The whole world was a nest on its humble tilt, in the maze of the universe, holding us.
~ Linda Hogan
A nest sits in a crook of the wisteria vine winding around the thick support post and extending outward along the vigas of the back porch. Twigs, long blades of dried grasses, their tasseled tops spiraling into a seeded corona around the nest, the hair of horses’ manes and tails from the nearby stable, dog hair from our German Shepherd, and if I look closely the tiny clips of wheat blonde, dark brown, and curly pepper-and-salt hair from numerous haircuts I’ve given my kids and husband in our backyard, weave together into a sturdy little sanctuary. The window above the kitchen sink looks out onto the nest and wisteria.
Again and again, I think of the nest of home for my family—and for myself. As the demands of life seem to tug ever more in outward directions, I find myself thinking along the lines of, “Does this strengthen or weaken the nest?” A shred of a quote from Madeleine L’Engle guides most aspects of my life; writing, teaching, and most definitely, parenting. She wrote of the, “…freedom found within structure.” How do we create the structure necessary for kids to experience real freedom within? Without the structure to protect, that freedom has a tendency to slide quickly into chaos. Think Lord of the Flies.
Friendship, family, boundaries, and structure are the twigs, blades of grasses, and coarse hair of manes and tails that compose the interweaving of structure and stability into a nest of home. Nests are made, family-by-family, twig-by-twig, friend-by-friend, boundary-by-boundary, and grass-by-grass. The diversity of the structure makes it stronger.
“Slowly but surely, the bird builds its nest,” holds a Dutch proverb. My maternal grandmother died of breast cancer when my mom was a toddler. Mom’s memory of her mother is being held against her mother’s chest and feeling tears fall into her hair. Through my grandfather, Wild Bill (so-named for reasons we won’t delve into here), a series of women revolved in and out of my mom’s life throughout her childhood. Most of the women came and went. A few treasured souls refused to go away forever. The stepmother, Mary, my mom adored, who came into my mom’s life when she was 16, only to leave far too early 20 years later. Mary’s cousin, now 92, has been a steadfast presence in my and my childrens’ lives. “I always tried to be there for both Mary and me,” Cuz wrote me last year. And Micki, the stepmother who came into all of our lives when my own children were being born and who embraced all of us with the heart of a true grandmother. Twig-by-twig, woman-by-woman, my mom, against all odds, created a nest when she reached adulthood. Because of this, I grew up in a sturdy nest of multiple generations of women who I knew were family despite our supposed lack of blood lineage.
Nests need tending. I watched as Mom wrote letters to these women scattered across several states every Sunday nights as I grew up. Some of these friendships go back 65 years. “She looked just like Snow White when I first met her,” Mom said. When my parents married, my Wink aunts wove seamlessly into the fabric of the nest. Other friendships go back 50 years to college in the Midwest, 40 plus years to Arizona, and span the decades in California and South Dakota since. I loved when people thought Mom and her friend were sisters, making their children and my brother and me cousins. “We’re from the same litter,” Mom said. The nest is not about physical proximity; the nest is about the closeness of the spirit.
When I married again last year, learning to weave my new husband’s ideas, spirit, and culture into the structure of our teenager-laden nest, I was unsure how to handle a second wedding and reticent about how my life path had differed from the women of my childhood nest in this way. These women poured their blessings all over me and washed those feelings away. Through their joy and acceptance without reservation, I came to accept these aspects of myself. I found freedom within the structure of their friendship and love.
Through the waves and ripples of life, these women have tended these relationships, turning delicate threads of connection into steel strands so tightly woven and intertwined that aside from differing blood relatives appearing amidst the pages, many of our families’ photo albums are fairly indistinguishable from each other, and are still going strong. What it gave me as a child, and gives me as an adult and mother, is a deep sense of belonging, of love, of the visceral primacy of tribe. “The bird, a nest; the spider, a web; man, friendship,” wrote William Blake.
Like my mother’s, our nest includes men and women, families of all shapes and sizes, and is multi-generational. Age is spectral and constantly in flux. My wise little six-year-old friend, Cameren (aka Hurricane Cameren, so-named for reasons that will soon become self-evident), asked her mom the other day, “Mom, who are you? I mean, who are you on the inside?” A few weeks ago, after some major life-disappointment, Cameren had proclaimed, “Well, THAT was a waste of clean underwear!” My 70-year-old friend and I, amidst the swirling discussion of profound thoughts, often dissolve into fits of giggles.
As I round the corner into another adventure of life in parenting, one filled-to-over-flowing with the demands of work, of trying to create a body of written work in the early-morning hours, of trying to keep my kids fed, clothed, educated, create spirits of wisdom, kindness, compassion, freedom…and somehow ensure they’re in the appropriate sports attire and get them to the correct sports gym or field, it is so easy to be pulled out of the nest, to be swept up in the sheer logistics and life of it all.
The nest outside my window reminds me of the freedom found within structure. I haven’t lived with my parents for 26 years, yet the nest created there continues to support and shelter. We build our nests with the hope that the love, relationships, and inspiration teach our children to build their own nests with confidence, kindness, and heart. My husband, Noé, told me of a saying that, “Even eagles need a push to leave their nest and ultimately soar.” I look out at the nest and hope that the structure, space, and interweaving of relationships of the nest of our home will sustain our children not only through these busy years of us together at home—but also after they take wing and fly.
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