I once heard a wildlife expert on the radio gently calm an irate caller who rang in to complain about the noisy, blustering behaviour of a squadron of cockatoos who were perching on a neighbour’s verandah. Her frustration crackled down the phone as she recounted their destructive tendency to eat the wooden window frames and doors, to antagonise every other bird in the neighbourhood. They never shut up.
Just think of them as teenage boys, the expert advised. They’ve just left home and are still hanging around the ‘hood for a bit. Unsure of where they fit in the world, and with no mates to distract them, they gather in large groups and make a lot of noise to amuse themselves.
I’ve been thinking of those cockatoos quite a bit.
It was twelve months ago when the tantalising option came up for me to move to Melbourne. Physically, it was an easy enough proposition to relocate, albeit 1000 kms away. Emotionally it was a fraught decision. The first people I asked for advice were my children, then aged 19 and 17. When they said yes Mum, go! I asked my Mum. I asked anyone I could think of. I desperately wanted someone to tell me it was the wrong thing to do. I wanted people to tell me to stop being selfish.
My son had moved out a year before and was flatting with another chef near the beach. My daughter still lived at home but it was a warzone. We were at loggerheads, fractiously navigating the tightrope between teenage wilfulness and parental concern. For months she had pleaded with me to let her move in with her dad. Now the opportunity was presenting itself.
Not one person objected. Several, including my mother, tearfully gave their blessing and quiet encouragement. “This time,” she said presciently, “Make sure you live on your terms”
So I moved, living on my own for the first time in my life.
Twelve months later, after the jubilation of having a bright and shiny new place all to myself, I have moved into the next stage of being an empty-nester. Bare Naked Terror.
I’ve seen women prematurely age when they are in this stage. They lanquish, unsure of how to be or what to do. Wrapped around the interests of their children, they go through such a profound disconnect it can feel like a mid-life crisis. They take up tennis or bridge or they send back pictures from their walk of the Camino de Santiago. At their most extreme, they silently pray (or worse, hint loudly) for weddings and grandchildren.