Watching the sparrows grow up…
It starts at the beginning of spring, with a few little chirps, which I notice as I stand at the kitchen sink washing dishes. The sparrows are back!
I watch a pair of them hopping from the fencepost outside the window into the bushes, searching for a place to nest. A few days later, they begin to appear more frequently, sometimes holding small branches or pieces of plastic in their beaks. They are building their nest.
Sometimes as I watch, I imagine what it must be like to be a sparrow, and to get married to a cute sparrow dude, or maybe just shack up with one (I don’t know how conventional sparrows are).
Then I see them hopping into the bushes with snacks. Either they’re trying to hatch some eggs, and someone is stuck on nest duty, or they’ve set up a sweet TV room and are binge-watching Netflix. Or maybe they’re doing both.
As I watch them prepare for parenthood, I wonder what they’re thinking about. Do they wonder how they’re going to feed all those hungry mouths? Or whether or not they should start 529 plans for all the kids? What must it be like to be a bird parent?
I don’t even know what it’s like to be a human parent.
By choice (I could say something like “the timing was never right,” but that is still a choice), it just never happened; the desire to become a parent was never overwhelming enough to overcome the fears of doing it wrong or bringing a child into the world who might have a childhood like mine. Looking back, my childhood wasn’t terrible or anything, but why possibly put someone through having to be separated from a parent?
So, nope, no kids. But several years ago I started dating my current partner, who has two sons. When we started dating, and when we decided to start sharing a household, one son went off to college and the other spent half the time with his mom across town. Then their mom moved 3800 miles away and the youngest came to stay.
I should have better understood the phrase “anything can happen” as it applies to parenting – but this is just one of the ways I was incredibly unprepared for the experience. Due to the age of the young man in question and the nature of my relationship with my partner, I was a hands-off “step parent,” keeping quiet about most things. No one was particularly interested in my inexperienced yet more objective opinions, so in some ways I’ve been more of a roommate than a parent.
Last week, we drove over to Arkansas to help this young man move into his dorm room for his first semester at college. Our assistance wasn’t needed and though it was most likely appreciated, it was minimally acknowledged and after a quick lunch we were informed that there were places to go and people to meet, and we were on our own. So we went for a cappuccino, visited a used bookstore, and drove home.
And here we are. Empty nesters.
I am not sure how I feel about it; it’s great to have a clean second bathroom, and as a hardcore introvert I certainly don’t mind having more time alone at home. And I never felt much like a parent. But I know it’s a big transition for my partner so I try to be supportive and sensitive to that.
This time of year, at the end of the summer, the sparrows stop by the fenceposts once more, after having been gone for a few weeks. Only now, their numbers have increased to a small flock of about 20 birds. Are they all kids from that same couple that was here earlier? Or is this an extended family of aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents? My imagination kicks into overdrive. Is it a big family reunion?
You can tell that most of the birds are adolescents; somehow their coloring doesn’t quite look grown up yet. And their behavior is most definitely juvenile; even though they are birds, they act like tweens or teens. They hop awkwardly on top of the fenceposts, and wobble too much when they try to sit on the chain links of the fence. Sometimes they still motion to their parents that they want to be fed. Typical teenager. Always looking for food.
I wonder to myself where they have been the last few weeks. Did they go on a family vacation? Maybe one last big trip to Disnelyand before the summer is over and everyone starts school or goes off to work?
Soon those teenage birds will be pushed out of the nest. Or maybe more accurately, they’ll be so eager to leave that nest, and go out on their own, to begin their own adventures and define their own lives.
I wonder if they will still call home to ask for money for food.