Sunday, August 2, 2015

Lessons from the Nest

This is the tale of a robin. Just your regular, garden variety robin, brown feathered, red breasted, beak chattering little bird. Common. Familiar. Just a robin.

In the past few weeks, I discovered a pretty elaborate little mess of a nest tucked into the branches of my Chinese Lilac tree. It's not three feet from our front walk and if you weren't looking for it, you'd probably never see it, though now that I've spotted it, I couldn't miss it. The robin has been sitting on eggs there for several weeks and I've made it a habit of speaking to her every day as I come and go. I call her "Mama" and she watches me with her one beady eye while she tries to look nonchalant and oblivious to my presence. She doesn't flinch. Doesn't flutter. Doesn't move. As far as I'm concerned, she thinks she's invisible to me except for my attempts to converse with her daily.

About a week ago, there appeared to be some change in our robin's habit. Sitting higher in the nest, sometimes on the edge, and leaving fairly regularly with the nest unattended. Her mate would sometimes hover nearby on the neighbour's gutter or in the snowball bush next to the stairs, but he would rarely engage. He's not much of a talker, I guess.

On one of the occasions on which the mother left the nest, I admit, I crept up and stood on the paving stones and snuck a peek. Inside were three bald, dare I say ugly, little creatures, eyes closed, wings spiny but featherless, mouths gaping as if I were there to feed them. I backed away and sat on my porch and watched robin come and go with food for her babies, who kept her busy, clambering and poking upwards blindly as if ravenous (can robins be ravenous? Or can ravens be robin-ous?). She fed them till they settled back in and she'd arrange herself like a lid on the pot of a nest tucked in the tree.

A few days after they were born, we had a tremendous wind and rain storm sweep through. Hours of monsoon rains and driving winds that rocked the tree back and forth, with me peeking out the front window, wondering if birds could drown in their own nests. Again, I interfered, finding an umbrella in the garage and facing the rain and wind, propping it in the tree, much to the anxiety of the mama, to provide them with a little shelter while the storm raged on. Despite our developing friendship, this mama did NOT trust me with the shelter. She swooped over my head and chattered angrily at me from the gutter, despite the fact that she was in danger of being swept away by the overflow. I worked quickly and got back to the relative safety of the porch. I watched her settle back into her nest, on the edge, assessing her babies, and then again, covering them with her own body while keeping a wary eye on the green monstrosity with the hooked handle suspended above her. I'm not sure she felt any more restful than when she had been in the brunt of the storm. She looked poised to flee at any second.

The past few days, in the heat and quiet of long summer afternoons, I've been thinking a lot about security. Where we find it. What we think it looks like. How it feels when it's there. What it feels like when it's disrupted.  Less than 9 years ago, I would have described myself as someone who looks for security and is often limited by fear. I grew up fearful and with a great respect for personal safety and for generally living without risk. It was stifling. The security I sought was monotony and consistency. A place to call home. A good job with a secure future. Good health. All the things I was fearful of losing. All the things I had at one time lost. And you know what, it cured me of the fear. Not entirely and not quickly...oh man, so very painfully slowly to be honest. And yet, today, while I love the stability of having lived in one place for 8+ years and the benefits it has on friendships and community and home and family...but I admit, there's again a sense of security in all of it that I know to be ...well...false. It can all go away in a heartbeat. In one ultrasound. In one phone call. In one word.

I was thinking about this and watching the robin this morning, remembering the umbrella.  She didn't trust the shelter or the one who provided it. It didn't reassure her at all that she and her babies were safe. In fact, I probably made her more wary. Robins know that storms will pass. She was prepared to shelter those babies with her body and face the storm, knowing it would eventually work its way out of her world. What she wasn't sure of was the large, looming monstrosity of a man made shelter that was placed there for her protection. And isn't that all we put our faith in on most days? Things we can see? Things that are man made? Things that promise protection but end up being flimsy and flapping and crowd out the real threats? When I removed the umbrella, she settled into her nest as usual. Deeply. Fully. Settled and covering those that she instinctually knew she needed to protect.

I was reminded of how much I've overcome in the past while in regards to living fearfully. My son and husband packed up and left for Cambodia and though there were pit of my stomach "What if" conversations going on in my mind during quiet moments, they were drowned out by the "I can't wait till they meet ________" and the "I wonder if they'll like eating ______________" conversations. I think that's maybe a key to conquering fear. Turn up the volume on the rewards and drown out the negatives. I'm not advocating high risk behaviour here. I'm talking bravery. Even when it looks like hunkering down and waiting out a storm, it takes courage not to think all is lost and abandon hope.
It even takes courage not to sit poised to flee at a moment's notice.

There are things in our lives that are transitional. Homes. Jobs. Even families. Children grow up and leave the nest.  And so it is in our life right now. We have two boys heading to high school this fall. The days of park crawls and spray parks and play dates are over. Even on this Cambodia trip, Jason is watching Aidan in his element. Fully engaging, learning bits of language, embracing his work with energy and charisma and charm...even when we know that this seed we've planted in him may well mean that one day we'll see him fly far and away. I dread the day but I don't fear it. I feel nostalgic and even sadness, thinking that we just have a few years left with him at home before he's ready to spread his wings...but I'm not going to sit on the nest forever and hold him here.

Yesterday, I watched the mama a little more intently. She leaves the nest for longer and longer, and while she's away, the little ones are stretching their wings, peering over the side and taking in the world around them. They're getting ready. She's getting them ready.

I'm learning. From the common. The familiar. The run of the mill. I think today's lesson for me was that when I don't give in to fear, I really can trust my instincts. The instincts that aren't just there for my survival...but for the benefit of my family as well.

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