Parents and Their Children: Birds of a Feather
By Tanya Ward Goodman
Last year, a wren made her nest in our birdhouse and hatched four baby birds. Whenever the mama bird would leave the nest, the hatchlings would scream their heads off. The mama bird would dart quickly around our yard in search of insects and rush back to the nest where she was greeted by a chorus of shrieked gratitude, which shifted almost immediately into an even louder chorus of renewed hunger at which point, the mama wren would launch herself off out of the birdhouse in search of more food.
I felt a strange kinship with this little wren. As she flew in hectic loops around our yard, it was not so hard to see myself navigating a shopping cart through the crowded aisles of Trader Joe’s. Her kids were loud and needy and so were mine. She was frantic and a little nervous. Her feathers, like my hair, needed grooming.
This year, a mourning dove made her nest in the rose bush just outside my son’s window. She sat so quietly, and blended so perfectly into the shadows, that the only clue to her presence was the gleam of her black eye. She laid two perfect eggs and hatched two tiny babies. These hatchlings, just like their mama, were still and silent. They sat patiently in the nest and waited for her to return with food. The babies seemed content with what she brought and they didn’t clamor for more. The mama dove was serene. The baby doves were calm. It isn’t for nothing that these birds are a symbol of peace.
Before I had kids, the only people I knew with children were my friends T and A. They had a boy who liked to read and draw pictures and later a girl who also liked to read books and draw pictures. Their children were calm and quiet and polite. When I went over to their house, my friends cooked elaborate dinners and talked of books they had read (all while having two children under that age of five). These same children would later develop a taste for imported cheeses and both the knowledge of and desire for a “salad course.” These children inspired me to have my own children.
My son did not always like to sit and read or draw pictures. He mostly liked to run. He liked to knock things over and jump on the furniture. When we went to our friends’ house for dinner, he took apart their son’s train set and pounded on the floor with the wooden tracks. At the park when other kids sat and played in the sand, my son raced away across the grass. I raced after him at first carrying my post pregnancy pounds, then my pregnant belly and later lugging his newborn sister. I forgot to read books or brush my hair.
My kids are my kids. They are a part of me just the way the wren’s kids are hers and the dove’s are hers. When I wonder where they came from, I only have to look in the mirror. I aspire to the calm serenity of the dove and there are days when I actually achieve it. But I am at heart a wren. My kids are wrens. We are excitable and anxious and filled with energies we don’t exactly know how to harness. It took me a long time to know this about myself. I’ve learned that I need to walk a lot to keep level. I need to skip sugar and keep the coffee to a minimum. I need lots of lists to keep me organized and alone time to keep me sane. I am embracing the thing I am and also the things I need to be calm in the world. I am trying to use this knowledge to help my kids find ways to soothe themselves, to be patient in the nest, to stay calm and certain that food and comfort and love will always return.