I have been thinking a lot about nests in the past few months, and I know it’s because my youngest son Mobolaji is about to leave the nest and fly off to begin his life as an adult. I have been preparing for the day he would leave for the past 3 years when my older daughter, Segilola left for college, giving me a taste of what it would be like. But how prepared am I?
I have provided a nest for him and his sister, and I remember expecting him 18 years ago and actually nesting. We had just moved to the US and I was shopping for a crib and making blankets, and drapes for the windows and I had enjoyed every moment of it as I had enjoyed it when I was going to have his sister. In the years since, the three of us have made a home together, but now he is on his way out to begin a life in which eventually he will be making his own home too.
This makes me think of making homes for our young.
Our first summer in our current home, a good sized snake that had made its home in the shrubs by the garage would come out with the sun to warm up. Whenever it heard us, it would slither back into a hole by the side of the house. I freaked out, my neighbor assured me that it probably was not poisonous and it had come to lay eggs there, but in Nigeria I had seen a man die from snakebite.
I didn’t sleep that night. The next day was very sunny and warm, and I got into my car and patiently waited for the snake to come out. After about forty minutes of waiting, it slithered out and I ran over it with the car and took off for work.
About five years ago, I found a mouse in the basement and I called pest control immediately. They sent a talkative man who gave me a long lecture on the nesting habits of mice, and of raccoons in the attic too. “Because of their malleable skeletons they can get through very small cracks in the wall, and even by swimming against the currents and the suction of the water in the sump pump (that keeps the basement dry) to come in to the warmth of the house in the winter months to have their babies, so if you see one mouse, there are probably six or more, but the good news is that they leave the house in the summer months.”
I felt despair, because if they can swim against the suction in the sump pump, fighting them would be a losing battle. But by the following winter months, I was ready for them. I had gotten rid of all cardboard boxes and replaced all the containers in the basements and the garage with plastic tubs, and that was the end of mice coming to nest in the house in the cold months. Though from time to time my maternal instincts wondered where they were now nesting, I didn’t volunteer my home.
Two springs ago, I thought that some kids were playing pranks on us because each time I went to the mail box to collect mail; there would be lots of twigs in it. I would clean them out and the next day they would be back in there. I was frustrated and didn’t know what to do. I thought of mounting a secret camera to catch the perpetrator. A week later, as I was on my daily walk in the neighborhood and I ran into our mail carrier as she was delivering mail, “Ms. Ayeni, hi,” she shouted across to me, “you need a new mailbox, a bird is trying to build a nest in your mailbox because it's old and it doesn’t close well. Birds do that in spring.” I felt simultaneously relieved and foolish, and though I didn’t get a new mailbox, we fixed the old one so that no bird could get inside it. I wondered where that bird who had been working so hard collecting those hundreds of twigs would now build her home for her babies.
Last summer, we discovered wasps, hundreds of them living in the basement, between the ceiling tiles and the floor board of the first floor. The Orkin man came to the rescue and said “they do that sometimes and there is nothing to do to prevent them from coming into the basement to build their nest. They are so small that they can come in through cracks in the wall that you can’t even see.”
Early this spring, on weekend mornings when I have tried to sleep late, some sophisticated sounding carpentry work of hammering and drilling close to my head on the wall would wake me up. Initially I thought that it was my neighbor doing some work by his garage, and with a lot of irritation, I would give up on sleeping till 9.00 am and begin the day.
This went on for weeks until my neighbor called to let me know that a bird had been drilling a hole into the wall of the house to build her nest. There was a hole in the central part of the wall about ten feet high. As I was thinking that the whole of the siding, lengthwise would have to be changed, the culprit flew out of the hole.
I thought of getting a ladder and climbing there to clean out her nest and stuff the hole with something metallic till I can get round to having it fixed but my son said, ‘Aww, then where would she have the babies? She isn't bothering us and we can't even see the hole unless we come to this part of the house which we don’t. Let’s just wait till fall to have it repaired. By then her chicks would have flown away.”
These animals are lucky; they make their nests, have their babies, and in a matter of weeks the babies are gone and so are they until the next season. But we humans are not so lucky. It takes from eighteen to over twenty something years for us to mature enough to flee the nest. And after they flee, we the parents continue to carry them in our minds and to worry about them for the rest of our lives. It is the human condition.
Unlike those birds or mice, I won’t return next season to have other babies. I have to move on to other stages of my life. It is the death of something and the birth of another and I want to hope that I am looking forward to what is coming next for me.
My son has been helping me, preparing me for the day that he’s leaving for college, by weaning me off him. For the past year, when he comes home from school, he goes off to his room, to do homework or read, and comes down from time to time to visit the fridge, or take off and go visit one of his friends, sometimes having his meals with them. Whenever I pointed out that he hadn’t been watching TV with me like we used to do in the past, he would set a date over the weekend to watch our favorite movies with me. We both enjoy the James Bond and the Bourne series as well as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and watching these movies has been our "thing" to do together.
From time to time, he would ask me what I would do with myself when he leaves, and on his last day of high school, he did itemize the things that he would miss when he leaves home, like our time together in the kitchen in the mornings as I am seeing him off to school and my instructions to him that have become a standing joke between us.
I will say to him as he is closing the kitchen door behind him,
“Say hello to your teachers,”
He would reply, “I won’t.”
I will then say, “Don’t fight with other students.”
He would reply, “I will.”
How will I fare? I don’t know yet. But I am happy for him that he is excited about his new life. I am happy for him that he is a child that has always found life to be exciting and he has always jumped into life with all of his being, embracing every part of it.
Feasts of Phantoms
a novel by Kehinde Adeola Ayeni
Available your local bookstore,
a host of online booksellers and
directly from the publisher