Ken has a daughter. Her name is Alayna. She is clever, beautiful, and smart. She wears her hair in a pixie cut and has large hazel eyes that mostly glow green and tilt up at the outer corners. She’s always reminded me of a mischievous fairy. She has an infectious smile, and a loving heart.
Not too long ago, she sent me a picture of a baby mongoose. She had found the little guy in a parking lot, obviously abandoned by its mother. She decided to adopt the rodent like creature.
I was horrified. Mongooses eat chickens! If you’ve read my earlier blog, ‘Meet the Chickens,’ you know the story of how I had to nurse one of my pet chickens back from the brink of death. This is because a mongoose decided to have my chicken for lunch.
I loathed mongooses. They were mean, vicious and ugly to boot. I do, however, believe that mongooses have every right to live in peace…just as all of God’s creatures do…except for maybe mosquitoes…and pedophiles.
I replied to her text, telling her she was brave to adopt what I considered to be a savage beast. (What I really meant was, “ARE YOU NUTS?????)
Later that day, she asked if I were going to the store, and if I was, would I check to see if they carried chicken necks. She said she was trying to find something that the mongoose would eat. This time I vocalized my thoughts. “ARE YOU NUTS?” I cried. “You want me to participate in the training of your pet to massacre innocent chickens??? Aren’t you starting him off a little young to be a murdering fiend?”
“Whoops,” she said, with a nervous giggle. “I should have known better than to ask you to get chicken necks after what happened to Chloe. It’s just that little Gus isn’t eating, and according to the internet, they like chicken.”
“You named your mongoose, Gus?” I asked.
“Do you like it?”
“It’s fine. I’ve just never heard of anyone naming a mongoose before.”
We met for pizza and beer at the local pub the next day. Alayna had a sarong tied into a sling and wore it across her chest. We’d ordered our beer and I was just taking a first sip when she pointed to her sarong and smiled slyly. “Would you like to meet Gus?” She inquired.
I choked on my beer and spluttered as beer bubbles spewed from my nose. “You brought Gus with you?” I gasped.
“Uh huh…want to see?”
She looked so excited that I could hardly say no. After mopping the beer off my face, I nodded, and she opened the sarong so that I could see Gus.
Unfortunately, the woman who sat next to us at the bar also saw Gus. Her eyes were wide with horror, and I feared she’d report us. I was sure bringing a mongoose into the restaurant was a health code violation. I wondered if we could claim it was a service mongoose… like those people with service dogs. Hey! Maybe we should get Gus one of those little vests with the service animal emblem embroidered on it!
Fortunately, after turning very pale, the woman simply paid her tab and left.
In the meantime, I had gotten my first look at Gus. It’s always been my belief that God made babies cute so as to win our hearts and insure we’d take care of them. Gus was living proof of my belief. He was adorable, with a capital A.
After I met Gus, Alayna kept me updated on his progress, sending pictures along with the messages. Gus was eating regularly. Isn’t Gus cute in a sock? Gus is sleeping on my shoulder! Guess what? Gus prefers turkey baby food to chicken! Awww! Gus just pooped! It’s so cute!
When we spoke, we discussed Gus’s care, and she fretted like any mother would over her baby. She cared for Gus continually. Wherever she went, she wore the sarong carrying Gus. As have many new parents with a baby, Alayna discovered that babies immediately take over and rule your world. What’s more, she appeared to love every minute of it.
Despite myself, and my loathing of most mongooses, I began to look forward to seeing and hearing about Alayna’s pet. When my phone rang a week after meeting Gus; I saw it was Alayna and answered with a smile.
“How’s Gus?” I asked, without bothering to say hello.
“Gus is dead!” She choked.
“I can’t stop crying!” she wailed.
“But I thought he was doing so well!” I cried back in shock.
“I know. He was eating, and pooping and peeing…I don’t know what happened. I woke up, checked on him…and…and… he’s dead!”
“Are you sure he’s dead?” I asked, not wanting to believe it.
“Pretty sure….he’s stiff as a board and he won’t open his eyes.”
“Yup…he sounds pretty dead.” (This was probably not the most sensitive thing to say at the time…it just sort of popped out.)
Alayna started sobbing fresh tears. She cried for days. Even after she put Gus to rest, Alayna still grieved. It’s been weeks and just yesterday she asked “What if I accidentally smothered him in the sarong.”
“Um,” I replied, “I think you would have noticed. When I can’t breathe I wiggle. I’m sure you would have felt him wiggling.”
“Yeah, he would have wiggled,” she agreed, sounding anything but sure.
I couldn’t believe that after all this time she was still not only thinking of Gus, but blaming herself for his demise.
I realized then, that Alayna had become a mother. She had totally immersed herself in loving and caring for another creature. This creature had been essentially helpless and dependent upon her for her needs. She was experiencing the grief of losing her child.
I too had been experiencing grief concerning my children.
My fourteen year-old son had left me to stay with his father for the summer. This was the first time he would be absent from my home for any great length of time. My daughter had left the nest three years earlier, to attend the University of Hawaii. For the first time ever, I was childless for a good length of time.
I must confess, I had been looking forward to what seemed to me to be months of uninterrupted writing. I imagined bliss-filled days of productivity, writing thousands of words of witty dialogue and suspense filled scenes with no interruption.
The sad truth is that I sit down to my computer, think of the fact that I won’t be interrupted by ‘Mom! Mom! Mommie! Mom! Momma!’ and burst into tears. As a matter of fact, I just finished a bout of weeping a few minutes ago.
My son, Nicholas, is like an affectionate puppy; always underfoot, always hungry, and always ready to play. His absence is like a deafening roar in my ears.
I know that he is safe and is being well taken care of. My ex-husband is a really good guy. His girlfriend is beautiful, sweet and nurturing and a great cook. (And I’m not saying that because they might read this. They really are nice people!) Why am I so emotional about this whole thing? It doesn’t make sense and it’s annoying!
So, I looked up Empty Nest Syndrome on Wikipedia. I read what they had to say, and burst into tears again. Someone gets me! I mean, really gets me! The symptoms they described fit me exactly! At least I’m not going crazy, right?
Largely, according to my new best friend, Wikipedia, I have lost an important element in my life by which I define myself; a mother. Caring for my child took up a good portion of my time. Presently, I feel abandoned, even rejected, and useless. (Can Wikipedia tell like it is, or what?)
Upon reflection, I realized that Alayna was experiencing much the same thing. In the short time she’d had Gus; she’d structured her life around him. Taking him everywhere with her and setting his needs first. She too was feeling useless and abandoned.
So, what is one to do when they are experiencing the sadness, anxiety, and grief created by the absence of a child?
Wikipedia suggests keeping in contact with the child to help alleviate symptoms. Alayna, of course, can’t do this. I’ve tried it. However, it takes two to tango. Apparently, limitless internet, and an in-ground pool trump chatting with Mom.
Nicholas and I texted a bit today, which helped, but when I told him I loved and missed him, he replied, “I love you too, Mom.”
I smiled upon seeing the text…then I was like…Wait… what???? You don’t miss me? Why don’t you miss me? Did I fail you somehow? Did I not pay enough attention to you? Did I not hug you enough? (By the way, guilt over not having done enough for the child while he was present in the home is also a symptom of Empty Nest Syndrome.
I’m sure, as the days roll by, I will adjust to this new situation. He’ll be back before I know it, and I’ll soon long for the interruption-less days when he was gone. In the meantime, I will continue to try to write witty dialogue, and enjoy being able to dance in my underwear, in any room in the house, without permanently damaging my son’s eyes…as soon as I feel like dancing again. Sigh.
Alayna won’t be reunited with her child. I cannot imagine what that would feel like. She was visiting one day when I flicked on the television to a scene of a mother packing away her child’s belongings, and carrying them in boxes to the basement.
“What a horrible thing,” I said. “All that was that child’s life is in those boxes.”
Alayna nodded. “I felt like that when I had to pack up Gus’s baby food and other stuff. It was the saddest day of my life. I mean, I know if I went up to a grieving mother and said, “Hey, I know who you feel… my baby mongoose died, I’d probably get smacked. I wasn’t really a mother, but…”
“Yes you were,” I interrupted her. “You bonded, cared for and nurtured that mongoose. Gus was your baby. Don’t trivialize what was real and profound to you! You have every right to take the time to grieve.”
She nodded, but remained silent. I felt acutely, the sadness in her eyes. They echoed the empty, hollow spot in my heart, created by my missing son. At least I had the comfort of knowing Nicholas would return to my empty nest.
Alayna and I are coping, each in our own way, with our sadness. I try to stay busy, and hum a lot, trying to drone out that deafening quiet that I thought I wanted so much.
Alayna, who admits she’ll never quite see a mongoose the same way she did before adopting one, has taken to feeding the ones who live outside her house.
I think despite our sadness, we are both very lucky. We have had the pleasure of loving unconditionally and both have felt that love returned. Being a mother is an honor and a gift! (No matter how much it hurts at times.) After all, there’s nothing quite like a child nestled in your arms, or a mongoose curled up on your shoulder!
How about you? If any of you have any tips on coping with, or your own stories about an empty nest, Alayna and I would love to hear them!
This post is dedicated to the loving memory of Gus…he was a great little guy.