About 7 years ago, when my three boys were still little, when two of them weren’t teenagers and the youngest still had a wispy, bowl haircut, a robin made her nest outside — like, right outside — our kitchen window.
I suspect the bird was just as surprised as us the first time we had dinner at our family table after she had made her nest. With just 6 feet of distance and a sliding screen door between us, the robin had a, um, bird’s eye view of our home, and vice versa.
The bird tried not to look at me as she sat on her eggs. Often, I thought she seemed a bit snobbish. Sorry, bird fans, but this mother had a way of looking down her nose — er, beak — at me and only turning her head ever so slightly when one of my boys made a fuss about his dinner.
She reminded me of my first dog, who also had an air about her. I could make a raucous with squeaky toys behind her head, and she’d play deaf until the exact moment she decided to care. Then she’d peer over her shoulder, her snout held high, and judge the squeaky toy before she chose to play with it. She often sat with her front legs crossed. Very proper.
I grew to love the aloof robin outside our window just as I loved my decorous dog for more than 14 years. The mother bird and I had a kinship, even if it was rife with competition and jealousy. We were both busy moms. Sometimes I envied the way the robin could sit on her brood and keep them quiet. They were all contained in that small nest and not running down the street in various states of dress and shooting water guns at each other.
The robin’s children also ate everything she presented to them. Nothing went to waste. And I saw the way she peaked over her shoulder as I fed my children pizza for the second night in a row, having given up on anything else because no one ate the spaghetti on Monday and now it was spoiling in the fridge. The robin didn’t have these problems, but she certainly noted mine.
Likewise, I noticed how her nest was exceptionally messy and her daily activities left globs of mud flung all over our back porch. She was not a great housekeeper.
That robin returned for two more years, and each time we alternated between love, envy and rivalry. My children still didn’t eat everything I made for them, and her new brood was equally as easy to please as her last. But the robin was still messy and aloof and hard to get to know.
One winter, we tore down our deck and built a new room onto the back of the house. The robin, of course, never returned. I knew that might be an unintended consequence of our expansion, and it pained me. I missed the mother bird and her noisy, but well-contained, children outside my kitchen window.
We didn’t have birds for a couple years, and then, last week, I was sitting on our new back porch when I spied a spry, quirky little bird hopping around a bush near a birdhouse in our garden. My children, now 17, 15 and 11, had all just gotten into a fight. The oldest left with his car. The middle son went to his room. And the youngest went on his bike to get away from his brothers and find a friend. It had been an unpleasant dinner, and, frankly, I was happy for the quiet and this unexpected gift of a comical bird jumping from limb-to-limb in our garden.
While I watched, the bird bounced onto the birdhouse, scaled its sides like Spiderman, and then poked its head into the tiny entrance. Soon after, I heard the familiar chirps of babies. When the bird flew off again, three hungry mouths went up and down in front of the hole, begging for more.
By pure habit, I turned to get my boys’ attention, something I had always done when the robin was outside our window. Back then, they boys would eagerly run to the window to watch the mom fly in and out with worms. But this time, no one was there. I texted my middle son in his room. He told me he’d come look another time.
So I sat there alone and watched what I’d later find out, thanks to the Maine Birds Facebook group, is a white-breasted nuthatch. She was so busy, flying back and forth and catering to those demanding chirps. And she seemed flustered, possibly embarrassed that I was seeing this unruly display of motherhood as I sat there in my lounge chair, with absolutely no one demanding my attention or time. I was like the middle-age women at Walmart sincerely admiring someone else’s kids climbing out of the shopping cart with donuts smeared on their faces — because we miss that now.
But the nuthatch made me remember things, especially my old friend the robin, and soon she’d teach me something, too.
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