By Megan Vos
PROMPT—During Covid-19 ...
Last year during Covid, my family noticed that a robin had built a nest under our deck. Our deck is off the back of our second story with stairs that connect it to the back yard. From the yard we could look up and see the mama robin sitting dutifully on her nest, and if we crouched down and peered between the deck boards, we could see into the nest. We had two rounds of eggs last year, and my husband, daughters and I were captivated as we watched the transformation from bright blue eggs to tiny, wormy, featherless babies, to adorable fledglings who left the nests in a frenzy at 4am.
This spring, we wondered if the robins would return. Instead of robins, however, a pair of smaller birds arrived. The male had a red head, and the female was completely brown. We crouched on the deck and peered through the boards, observing them as they filled the robin’s nest with a mixture of grasses, bird poop, and tiny sticks. A quick google search identified them as house finches (googling this made me irrationally proud of my amateur ornithology skills), and that they’d lay up to five eggs. Sure enough, one egg per day, the nest filled with five small eggs, ivory with tan specks. Two weeks later, they hatched, looking like tiny, writhing aliens, which my six year-old would look at and then shriek because of their strange appearance. Soon, they developed feathers, and a couple of weeks later, they were gone.
My husband researched webcams and installed one so we could see the nest. We watched on our phones as the male and female worked together, though we could not tell what they were doing. Cleaning? Ridding the nest of the smell of the previous occupants? We wondered if it was the same pair, noting that this male’s head was a little more muted, but the first pair of birds’ specifics blurred as we watched the new tenants.
I thought about the end of my first pregnancy, when I stood on a chair to put decals on the walls of the baby’s room, my enormous belly brushing against the wall. I had ordered orange bird decals, cheery and bright, and they flew across the beige walls of our rental. My husband assembled the crib a full month before she was due, and she wasn’t born until weeks after her due date, but I remember my need, primal and hormonal, to have her room ready. Nesting. She slept in our room for the first several months of her life; there was no need to have a fully functional nursery. When my second daughter was born, my nesting instincts were directed to more practical tasks. I cooked and baked and stocked the freezer. I bought stickers for my toddler to do when I was busy with the baby. We set up a pack n play in our bedroom for the new baby, but even that was unneeded; she had acid reflux and slept best when she was a little more upright. The second time around, my nesting felt more holistic; I was caring for our family, and not just for the baby I would meet soon.
I loved to watch the parents working together to feed each other and their young. My husband and I would imagine what they were saying to each other as the mom chirped, and then her mate came up to the nest. “Hey, can you get me a snack?” we’d say, anthropormorphizing. “I’ve been up all night with these guys.” The male would disappear, and the female would chirp for him until he returned with food. My husband and I texted each other screenshots of our birds, and for Mothers Day, my daughters gave me a book of Colorado Birds. We read about what we’d come to think of as “our” finches, and I watched them as I remembered my own early days of motherhood.
My oldest daughter never took a bottle, and my husband felt helpless— like he couldn’t do anything to care for her during those early days of parenting, now a decade ago. My love for my daughter overcame me as I held her, nursed her, cared for her in those early days. It was all consuming; even thinking about those early feelings ten years later leaves me teary. I was in love with her in a way I’d never loved before. A decade later, I can see just how differently my husband and I experienced the early parenting days.
I wonder, as I watch the birds, what parenting looks like without love? Is it really as simple for the finches as food and physical warmth? Do they miss their babies when they’re gone? Or do we all experience the same animalistic instincts to protect our young, and is this what love means? I think about my own flitting about, darting from task to task during the day, and the way that I, like our finches, curl up with my babies at night, tucking them under my wing.
During non-pandemic times, Megan Vos produces Listen to Your Mother, a live show featuring local writers’ stories about motherhood. Since Covid began, she has shamelessly embraced Peloton spin classes and bread baking. Megan finds joy hiking in the mountains above her Boulder, CO home, trying new recipes with her partner, and skiing with her family. Megan is a contributing writer to The Mom Salon, and has also been published by Motherscope, Motherwell and The Kindred Voice. You can read more of her writing at www.familygrowsup.com