We were going to camp, but the weather was terrible. Instead, we rented a tiny cottage on the Washington coast. It has a wood stove and a big window, so we can watch the storm pound the beach in comfort.
There is room, in this cabin, for exactly two people: my husband and me.
About fifteen years ago, we rented a pair of houses up the beach a ways. There were eight of us—my sister and her family and me and mine. Four adults, four kids. Beach fires, forts, expeditions, charades, a new puppy—it was a hectic, joyful blast of a trip.
It was a different time of life. A wonderful time. I feel lucky to have had such a wonderful time.
We still feel lucky. We have two young adult children who actually want to hang out with us reasonably often, and we treasure our time together. But we also have this: the flexibility to sneak off to the beach and rent a place the size of a dollhouse, where we can read, write, walk, eat and sleep when we want.
The Washington coast is a good place to ponder the passage of time. Little changes here, and yet everything does. The wind and waves push the sand without ceasing: every day, the beach is brand new.
Two years ago, when I began writing these commentaries for KBCS radio, I thought I would reflect frequently on the passage of time and this big life transition from a full nest to a “restless” one. More often, I’ve found myself responding to what is happening in the world, whether in my neighborhood or far away, from this more restlessly reflective vantage point.
Turns out, “restless” really is the right word to describe this phase. And not just for me and my husband but for our two children, as they make their ways in the world, bouncing back to the nest for an evening or a week or a month, setting out again, visiting frequently with reports from the frontlines of becoming an adult.
If you’re lucky, there is no dramatic break between a full nest and an empty one. Instead, there is breathing room—for us and for them—and frequent reunions, in which we can compare notes.
In some ways, their 20something and our 50something lives have more in common with each other than they do with the people in between us: the busy young parents renting the big beach houses and making spaghetti for eight. Our daughter’s in her first professional job; our son’s in his final stretch of college. They, like we, are pondering questions such as: what do I want the next one, five, ten years of my life to be? When you have young children, you’re way too busy doing to spend much time pondering.
Old beach cabins creak and rock and shift with every storm. There’s a for-sale sign outside this one: before long, it will probably be torn down and something bigger and fancier will be built on this prime beachfront lot.
I wonder if the new owners will keep the driftwood fence, with its festoons of fishing floats. There are names of people and places on some of them—Dominica, Piraeus, Doreen. Bits of histories that floated up here in the surf. Of people, who had bad times and wonderful times and stories to tell. Which I hope they told.
I’m going to take a three-month hiatus from the weekly Restless Nest radio commentaries. I may occasionally post a new (or old favorite) piece here over the summer, and I’ll see you on the radio again come September.
In case you missed it: “Laughter and Forgetting,” my August 2012 story in Seattle Metropolitan Magazine about younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease just won first place in health reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists. Honored and grateful to Sharon Monaghan and Cathie Cannon for sharing their story with me.
Radio lovers: Podcasts available here of the full Restless Nest audio archive.
Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.
Our films, The Church on Dauphine Street, 30 Frames a Second: The WTO in Seattle and Quick Brown Fox: an Alzheimer’s Story are available on Hulu, Amazon and other digital sites.