Teen Leaving for College? Relieved? You’re Not Alone

Alas, the biological phenomenon of “soiling the nest” is currently underway with great anticipation and gleeful (if not a tad violent) fanfare all across the country right now.

It can be seen far and wide — in the picked over bed sheet aisles of every suburban Beth, Bath, and Beyond, in the windowless casino like environment of IKEA stores, where dazed and confused dads are pushing loading carts toppled high with pink, fuzzy shag rugs and glittering chandeliers. It can be seen in torn apart childhood bedrooms strewn with piles of crap on the floor labeled “take that, donate that, leave that.”

And it can also be seen in the ever growing number of disagreements, arguments, mental wrestling matches, and knock down drag out fights happening betwixt anxious moms, annoyed dads, and know it all 18 year olds- whose days left living at home are literally numbered.

Goodbye hugs(Can I get an Amen?!) 

If you’re a parent currently preparing and packing a kid to move away to college soon (and silently praying they leave sooner than later) you’re got plenty of company. Beyond the typical angst-filled, costly,and laborious tasks that need to be done to move a kid away, are the not so fun “soiling the nest” byproducts. Translation- nerves are frayed, dispositions are short, and attitudes need adjusting- and I’m just talking about the family dog- who seems to have a keen sense of what is about to happen.

As far as the humans are concerned, the messy dichotomy of sad and happy emotions just keeps multiplying in our minds and our hearts, raising blood pressures and tempers, leaving both parent and child flustered with one thinking, “He just needs to leave NOW,” and the other thinking, “I just really need to leave NOW.”

To add insult to the first aid kit I just packed for him (to which he whined, “Mom, really? You think I’m gonna need this?”) is the fact that on my front porch right now the entire identical scene is being played out high above the branches of my climbing jasmine.

My answer to him:

Yes, you’re gonna need it the first time one of you jokers stumbles home eight sheets to the wind and scraps a knee, and you all realize at the exact moment that there is no mom there, no expertly stocked medicine chest, no ice packs, and nobody with the stomach and patience to handle such bloody stupidity. So yes, you do in fact, need it.

But back to the insult. Turns out nature does in fact mirror real life, because swopping down overhead while I hauled in the requisite plastic set of drawers and egg crate mattress topper (just to later haul out because yeah, having college kids officially means you’ve entered a sherpa apprenticeship program) was a mama bird- fresh worm hanging from her mouth, headed towards a nest full of hangry hatchlings.

And she looked a little pissed.

I feel you mama bird. OH HOW I FEEL YOU.

Over the next week, as I continued to cargo in dorm room freight, I would see that mama bird, dutifully feeding the babies and flying overhead to scan for predators. Her bird mama duties being done with grace and dedication,only stopping to watch me and my baby bird schlep in and out of the front door laughing, fighting, complaining, and laughing. Then doing it all again.

Until one day- when the baby birds had grown so large their beaks hung over the tiny nest and squawked incessantly,I seem to sense her suddenly being “over it.” I sat watching her from my front window, and with a fresh worm beaked up and ready to be dropped in the nest, she instead flew off.And I mean, FLEW OFF- kind of like I did yesterday when I stormed out of a TJMaxx after being told I don’t know what I am talking about when it comes to bath mats. (Odd, seeing how I’ve only been buying bathroom accessories for what, 25 years now?)

But I digress, because clearly the 18 year old knows more about cotton looping and washability than I do. Anyway, that mama bird really took her “me time” seriously that day, and didn’t make an appearance until much later that night,and when she did, it was a quick in and out- no hovering overhead to watch for danger, no fluffing up the roost.

Rather, I think if I could read that mama bird brain, I can bet that not only was nature mirroring my actions, so were her thoughts. I can hear her thinking, “So, here’s the deal. I’m pretty tired now, and you’re pretty grown up.And I’m kinda done always being at your peck and call, and this entitled attitude you’re rocking right now? It needs to end. And truthfully? I kinda want you to fall OUT of this nest NOW,so as to learn a few large (and very much needed you brat!) life lessons. And with that, don’t let the branch hit you in the wing on your way out. K?”

I feel you mama bird. OH HOW I FEEL YOU.

My bird leaves in a few days, and while I am at this point about 90% ecstatic that the attitude (and never ending wet towels, huge grocery bills, and sweaty gyms socks) are shipping out, I am also 90% sadly horrified at the new reality taking shape. A reality that subtracts one more kid from my own nest, and replaces it with nothing but childhood memories that are fading quicker than I’d like to admit.

Today, as I sat and watched those baby birds finally leave their nest,I saw the mama bird take one last look from afar at the home she had so lovingly made for them- and then bravely fly off. And as nature so often provides, I was taught a valuable lesson in witnessing their departure.Because as they flew in one direction, mama courageously flew in the opposite- as one does when pushing babies out of the nest, or dropping them off at college.

And as it should be- often forcibly, maybe angrily, very gratefully, and yet always GRACEFULLY.


What It Means When Your Teen is Soiling the Nest 

Don’t Waste Your Money on These 17 Frivolous Dorm Room Purchases


About Melissa Fenton

Melissa Fenton is a freelance writer and adjunct librarian at Pasco-Hernando State College. Find her writing all over the internet, but her work mostly on the dinner table. Find her on Facebook 
and on twitter at @melissarunsaway

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