4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
My son’s teacher is crazy about birds. I know he told me this on the first day of school two weeks ago but it was lost amidst reports of new kids in their classes, fire drill plans for gym, the tragic absence of any challenging math (in the opinion of my opinionated nine-year-old) and the need for a designated homework table at home.
Strangely, this weekend, when everyone started getting on each other’s nerves and the weather seemed overcast and drizzly, not enough rain to feed the drought we’ve had all summer, but too much rain to make going to the beach sound like any fun, I said that we would go on an adventure. I texted all my mama friends to see if anyone could join, but in the end it was just us. And so my four children and I headed off to the bird sanctuary where we walked through the woods along our favorite trail holding out handfuls of birdseed and peanuts.
At first the birds didn’t come, and my nine-year-old son looked at me accusingly. It was drizzling, it was hot, there were no birds.
But right around the rockery, this pile of rocks we’ve always climbed up and over and through, I had a feeling that maybe the birds hadn’t left us after all. I held out my hand with all the extra peanuts and seeds my kids had grumpily handed back to me while my fellow adventurers marched ahead. And in the quiet that remained the birds came and ate my birdseed. My seven-year-old son came back and saw me and got excited, and so I handed him some bird seed too.
Before long we were all in a row, birds swooping and diving, racing each other to the treats in our hands.
The birds swooped and landed, competing with one another for that rare peanuts hidden amidst our sunflower seeds. My children competed for birds, swiveling to one tree or the next when they thought they heard one coming near. We walked on, saw a heron, a deer laying amongst trees, turtles diving in the water, ducks searching for food, and so many chickadees. It was pure magic.
Later, my nine-year-old son asked what time it was, and we realized that the Patriots game was well on its way. He was furious that we were out feeding birds when what he really wanted to do was be home watching the game.
“Everyone will be talking about it at school,” he said accusingly, “and I won’t know anything.” And just like that the magic of our day had flown in a storm of nine-year-old opinions, independence, disappointment, the same storm I’d been mournfully weathering all summer. I felt horrible about his disappointment and so we rushed back home and forgot our birds, and caught the fourth quarter, thank goodness.
So when he told me last night there were birds in his classroom, I listened more closely.
“Wait,” I replied. “I thought she just had birdfeeders outside her window, and books about birds.”
“No, mom. She has actual birds in the classroom.”
“Oh that would be wonderful to see,” I said.
“You could walk me in tomorrow morning!” he said, excited.
He has not asked me to walk him into his classroom for years. Not even on the first day of school. Not at all. And so I went. I went into his classroom and I saw the birds, and he took my arm and we crouched down next to the cage that housed two tiny birds named Turtle and Skittles on a perch.
“They don’t like it when you’re higher than them,” he said knowingly. He showed me a book that would actually play bird calls aloud, and showed me the bird feeder stuck to the window.
He took my hand and walked me back through the classroom. On their sign-in board it asked the question, “Is there anyone in your life who would like you to write them a letter?” I was thinking that he should probably write a letter to my mother, who he has not seen in a long time. But he wrote down “mother” and then he made a line for me to sign on the sign in board. I wrote my name with a heart and then he signed his own name with another heart.
Just then one of the children rang a bell signaling that it was time for me to leave my nine-year-old to his day of math and birds and homework conversations. I pulled him back in for a quick one-armed hug, and then I left the classroom.
And as I walked out of the building I stopped at each of my children’s classrooms, second grade and the other second grade, and first grade. I peered in the windows or stood in the doorway and watched as one painted clouds, the next greeted her friends around a circle, and my youngest sat playing a game with her teacher.
Like birds in my hand, I thought, such rare things, here for a second with such effervescent grace and then off to the skies again.
We must always make time for the birds, I thought.
It’s taken me a day to post this. And in the meantime this morning I hopped out of my car because I saw the children outside my son’s classroom door cutting flowers. I needed to sneak in and pick-up piano music left behind this week. I knew I was being greedy, taking another morning to be in his space, but I couldn’t resist.
My nine-year-old son came outside anyway and pointed out the pumpkins that have survived the drought, and the corn that did not. Then I followed him through his classroom mindful not to linger or bask in his fickle attention too much. And just as I turned to wave goodbye on my way out the door he called me back. “Here mom,” he said. “This is for you.” And he handed me the letter he wrote yesterday.
And I worked very hard not to cry as I read it .