Yesterday, on the heels of Mother’s Day, a young bird in my garden gave me the gentle reminder that we all need our mother and as mothers, we all need to be needed. It’s that simple.
I was in my garden when I noticed a small bird perched on a rock, looking up at me without the least bit of fear or trepidation. Even when I moved in closer, he still didn’t flinch. I stood there for several minutes, speaking softly to him and then it happened. He got tall, or as tall as a bird only a few inches tall can be, ruffled his feathers and hovered for a few seconds before landing right back down on the rock where he started. At a time of in life when so many of my friends, as well as myself, are faced with an emptying nest, or getting used to the already empty nest, my only thought while watching this struggling bird was that it’s not only the mom that the exit is hard on. It appeared that this little fella’s independent streak got the best of him before he was ready and off he went without all of the proper tools he needed to fly. I followed him around my garden for a bit, as he hovered and landed from plant to plant. There was a lot of bird chatter going on in my yard and I was hoping that some of it was from the frantic mother, calling him back with a little bit of that scared, wait till you get home, in her call. I lost him in the bushes so don’t know what happened to him, but have come up with my own version of the story where the mama bird rescues the baby and he returns home for a few more flying lessons before exiting again. And everyone is happy.
I was reminded of a Mother’s Day several years ago when I was newly divorced and still in the process of finding my footing, while trying to get used to a new house and a new neighborhood. I had a tree right outside the kitchen window and my first spring there I realized that I was sharing my piece of real estate with a lovely family of cardinals. I have since learned that cardinals mate for life and once they find the right spot, aren’t inclined to fly off in search of a bigger or better tree, so I always feel lucky when they decide to nest in my yard.
Emery and I and anyone who happened to be at our house at that time of the year, spent a lot of time crouched below the kitchen window, quietly watching the soon to be growing family in our backyard tree. We watched patiently, and ever so quietly, as the mama bird sat in her nest. As one who adored Horton Hatches the Egg as a child, this was very cool for me to watch and thank goodness it didn’t end with an elephant having to come in and take over while said bird jetted off to Miami.
The day eventually came and the eggs were hatched and Emery and I both got to watch the dad leave the nest, bring back the worms, give them to the mother who then, and just like the pictures, would feed the babies. It became our pastime, our television our daily wonder.
We watched as both the mom and dad would teach the baby birds to fly, starting by moving from one branch to another close branch in the tree then eventually, as their skills and courage were honed, making their flights to the neighboring tree, always with quick returns. This went on for several days, while the parents seemed to be calling out directions to their newly aloft babies. Ironically, on the graduation day of one of Emery’s friends who was a year older than her, the 3 baby birds flew the nest, and this time left for other trees not so close to home base. The timing was impeccable. As I was thinking about my own soon to be emptied out nest and on the heels of Mother’s Day, we both watched from crouched positions at the kitchen window, with a real life, front row view of the “leaving the nest” cliche that is spoke of so often. After becoming so involved with watching this small family grow, I think we were both surprised at how emotional it was to finally see the little birds go. Still riding on the warmth of what we had witnessed, we returned home after the graduation to see that all of the birds had returned to the nest. Maybe they weren’t quite ready after all. If you believe it’s possible to see a bird smile, I think we both saw a slight grin on that mama bird’s face that night (is it called a face?) when her babies returned to the nest. Maybe she wasn’t ready either.
I swear, there’s a coalition of birds out there who are trying to tell me something. The birds, the nest, the leaving and the returning seems to be something that comes into view for me on a regular basis and for sure at this time of year when so many of us are thinking about mothering and mothers and the feel of our grip on our little ones as they begin to fly. The book I made for my friend, Marta, reminded me of this, yet again, with one of her paintings of a bird (representing her youngest child) returning to the nest after his initial “exit.” Next to the painting is the quote, “otra vez,” which means “again” in Spanish. Simple, yet understood. One of the edits Marta made during our book-making process was to have me put that word in all capital letters. I understood.
There are the birds that leave when they’re not quite ready and will flutter and hover and fall until they decide to return to their opened-winged mothers, then there are the birds that simply don’t want to leave, just yet, and need a bit of maternal nudging.
In raising our children, we give them roots and we give them wings and it’s the wings part that most of us who are mothers struggle with. It is also the part that connects us all, whether we have feathers or not.