Over the past month, my three children — ages 23, 20 and 18 — have feathered three new nests. It’s been an exciting and exhausting time; my house has been turned upside down, with pictures stripped off walls and books plucked off shelves. The flurry of activity has kept me so busy that I’ve barely had time to consider what would happen when the last boxes were sealed and the final goodbyes were said.
Before the moving process began, I held a virtual family tag sale. I scoured the attic and basement for old furnishings – bureaus, side tables, desks, chairs, and lamps — and snapped digital photos, which I sent to my kids along with measurements. I told them to “bid” by texting me their wish lists, so these treasures could be equitably divided.
The results weren’t exactly as expected.
While I anticipated arguments over a pair of cozy chenille armchairs, I didn’t think anyone would be interested in a beat-up leather ottoman or a fraying sisal rug. But mementos carry their own mysterious charms, and my kids chose objects for personal – as well as practical – considerations. They also cleverly envisioned how a change of venue might alter an item’s appeal. The rocking chair that reminds me of a nursing home looks surprisingly cool in a campus setting.
My oldest child, fresh out of college, moved into a city apartment with four friends. Despite my offers of assistance, he insisted on going it alone. He rented a U-Haul truck, drove it to downtown Manhattan, and unloaded his belongings into a freight elevator. The next day he received deliveries of a mattress, bed frame, and dresser, and bought power tools to assemble them. By the time I arrived for a visit, he was fully settled and preparing to host a rooftop party with his roommates.
My middle child, entering junior year, moved into an off-campus house with five buddies. Several of the moms supervised the process; one thoughtfully stocked the refrigerator while another went in search of cleaning supplies. We helped the boys install curtains and inspect appliances. Once they began decorating the living room – with school pennants, sports banners and stacks of beer cans – we took the signal to leave, with the promise of returning for a “family” dinner on parents’ weekend.
My youngest child, a freshman, moved into a dorm with three unknown suitemates. As the four girls unpacked, eight parents hovered around, scrambling for hangers, extension cords and duct tape. I worked on mounting a photo collage by my daughter’s bed, while her roommate’s father patiently clipped snapshots of family and friends to tiny clothespins on gossamer strings.
After lunch we took a group trip to Ikea, where the girls pooled their funds and purchased a sofa, coffee table and bookshelves. Back on campus, the students headed to orientation while the adults squatted on the floor of the common room, using a borrowed toolbox to build the DIY furniture.
By coincidence, the four freshmen were all youngest children – so the eight parents were all about to become empty nesters. With each bang of the hammer or turn of the screwdriver, we were one step closer to bidding our girls farewell. When they returned from orientation – lanyards around necks, folders in hands, chatting enthusiastically – they were clearly ready for us to go.
My last task was making my daughter’s bed. My kids may be grown and flown, but they still like me to do this chore. I made my oldest son’s bed in his city apartment, with crisp striped bedding that resembles his new professional wardrobe. I made my middle child’s bed in his off-campus house, with his alma mater proudly displayed on a fleece blanket. And I made my daughter’s bed in her dorm room, with a delicate eyelet coverlet and her two favorite stuffed animals.
Of course my children can – when desired – make their own beds. But by performing this ritual, I knew that the first night in their new nests they would climb into a bed I had touched. They would know that I had carefully folded down the sheets and fluffed up the pillows, hoping they would sleep peacefully. It was a symbolic gesture meant to remind them of the thousands of times that I tucked them in, caressed their heads, and kissed them goodnight.
And – perhaps just as important – it meant that I would sleep peacefully as well.