Monday, August 20, 2012

It Takes a Village

Every morning I wake to birdsong -- I fill the feeders each day with fresh seed to feed the multitude of birds that flock to my yard.  I love to listen to the quiet sound of the sparrows as they settle in to roost in my ivy-covered trellis each summer evening.  However, as much as I love sharing my yard with these precious little creatures, I have never taken the time to educate myself about their habits.

For years we have had a bird house hanging from our front porch roof, and each spring sparrows make a next in the little house, as well as in a small hole below the gutter; I watch as they carefully make their nests, and hear the chirping little ones as the parents rush to and fro to feed them.  

This spring my husband built a new bird house for the opposite side of the porch, which hangs just outside my living room window.  Within a week, two sparrows called the house their own and set about filling it with bits and pieces of twigs and dried grasses.  I watched them carefully, awed by their determination and loyalty as they took turns tending first the eggs, and then the tiny baby birds.  One morning, I saw something hanging from the nest and realized it was a little dead baby -- having lost my own first baby at birth, I cried as I pulled the little body down from the nest.  A couple of days later, I found another little dead baby on the porch floor -- what a sad ending for two such dutiful little parents. And the nest was empty and quiet --

As summer progressed, I no longer checked the birdhouse, not realizing that another little family might be raised during the same season.  Recently I noticed more action around the birdhouse, but didn't really pay too much attention.  Early this afternoon, I heard insistent chirping outside the living room window.  Taking a quick look, I noticed two puffy little sparrow babies perched in the squares of my rose trellis, chirping and looking scared.  In the limbs of the Rose of Sharon close by, were at least four adult sparrows, flitting around, chirping to the babies, nervously watching the little ones and trying to encourage them to spread their wings and leave the trellis.  The fluffy little babies looked a bit bewildered and afraid, but apparently the adults convinced them to try, and they hopped off the trellis to one of the closest limbs.  The adult sparrows flew close to them, in and out of the bushes, until they convinced them to fly on a bit further.  

I was surprised as I watched -- I knew that both parents took care of the babies, but I never knew that other birds were part of this "coming of age" process.  What an amazing sight it was -- these birds flitting nervously about -- and, after the "village" had convinced the little ones to leave the nest and no birds remained on the trellis or in the bushes, I watched as the little mother sparrow took one last lingering look into the doorway, perhaps feeling a bit sad at the prospect of her empty nest --

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Priceless Summer

In June the days of summer always dangle as pearls in front of us.  As tulips and daffodils give way to roses, we feel as if we have so much time ahead to enjoy the long, peaceful days of summer.  Now, suddenly, it is mid-August -- we feel a panic of sorts; there is so much more we wanted to do, and the days are dwindling down.

This summer is a bittersweet one for me.  In September my oldest granddaughter, Alivia, will begin kindergarten, and my everyday world of three precious little ones will be forever changed.  I know I felt a similar tug to my heart each time one of my own children began school, but at least they still came home to me at the end of each day.  Not so with Alivia -- her Daddy will be home to get her off the bus and hear the story of her day.

I wanted to make this summer special for the two of us.  Luke and Emma's mom is home with them all summer, so for the most part, I have time alone with Alivia.  We have kept to a peaceful routine; she arrives at 6:30 am, and we spend some time snuggling together in the chair, often reading the books she holds so dear.  Then we enjoy breakfast together in front of the TV, while she watches Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.  We water the garden together -- and the plants have required alot of watering this hot summer.  Then, we are ready for whatever activity presents itself -- she took two weeks of morning swim lessons and a week of morning summer camp -- we have made trips to the library, shopping excursions, begun a postcard exchange program, and spent time with Luke. 

To celebrate her fifth birthday, we went to a local tea room with Luke and a favorite cousin of mine.  What a terrible disappointment that was.  Alivia had been looking forward to it, but even though I had called ahead and ordered the "Children's Tea" and told them I was bringing two little ones, the wait was almost more than they could bear.  They were so precious -- practicing their best manners -- but even the "Children's Tea" was not appropriate fare for children.  This will be one of those memories we will all laugh about -- and I will forever carry in my heart the picture of the two of them dressed up and acting so grown up in such an uncomfortable situation.

I am thankful that I have been able to care for my grandchildren since they were infants.  The bond I feel with them is enormous, and I treasure these days.  Both Alivia and Luke are deep thinkers and our time together is filled with questions and conversation.  Already, Emma is chattering away, and it won't be long before she and I are sharing these serious conversations, too.  I have tried this summer to "pack in" as much quality time with Alivia as possible. 

There are still things I want to do with her and things I want to tell her, and summer is waning.  We are going to prepare a tea party for her Nanny, which she always enjoys.  She wants  to go to the playground with Luke and have ice cream at her favorite ice cream stand on the way home.  A much-loved cousin has invited me to bring all three little ones out to swim in her pool.  I told Alivia I would teach her how to make bread.  The list goes on and on and time is becoming shorter and shorter.

Soon, I will be putting her on the bus one morning and her life will forever be changed -- she is growing up, and Grammy is having a difficult time letting go --

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Tend With Care

My old Rose of Sharon bush has bloomed its heart out this summer, despite the heat and lack of rain.  How hard this lovely plant struggles to hold on to its beauty as it ages, as all women do.  I planted this bush in 1992, with a twin nearby which died suddenly a few years ago.  Somehow this bush has grown far beyond my imaginings, and I have begun a process of selective pruning each year to tame her wild limbs, and encircled her over the winter with a support to keep her aging limbs from breaking with the weight of snow.  She is a work in progress -- as I have culled old limbs, new ones have begun to grow, straight, healthy and filled with new blooms this year.  When you plant gardens and watch them grow, the individual trees and plants become dear to you.

As I snapped this photo today, I was also observing how badly the old wicker chairs and the porch deck need a new coat of paint.  As we age, so do our beloved homes, and unfortunately, our energy level also begins to wane.  Just as the house and the gardens begin to need more and more time and effort, I find I can accomplish only so much at a time.  On Friday morning I was up early and out in the garden to weed with high hopes and high energy.  However, by 10:30, I was wilting from the August heat and humidity, feeling dizzy and somehow unsteady.  I had completed most of the front yard, but was forced to leave the back yard gardens for another day.  

It is frustrating!!  When I was raising my children, cooking, gardening, cleaning, entertaining, and working from home I never gave thought to the day when I wouldn't be able to accomplish one third of the work I did then.  Now, when I rise early in the morning I feel a stiffness that slowly subsides as I open the windows and make a pot of coffee.  Last week when I took my grandchildren to a local amusement park, it was with deep regret that I found I can no longer ride The Scrambler -- my all-time favorite ride.  My neck muscles cannot handle the stress.  How disappointed I am.  Inside is still the free spirit who loved the thrill of hurtling through the air, but my body is no longer cooperative.  

I recall the years I have taken such care with old things -- antiques, old houses, old pets, old people.  There is a fragility to old things and they must be tended to gently and patiently, and with much love.  And now, slowly I am realizing that my own body is becoming one of those "old things".  It shocks me, but when I look back in time to when my grandparents were my age, they seemed old.  Maybe because we baby boomers have grown up with the belief that we are somehow invincible, aging is difficult to comprehend.  We color our hair, moisturize and apply makeup, stay active, and expect to stay young.  But there is a point when we each realize that we are slowly moving from "middle-aged" to "elderly."   It shocked me recently when one of my friends was described as elderly.  How can that be?!

Alas, nothing stays new or young forever.  Just as I so carefully tended to all of the old things and old people I held dear, I will now put more effort into taking care of myself.  I will listen to my aging body and be gentle in my demands.  What I once accomplished in a few hours will now probably take a couple of days, but it will get done.  I will still cook and garden and take care of my grandchildren and dance my heart out, but I will do it with care.  I just need a little more tending, as my lovely old Rose of Sharon does.