Signs and Wonder
by Ferida Wolff
This morning I saw a family of goldfinches in my backyard. A neon gold male, a dusty yellow female, and two young fledglings were all delicately pecking at the thistle in the birdfeeder. I am used to seeing one baby bird come with a parent but two caught my attention.
“Wow,” I said aloud as I stared out the window.
I am not a morning person so something has to be particularly arresting to get me to focus. This was. I watched with the sense of privilege that makes time stand still. Already my day felt full.
As if that wasn’t enough, shortly thereafter, a blazing red daddy cardinal with his mate and gawky male juvenile landed on the sunflower feeder. The baby made me laugh. His crest looked punk and his coloring was mottled like an incomplete paint-by-numbers picture. One day he would be as incredibly beautiful as his father but now he was an awkward kid trying to figure out what life was all about.
Then an iridescent grackle scoped out the field before allowing her bird-child to join her for breakfast. Her child, with a flat black coat but bright, curious eyes, looked like it had mischief on its mind. It was taking everything in, including more than its share of seeds. It looked at me through the window. I sent a message to keep eating. A baby needs food to grow.
Why are all these babies suddenly appearing before me? I wondered. I knew it was Spring and the time for babies but this seemed excessive. Was Mother Nature telling me something? Was it a sign of things to come? Grandchildren perhaps?
I have to admit that I would love to have grandchildren. My sister was recently presented with a grandson and was having a ball. She always seemed to be packing up another box to be mailed or getting on a plane for a visit. She brings back pictures of the sweetest little boy with a full, round face that has the biggest smile. And I think, That would be nice. But my children aren’t ready to start their families yet so I am enjoying my great nephew.
A baby sparrow fluttered its wings on the branch of my butterfly bush. Mama sparrow swooped in and filled its beak. The fluttering didn’t stop. Mama bird flew off again looking for more food. The baby was frantic, now, no doubt worried about where its next meal was coming from. Its peeping got louder, more insistent. And then Mama was back, momentarily calming the little bird’s anxiety. This time when she flew off, her baby was right behind. It wasn’t letting her out of its sight.
Parents have it rough, even avian ones. I remember the sleepless nights with my own babies, the days filled with catering to their needs and forgetting about mine. There were the times when my daughter cried and I couldn’t figure out why so I walked with her braced against my shoulder until we both were too worn out to continue. My mother used to tell me how difficult an eater I was. I wouldn’t eat what she put on my plate. So she took it downstairs to my aunt’s apartment where I happily devoured every bit.
A grandparent’s job is less harrowing, though I heard from new grandparent friends that it is just as tiring. Its main feature is loving. The parents take care of the daily schedules and the discipline. Grandma takes care of the playing. My sister said that if she had known how much fun grandchildren would be, she would have had them first.
A baby rabbit small enough to fit in my palm scooted across the yard. It stopped briefly to sample a daffodil and I didn’t have the heart to chase it away. I thought rabbits didn’t care for the taste of daffodils. I know they love tulips because they have munched mine into oblivion. Maybe this one was just testing the field.
I could imagine a grandchild exploring its world, a world where everything was new. Touching the texture of a carpet or a lawn, tasting solid food for the first time, turning with delight at the sound of its name. Babies help adults see the familiar with fresh eyes.
But babies do more than that. They satisfy the desire for continuity. They are part of the life current that runs from parent to child to grandchild. Each generation sharing and refining its genes and its knowledge. Each generation exploring and then creating new boundaries. Each generation’s love spilling over into the next. I didn’t think about this when I was a parent. As a potential grandparent it seems so clear.
A baby hedgehog just went galumphing straight across my yard! I had seen hedgehogs before but never a baby.
All these babies. It must be a sign.
But even if it isn’t, it is surely a wonder.
Ferida Wolff is the author of The Adventures of Swamp Woman: Menopause Essays on the Edge. Shortly after writing this essay, she found out that her daughter was pregnant. Visit her website www.feridawolff.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org