will not be mine alone. My nest may feel empty now but it never truly is. Just cleaner at times.

Treasure the paw prints and fill the clean slates. That’s my New Year’s resolution.

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