She did not mind her youngest child leaving the nest; she just wished she could have gone with her. My client described her 19-year-old daughter as beautiful and bright; she was a young woman who had vitality and curiosity, who wasn’t afraid to ask questions or to find what she wasn’t looking for. ‘The world’s her oyster and she’s going to eat it’ she told me, as she smiled. Her gaze shifted down, it was palpable; I found myself thinking of the gaze between mother and baby, the kind of gaze that has a special ‘just me and you-ness’ about it. My client had a built a beloved nest but hadn’t barricaded it; her daughter was simply ticking the developmental checkbox of emerging adulthood, the phase of life between adolescence and full-fledged adulthood. It’s thought that age 18-25 is a unique time of identity exploration; a person has left the dependency of childhood and adolescence but is still independent of those expected roles and responsibilities of adulthood. The theory sounds about right. But it also sounds like it should be accompanied by a celebratory ‘ta-da!’; the period holds the promise of becoming something. Possibility. Transformation. The hungry caterpillar becomes a butterfly.
At that moment it felt like my client would have given anything to rewind the clock back to when she read that very book to her daughter at bedtime. Or for her daughter to once again be the little girl huffing and puffing to blow the candles out on a Colin the Caterpillar birthday cake. Her gaze shifted towards me and something shifted in her after that, the releasing of a feeling that she could no longer clutch all on her own anymore. It was not a lightbulb moment in our session, but a curtain down moment. The quiet despair of ‘it’s over’. The loss of a phase of her own life, and a nest that was emptying out. She looked lost. I wanted to swoop right in and rescue my client. Or at least be kind to her. At that moment, the most kind thing I could do was to listen to her as words started to fly out of her mouth to fill the space. She needed to fill the space with being a mother, so I listened and I learned all about her daughter. I learned how she always made sure the ‘goodie basket’ was full for when she knew her daughter was coming to visit; it needed to be brimming with the retro chocolate bars that her daughter adored when she was young, especially those treats with sugary gooey centres. Her daughter’s favourite was Fry’s Turkish Delight. Saying the name was coupled with a wistful look of little wonder on her face, as though her daughter’s destiny to fly the nest in favour of far-away places had all along been in the clue of her adult and exotic taste in confectionary.
I found myself thinking about noshtalgia – a word which has its roots in the Greek for ‘home’/’return’ and ‘pain’. It hit the bittersweet spot. My client was literally sugar-coating the pain of her empty nest with the sweet treats of yesteryear. For her daughter’s special sporadic returns home there was wobblicious instant jelly with gems of fruit cocktail sweetly suspended in it, fluffy fairy cakes with soft icing that were just right for sinking little milk teeth into, and crisp and chocolatey shredded wheat nests. It was kitchen kitsch that my client just could not let go of. She was having to separate not only from her daughter, but also from a part of herself. Because who was she if she wasn’t building the sweet shredded wheat chocolate nest? Separation anxiety is rarely ever just about separation. Look closely and there may be another anxiety there: the anxiety of being free to do whatever you want now that the curtain of the other person is no longer there to hide behind. For my client, finding that she had needs and wants and desires that were just hers, and not her children’s, had the shock of ta-da. It turns out that there was other in mother. Slowly, together, we are letting that emerge.
My recipe for kataifi nests with rose and chocolate was inspired by this story.