I stumbled on an unfinished birds’ nest on our back lawn this morning. Fallen from a tree. A wisp of a thing you can see right through. Pieces of paper wrapping from a drinking straw woven into it
Once upon a time, a warbler family had a plan. This was gonna be their dream nest. Then things changed. Now they are out there somewhere trying to figure out how & where to begin again.
I feel like our family is just about this fragile these days. Since settling down from the initial elation of arriving home from Rwanda with Beatrice and Moses–all six of us truly thrilled to be together– things have begun to feel ungrounded, unsettled, like we’ve been uprooted, with all plans changing. All of us a bit frantic as we search for a new location & foundation on which to build again.
Although I never gave it much thought, I guess I assumed birds painstakingly built their dream house–one perfect, gorgeous, complete nest– and then simply returned to it year after year.
Turns out it’s not like that at all.
Birds nests are as complicated as families. While some birds, like swallows, do return to the same nest year after year if it is still available, even they often have to do some remodeling. And if the site has been altered in any way they will not use the old nest.
Other birds return to the same general nesting site but not the same nest. Some use nest “hand me downs” from different birds. Some will build on top of the previous nest. And many just ditch the old nest entirely and start from scratch.
Bottom line: in the course of a bird’s life, the chances are very high they will build several different nests.
For some reason, this makes me sad and a little angry. What if the birds just loved the old nest? What if they were used to the old nest and it was a perfect nest and when they were growing up people told them the goal in life was to acquire the perfect nest and then roost in it for a lifetime?
Clearly, I have outgrown the bird analogy.
What I mean is this: The addition of two new children into our family has completely changed the very fabric material, the structure & security of our family life in ways I cannot yet fathom. It just feels entirely different.
And while there is (second to last bird analogy!) plenty of wonderful raw material with which to build a new nest– pine needles, leaves straw wrappers, dried grass (wonderful moments of fun, growing connections among all the children and with us, a feeling of excitement about our future) I do not recognize my life or family.
And I do not think the family as I knew it is coming back. And I do not yet know where or how to begin building again. Or what it’s supposed to look like.
The simplest routines that I both took great pleasure in and also took for granted– mealtimes, storytimes, cooking together, gardening, bedtime, family outings– are just all out of whack. Nothing works like it did before.
What’s changed? The larger size? Different personalities? Surely. But I will be perfectly frank here: what makes this transition so abrupt is the adoption of an older child.
All babies, regardless of how they arrive, bring their energy and personality and quirks into a family and change it. But there is something so radical and shocking, at least to me, about adding a whole, formed person, especially one with a painful history of abandonment, grief, neglect, and orphanage life.
What we will never know about Moses is impossible to accept — where he was and what he experienced the entire first year of his life, for example.
The absence of a shared history leaves us unable to decode the images and symbols that formed his world. What scares him? What makes him sad?The only way we learn who Moses is and what he needs is by doing things WRONG.
We can tell we’re clueless when he melts down and has tantrums, or cries for long periods of time, or goes blank and limp, or gets randomly defiant. Or bites my beloved Theo (to be fair, Moses is an overall gentle child and this was an isolated incident. Still, it both broke my heart and enraged me).
Seeing a child in pain and not being able to comfort them–or being so frustrated you don’t even want to comfort them–makes me feel like a plain old bad mother. And that is just not a fun place to live.
I feel vulnerable and worried for my family. I feel shaken to my roots. And while I understand and believe all the zenlike, Law of Attraction advice out there about being okay with not knowing, about “allowing” new forms to come together in their own perfect time, the day- to-day of this does not read like the book Ask and It is Given.
What can we count on in the meantime? What rhythms form our days? And back to the birds, where will we sleep at night?
So maybe the bird analogy just doesn’t work here. I mean, birds don’t adopt other parents’ baby birds, do they? Maybe they do. Oh, hell, I don’t know. I’m sick and tired of this bird analogy.
What I’m trying to say is…we have come home to a radically altered family.
And I do miss our old family….the quiet of morning; the gentleness of it all; the freedom and spontaneity; the deep, automatic bonding; the reciprocal, bottomless unconditional love; the unspoken, effortless flow of our days, the thoughtless fun. And maybe most significant for me, the pretty consistent feeling that I am doing a good job as a mother.
For now, we huddle together as best we can, trying to stay warm and safe outdoors in the elements. And during the day enjoying all the sunshine, flowers, and berries that we find. Until our new nest comes together.
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