I spent last Memorial Day in Boston with my daughter Ariella and her husband, Ilya. When I got back after a week away, I was greeted by some squatters - two doves had set up housekeeping in a planter on my balcony. I don't know who was more surprised to see whom: the birds, who had thought the balcony uninhabited, or me. When weather permits, I try to spend as much time as possible out there. It's very inviting. There are lots of flower pots and a chair for reading, contemplating, and taking in the colorful beds and trees in full bloom in the courtyard below. I have a table out there, where I eat breakfast every morning. I come home for lunch as often as possible and go back to work restored.
Being an empty nester myself, I wasn't sure how to coexist with my newfound friends. But I was sure this was a gift, if I could just figure out the logistics. I wanted to enable them to stay put and do what they had to do to hatch their babies safely. On the other hand, I wasn't altruistic enough to give up my balcony haven for the duration. Was there a way for each of us to get what we needed?
I definitely wanted to try. I began by talking to the birds, conversationally and regularly, from the safety of my kitchen. I'd chat with them about the weather or my plans for the day and let them know when I was coming out to water the flowers. It was a good thing I'd gotten everything planted before I'd left town. Less tumult. The radio was set to NPR even when I was at work, so they could get used to male voices, too. My son was scheduled for a visit and I didn't want them to flip out from the sudden appearance of this big, tall fellow. I posted a reminder on the screen door that said: "Baby Bird Alert: Announce yourself gently, Proceed cautiously [The goal is peaceful coexistence - your help is greatly appreciated!]" I continued to enjoy my meals al fresco. Mick came, then left, and we all coexisted peacefully. So far, so good.
I was particularly excited because there were two eggs in that nest. Do all birds have two eggs at a time? I have no idea. Did that make them twins? I have twins. We had so much in common! I'd reassure the parents, "Don't worry. It gets easier, I promise!" But was that true? What did I know about birds and the wild world out there?
I enjoyed my ring-side seat, not more than a few feet away, from which to watch them share parental duties, swapping places on the nest, so the one off-duty could grab a bite and freshen up. Truthfully, I couldn't tell the male and female apart but there were definitely two of them. So, I just talked to whoever was out there patiently doing what had to be done.
I was lucky enough to be there when the eggs hatched, which was amazing. I got to watch the hatchlings being fed. They grew and grew and grew until mom (or dad) with full-sized chicks were literally spilling out of the nest, which was suddenly not nearly big enough to contain them. I was also around to see their first flight - one just followed mama out of the nest and into the air, the other one, stranded, abandoned, looking terrified and forlorn. But also intrigued. He watched as parents and sib flew from nest to tree, tree to tree, then back to the nest. He was dying to join in but clearly petrified. He slowly paced back and forth along the narrow railing, swaying unsteadily until he finally got the courage to lift off. The four of them then exuberantly crisscrossed the courtyard, two veterans and two testing their wings for the very first time. It was glorious to see. And then they were gone. And I was left with a profound satisfaction, gratitude and awe from having been a small part of this drama.
I'm delighted to report that last week, the parents returned. And moved right back into their old quarters, the nest untouched since their departure. I had hoped they'd be back. So far, I've only been able to see one egg. I'm not sure if there's another one in there but I'm really looking forward to another round of my very own Nature Channel.
I'm a dog person. I've always had dogs. I grew up with them, big German Shepherds. When I worked in Yellowstone National Park [the summer I was struck by lightning], I took in a dog who was abandoned in the park. Inte went to college with me and later, when I was in graduate school, my advisor kept a stash of dog yummies in his desk drawer for her. From then on, we always had one dog or another, and sometimes a cat, too. My last dog, Emma, is another rescue, a sweet-natured Shepherd-Rottweiler mix. She and I spent more time together in recent years than I did with my kids. Or with my husband, for that matter. After he and I separated, we sold the family home we had lived in for 27 years. And I had to find a new place for dear Emma to live. The condo I was moving into had a strict "no pets allowed" rule. My vet told me that I would probably have to put Emma down, that no one wanted a 9-year old dog who was healthy but quite large. I refused to accept that verdict and spent the time I wasn't packing up the house looking for better alternatives.
I not only sought a quality home for Emma but I wanted to be able to visit regularly to keep our connection strong. Not everyone is interested in that kind of a deal. But I lucked out, once again, and found Kate, a special ed. administrator who comes home for lunch, has summers off and wasn't averse to my visits. Did I mention that Kate lives on a lake and Emma can swim every day with her canine companions? Doggie nirvana.
What does all this have to do with mothers and Mother's Day? I'm getting there. Was it selfish of me to want to stay connected with Emma? Not in my opinion. I don't think she would have been well-served for her Alpha dog of nine years (me) to disappear without a trace. Especially after being abandoned prior to coming to me. Do I mind that Emma is so happy in her new home? Not at all. I'm grateful to have found the perfect spot for her.
When I come to visit, Emma greets me lavishly, with enthusiastic tail thumps, smiles, wiggles and plenty of whiny greetings. We reunite with hugs and kisses and then go for a leisurely walk. Afterward, I chat with Kate for a few minutes and take my leave. Emma is sad for a nanosecond and then returns to her lovely life. Love is letting go and isn't that what we mothers have to learn again and again as our chicks leave the nest and take flight?