The Birds

Several weeks ago, my homebound son, Peter noticed that a bird nest had been constructed in the middle of the Christmas Cactus out on the front porch. In it, were six perfect blue robin’s eggs on top of which sat a puffed up robin day after day. We knew not to touch and so reverent were we, that we never even got close enough to take photos. Once before, the twins had touched a nest to which the mama never returned. Those babies hatched and we tried to syringe feed them to keep them alive, but their imminent death was trauma for us, so we were not going down that path again!

It has been the most perfect Spring event to observe and track. Each day the mama bird sat, patient and proud and waited. She never went to childbirth classes, no trips to Babies R Us were required, nor did she register for any baby gifts in preparation for the births. She would fly away for periods of time and curiously the dad would perch nearby and squawk for her to return to her full time job. It seemed she just needed to spread her wings a bit and have a break from the nesting. She had made a most beautiful and perfect home, but even from the best of abodes, we all need a break sometimes.

Days passed and each morning we checked the progress until finally lo’ and behold when we weren’t looking, six skinny, hairless chicks had emerged. We had missed the drama of the shells cracking and all, but nonetheless, we were thrilled to see this next phase. Now, began the hectic work of keeping these babies fed. Oh my! This mama flew back and forth all day long, retrieving worms, chewing them up, spitting them into continuously opened mouths. There seemed to never be any satiety in these chicks who wanted more, more, more. Isn’t this the case with human babies too? As a lactation consultant, I find this to be the single most difficult concept to deliver to new moms — “Babies are hungry, most of the time and feed continously.”

We wished we had done some filming with some time lapsed recording, because each day was something new. One day the babies eyes opened, one day they grew feathers, one day they got more crowded in the nest. But, always, when mom when to get some food, dad flew nearby and yelled for her during her absence. Poor thing was always on the mission of getting those babies fed. I wondered why these birds were not designed as mammals where mom has all she needs to feed the babies. This seemed so much harder.

Ironically, the Christmas cactus, that housed the full house nest, began to bloom, totally out of season. First one, then several beautiful pink flowers burst open. It was as if to celebrate the coming of life, the yin and the yang, the loveliness of it all, heralded with pink blossoms in May that typically only bloom in December!

Six perfect baby birds snuggled together with mouths almost always open begging for food and when they weren’t, they slept in a heap, kept warm by each other and by their very capable and proud mama. I think the most amazing part to me was the complete lack of intervention. No one rushed anything. Not the birth, not the infancy. There was no induction because she was overdue or supplementation because there wasn’t enough milk. No one pressured the mama (maybe the dad a little!), no one said these babes “just weren’t getting enough” or “gaining weight fast enough” or “growing enough feathers.” No, on the contrary, all was well, just the way it was. It was such a delight for my chronically ill son to observe each day as he thrilled to the process and progress through the front window.

And then, oddly one day all but two birds were gone! One cute little round robin, perched on the top step, trying to spread his wings, falling over, trying again, falling again, over and over until poof — he was gone. But, ah, those last two — they stayed and stayed. In fact, they stayed a whole other day, waiting for mom to bring food, and cuddling up with each other still to snooze. What is it that makes some of us slower to fly than others? What is it that gives some more bravado, more faith in it all working out, than the rest of us? I always wonder this and now bore witness to that very phenomenon. But then, we looked away and those last two as well, had flown the coop. Left behind was a whole lot of bird poop, some shedded feathers, and one absolutely perfect bird’s nest. Indeed the saying runs true, “We give our children two things, roots and wings.”

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We Didn’t Know Today Would be the Last Day

On Tuesday, May 3, 1995, Shep and I woke up in the lovely, Southampton home of a friend of ours, Stephanie. She had invited us to use her weekend house while she was away and we were visiting. Nicholas was 13 and wanted to spend the day at a friend’s house. Peter was 11 and had been stung by a bee on his leg, the day before and was still pretty sick from the allergic reaction he had had. Oliver was seven and up for whatever we planned. Gregory was two and had slept without me and without nursing through the night, for the first time, totally randomly and without coaxing. He had made his way through this strange house in the night to the bed his dad was sleeping in a room with the other boys and snuggled up beside him to sleep. I had a glorious and peaceful night where I actually got to sleep through and when I woke up, was shocked to find that Gregory was not next to me as he usually was. I felt good in the morning, but edgy as now it seemed, I wanted even more alone time. I wanted to lay on the couch and read The Southampton Press from cover to cover, undisturbed. Having lived in the Hamptons for 12 years, I still knew many of the people mentioned in the paper. Reading a paper and being the mother of 4 young boys is simply not possible.

We decided to go into town and walk Jobs Lane and then Main Street checking out changes in Lillywhite’s toy store, the boutiques, the restaurants, and to drool over what we had left behind by moving to plain vanilla land in Raleigh, North Carolina, two years prior. In walking, we ran into a few familiar old friends and stopped to chat about old Little League teams, schools our kids had gone to and the like. We ate some lunch in The Driver’s Seat restaurant which was always so enjoyable and then moved on. Peter’s leg still hurt and so he wound up sitting in Gregory’s stroller, while Gregory attempted to push him. It was a hilarious site that entertained many strollers in town that day.

We came back to Stephanie’s house and made some spaghetti for dinner. I was irritable when Gregory kept climbing on the deck bench and leaning over. I was still lusting after alone time, or at least mommy-off-duty time and resented the interruptions. I kept pulling him back each time he leaned over and in retrospect, I only wish I had let him fall. He would have broken bones and that sounds horrific, I know, but read on and you will understand more. Gregory was covered with spaghetti sauce on his blue and white outfit so I changed him into a cute yellow sweatsuit and his multi colored shoes that matched. For reasons I will never understand, we chose to visit a woman I knew from La Leche League who had just given birth to her third child. This was not a close friend of mine, but rather a co-dependent, weak yet radical earth mama who was married to one of the most despicable men I ever met. George was at the time, County Legislator for Suffolk County and when he wasn’t busy cheating on his wife, neglecting his children, or being a total egocentric asshole, he was making derogatory racist or anti-gay comments for those very populations he bragged about defending. Sleazy and repulsive is the only word I can still use to describe this unattractive being.

The truth of the matter is that we could have visited several other people on our first evening back in Southampton to see friends. My best friend, Joan wanted us to come, as did so many others. Who can ever say why we made the choice we did. It will haunt me forever. When we visited, the two older boys played with mine and went in and out of the house shooting basketballs. Anne and I sat admiring her baby, and as was typical for her she referred to astrological charts of each newborn as they came into the world. She had left George more than once and showed up crying, with kids in tow at my home for refuge. I always wondered why she chose our home, since we were not particularly close friends. I tried to figure out now, if that was over or if George was still up to his same slimey tricks. Her newborn nursed on and off as she and I sat in the living room. Shep was in the kitchen talking to Anne’s visiting mom and then, George arrived bragging about the TV show he had just been interviewed for. Gregory wandered in at one point, noticed the baby nursing and so climbed into my lap and nursed as well. It was sweet and more poignant then I could ever know.

For some reason, we all wandered into the kitchen which was where the back door was. George who continued to be unbearably full of himself, showed off his parrot on his shoulder. He told us that it was not easy to determine whether the bird was male or female. “Just my luck,” he said, “that I would end up with a ‘faggot’ parrot!” I remember feeling so confused that this man was such a complete fraud, deriding the very population he claimed to publicly defend. It is hard for me to look at parrots, still.

Minutes later, Shep asked me, “Where is Gregory?” I responded that he was following the boys in and out to the basketball hoop. “No, he responded, I don’t see him.” In that second the entire world changed for six of us and it would never return to how it was one second before. Gregory was indeed floating face down in his yellow sweatsuit, multi colored shoes, in the swimming pool. Shep and George grabbed him and pulled him out. The open gate (The Hamptons had very strict laws about this, but of course, George was completely above the law) had gained him entrance and what happened next, I will never know. I do know that there was running and screaming and sirens and chaos and me jumping up and down in the air in a maniacal, frantic, desperate fashion. I would flip from kneeling and begging God for help to leaping in the air over and over. There were hours in emergency rooms, helicopter airlifting, racing to a larger medical facility and sustained hysteria by us all. There were my kids coming and going, being brought, being removed, being calmed, being lied to, being supposedly — protected. There was no way to protect, no way to calm.

I have written of all the details many times, so I will not repeat. But, in ten hours time, we watched a medical team desperately try to infuse life back into the lifeless body of my darling, chubby child. It crossed my mind that if they would let me nurse him, he would be okay. Truth was that when we pulled him out of that pool, he was already dead even though medical efforts made his heart beat again. We let him go forever at 6:00 am and stepped into the cesspool of our new lives, that would take us years to learn to navigate. If only we had known that the day before would have been the last day. We could have done things differently, I suppose.

Today is that day again, only it is now 15 years later. We have survived without my darling son and we have been given the blessing of two more sons, twins in fact who really are solely responsible for pulling us out of the black hole we lived in following Gregory’s death. As you know, I live each day in search of “the normal day” always consciously pleading and praying that it is not the last one.