We sit on the front porch—my son and I—as we quietly wait. Our lunches sit atop two T.V. trays. We slap our arms when we feel a bug come to rest on our skin. The mosquitos are in full force after the early morning rain but we don’t complain. We only wait.
The sharp smell of bug spray mingles with the more pleasing aroma of hot dogs, our not-so-nutritious lunch that happens to be his favorite.
A book sits on my lap. It’s the book I read him twice yesterday. It tells the story of a little girl who explores her backyard. In the book she discovers friendly ladybugs and a caterpillar in a cocoon. She finds spiders spinning webs. She sees a baby bird that has fallen from a tree and the little girl’s mother replaces it in the nest, safe and sound.
The little girl describes different ways to feed birds which is why we were in the kitchen just half an hour or so ago slathering pine cones with peanut butter and rolling them in birdseed. And just half an hour or so before that we were at the store buying birdseed and a new birdfeeder.
I dragged a stepladder from the garage and set it up under a tree on uneven ground. As I wobbled slightly on the top step hanging the birdfeeder and tying the pinecones with green yarn to the branches, my son said, “Careful, Mama. Careful.”
So now we sit and there is no bird in sight. The swelling and then fading sound of cicadas vibrates all around us, possibly mocking our efforts that may have been in vain.
I look at my son. His plate is empty and he stares towards the trees expectantly. He’s rarely this still and quiet. I silently pray. “Just one bird. Please. Just one.”
Our yard is normally full of birds but it’s a hot, muggy afternoon and they stay away. In my head, I know they will come back. Big blackbirds will scare away the smaller songbirds and squirrels will eat more than their intended share. This has always been the way, but right now I want him to see the birds. I want to protect him from disappointment. In my heart, I know that he will be sad and I begin to regret setting him up for this defeat.
Most of us are wired to protect those who are younger and more vulnerable than ourselves. This is a good trait. This is humanity being humane. But there are times when we mothers go a little overboard. We scoot every obstacle out of the path and make sure there is only smooth sailing ahead. We forget how good it feels to find our own way out of a sticky situation—problem solving and conflict resolution in action—so we don’t let our children do the same.
I want to tell him all of this while also apologizing for the disappointing nature experiment. Instead, I step inside and bring out a shoebox of toys for my son to play with while we keep our front porch vigil. He shakes his head and climbs in my lap.
We watch a bee dive into a flower and two snails crawling slowly along the brick steps. A small twig falls from a bush onto a web, bouncing the spider resting in the center.
I give my son a ten-minute warning before naptime in case he wants to play. I study his face for signs of sorrow but I see none. He seems satisfied in spite of the outcome. This is encouraging. I know that there are bound to be disappointing days ahead, just as I know there will be lovely and magical moments, too.
Just before we step inside to prepare for his nap, we see a tiny, gray chickadee flying high up in the branches. We stop and sit on the step, watching to see if it will find our offerings. It flies up to the feeder, nibbles, and flies away. Then it returns to the feeder and chirps. A few more chickadees arrive, darting back and forth tentatively.
Soon, two cardinals join them and the chickadees flutter away. My son smiles up at me with bright white teeth too big for his little face and lays his head on my arm. I fight the urge to weep, partly because he will hush me for being too loud and scaring away the birds.
Eventually we go inside and he lays down for a rest. I find the record of bird calls his grandpa gave us and play it for him on his sister’s record player while he naps. I like the idea of him drifting off to sleep with birdsong echoing in his ears.