At first, I couldn’t figure out what in the world the birds were doing.
I could see them faintly through the blinds, dive-bombing, from the wealth of ivy on the front of our house, to the ground, and then shooting right back up.
When I moved closer and opened the blinds a bit more, I finally got it.. The little tan-colored birds – sparrows, I guess – had found a small pile of leaves hidden behind a planter. Four or five at a time, they’d swoop down, peck vigorously through the pile, then emerge, bills filled with small twigs and bits of leaves, and dash right back up into the ivy.
They were nesting, of course. Preparing their homes attached to the front of my home, getting ready to settle down, incubate and hatch their little ones.
All under the watchful eye of one of the several neighborhood cats who like to sit on our front window ledges, blinking coldly in at us and then glancing a bit more cagily up towards the ivy, swarming with the most interesting life.
At the time, I should have been nesting, too. It was the tail end of what seemed to be my longest pregnancy ever, and I was still waiting for the moment when the fog of absolute exhaustion would part, and I’d spring busily to action like the little birds, getting things ready for the baby who was reputedly on its way. Then, the lore told me, like the shadow-free groundhog, I’d know that the end was near.
It never really happened that way, though. Sure, we had the crib and a pack of diapers and few little outfits, but up until the very end, I remained so indescribably tired, a condition that I wasn’t accustomed to and didn’t exactly know how to deal with, those twigs just stayed put, lying on the ground. I just couldn’t bend over to pick them, to tell the truth.
In retrospect, though, I do think there was something besides fatigue holding me back from going berserk with preparations, and I’m fairly certain it had a lot to d with the difference of perspective gained between a first pregnancy and a fourth, especially when the fruit of the first is almost nineteen years old and away leading his own merry life in college.
Parenting for nineteen years, not just one, but three wildly different personalities, you learn - painfully sometimes - that building nests is not as simple as it seems.
Especially daunting is the hindsight that reveals that what you thought was for their best interests may have been useless or even caused some unforeseen damage – let’s all observe a moment of silence for all first offspring everywhere – the objects (victims?) of their anxious parents best-laid plans, anxieties, and dreams.
For me, Waterloo was reading. I taught my oldest his alphabet at eighteen months, to read by a little more than three years (just as I’d been taught, by golly!), and today this young man is very successfully following his passion – in sports broadcasting – and hasn’t read a book of his own free will since that Peyton Manning biography came out a couple of years ago.
And then there’s second son, who spent more time in day care than his older brother, and who wasn’t subjected to nearly as much of his mother’s cultural siege. He’s fifteen now, and he reads the likes of Beowulf, Chaucer and whatever Shakespeare grabs him at the moment without a soul to tell him to.
A parent is tempted to throw up her hands at these paradoxes and ask what’s the use of gathering twigs at all, then – they are who they are, it seems, no matter what we do.
We know that’s not true, though. We know that our responsibility is one given us by God – to let His love live through our own, and it’s nothing less than sinful to turn from that. Further, the fruit may not be exactly what we expected, but it’s there, and it’s pretty wonderful nonetheless.
The change is that by the fourth time around, you’ve taken your hard-won wisdom to heart and relaxed a little. You’ve figured out a bit more of what God wants you to take care of regarding this child and what He’d like you to leave up to Him, thanks very much.
So yes, the nest will be built. For Joseph Bernard Dubruiel, born on April 4 – in case you’re wondering how this all comes out. He’s named Joseph for St. Joseph and various relations on both sides, and Bernard for Venerable Solanus Casey (born Bernard – Solanus was his religious name, and we really couldn’t fathom burdening him with that. Or at least I couldn’t. ), a Capuchin brother, died in 1957, and now on the road to sainthood, whom my husbands credits with protecting him in the course of a potentially quite serious automobile accident around this time last year.
When I look into his vivid, dark eyes, and coax a dimple-soaked toothless grin from him, I see a great deal – a little boy full of energy and potential – but this time around, I’m a lot more appreciative of the mysteries I don’t see, waiting to unfold, uncontrolled by me. So the nest I build is different this time, too. It’s far less dependent on the needs of my ego and more open to God’s will. One thing won’t change, though – the nest, even in its new, more flexible shape, will still be mighty strong.
Because, you know, the cats are still out there. Watching.