We have a robin desperate to nest on top of the retractable awning on our porch. Last year, she and her mate built a nest there, right over the door, and every time we went outside, there was much wing-flapping, squawking, and admonishing from the nearest tree.
It was a stressful situation, and pretty unhygienic to boot, considering the birds were constantly flying over where we would have liked to eat at our outdoor table right when the Spring weather arrived. It lasted for weeks while the eggs were laid and the babies hatched and fledged until one day, we came home to quiet, and to an empty nest.
This year, the robins are back, and Newman has been in a struggle with them for the last few days, tearing down the bits of grass they deposit to try to get them to nest elsewhere. They are determined, however, to build; whether it is the imprinting of past success and old habitual patterns or the daily increasing urge to settle in and lay, these birds are devoted to their task.
I only caught on to the struggle after it was underway for a day or two by noticing a growing pile of grass collecting on the porch. “Are the robins trying to nest again?” I asked Newman. He may have been trying to protect me by keeping me out of it; more likely, he was afraid I would insist he let them be. I understand the dilemma and don’t want the stress on anyone–Newman or the robins–that this bad roommate situation would bring, so I pretty much stayed out of it.
The struggle is gaining epic momentum, however. The grass has been swept off the porch to the ground below; the pile there could practically fill a wheelbarrow. I’ve looked up how to stop nesting and only get cruel suggestions, and I’ve thus far managed to dissuade Newman from spreading bleach everywhere, which was his big idea to fix it. I empathize with the robins, who just don’t seem to get it or can’t stop themselves from endless wasted efforts, but I worry more about what it will do to Newman if he can’t win this battle.
The truth is, stress is a big enemy for us right now, and I find it oddly foreboding that this latest version comes in the form of a mated pair trying desperately to build a space to build a family. Metaphorically, it has not escaped me that these birds are stand-ins for Newman and me. They are Newman, who is nesting with his boys, frantic not to lose a moment with his oldest, who will join his sisters in their college years when he graduates next month. They are also me, weaving and flying in circles, trying to figure out how to make a space a home, how to make two families one, or two, or perhaps three, whatever will work to bring everyone lasting peace along with some meaningful connections.
Today was Newman’s youngest boy’s birthday; he turned fifteen. After a day spent in our separate spheres, he with his boys at a paint-ball party and me with Free, we came together for a quick dinner out. It was both awkward and comfortable as we are at the stage where such get-togethers no longer feel rare or weird, but neither is there too much for teenage boys and an eight year old girl to talk about without one or the other making an effort that is grander than either side wants to make (or even knows how, in Free’s case). The timing is usually off too, as she grows cranky and tired just as these evening get-togethers get started.
There is not much any of us can do other than keep trying, keep smiling, keep enjoying the moments that are light and fine, keep pushing through the ones that aren’t. I know it will get better, that this is the way with blended families and building nests. There is so much going for this troop we make up. I know we will figure it out in time.
I just wish I had a solution for those birds. I want them to figure it out. In truth, I need them to.
Tonight I suggested to Newman that we just buy them a birdhouse or research the kind of ledge they would use and hang one nearby in a tree that is away from the house. I wonder if they would find it and use it or reject it. I’d like to believe it could work. I’d like to watch them from a safe distance, she feeding her fledglings while he seeks out food. I’d like to sit on the deck, our deck, and take note of their flight patterns, their criss-crossing modes of being as they swoop and slide within the tangle of parenthood and partnership.
I’d like to see them thrive and teach their little ones to fly like them, to branch out on their own, to search out their own best mates, their own safe space to nest. I’d like to see them return each Spring and remind me how it’s done: that it takes hard work but also has a rhythm that is very often instinctual.
I’d like these birds to figure out that if something isn’t working, there is another way–that they don’t have to give up on the nest entirely. I’d like them to stop, look around, and see the big picture, then fly around a bit and discover another option, one that doesn’t require them to change all that much but opens a window to a new kind of space, a new way of nesting.