The not-quite empty nest: Coping with being the last sibling at home

Photo: Marcy Drewes Photo: Marcy Drewes

The Nissleys’ family room is brightly decorated with long strands of paper leaves and several cheerful, cut-out owls. Maria Nissley, 19, recently celebrated her high-school graduation and the décor is in her honor. Her youngest sibling, Anna, 16, helped make the whimsical garlands and critters and has decided, informally, to leave them up for awhile even though the celebration was weeks ago. Since starting 11th grade in August and beginning courses at Piedmont Community College, Anna is the last remaining sibling in the family’s home—the lone bird in the emptying nest.

The youngest of five, Anna admits that she didn’t really know what to expect when only she and her parents would be sharing their Woodbrook neighborhood home.

“I think I am going to be listening to lots of music,” she said. “Because I am not going to like the quiet.”

The main hub of activity in the house now seems to be the shared office/study/library, where the two girls and their father each have a desk. With Maria off to Indonesia to teach English for nine months, some shifting of space is likely to occur.

“I think we’re going to move my desk up to the spare room,” Anna explained. “Because that room is nice and neat and hopefully, if there’s just a desk there, it’ll be able to stay a little more clean. When it’s downstairs, I walk in and I place everything on it and if it’s upstairs it will hopefully be for school only.” Pointing to the pile of detritus that included a bag of Jolly Ranchers and nail polish remover, she said, “It’s funny, I don’t actually do school work at my desk.”

All of the Nissley children were, or are, home-schooled. David, 21, headed back to JMU in August and the two eldest boys have been out of school for a few years.

With a full house, personal space was at a premium and as a result Anna has developed a systematic approach to keeping her room tidy. She explained, “If I’m really organizing my room sometimes, it will look like I’ve made it worse but really, it’s an organizing process. I have a ‘get rid of’ pile and I have a ‘downstairs’ pile and a, whatever, ‘attic’ pile. And then I move it all out and vacuum. And everything looks better!”

Having an uncluttered space to think is important to Anna. “I feel like I work better when I’m in an area where I don’t have to be distracted by, like, lots of things.”

However, she welcomes some distraction as the bittersweet change of her sister’s absence sinks in. “I feel like I’m going to be on my own more,” she said, reining in emotion. “Which is exciting. It’s kind of a new stage in my life, I guess. You know, it’s like Maria and I are always together. People refer to us as ‘the girls.’ It’s not like Maria and Anna, we always just go together. So, it’s going to be interesting.”

One thing she is most excited about? “I am looking forward to raiding her closet when she’s gone!”

Her older sister chimed in, smiling, “With the one condition that everything is returned before I get back!”

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