The sky glows sherbet-orange as the sun begins its evening theatrics. With winter finally “run out of town”, I thrill over this long-awaited spring eve. I locate my favorite wicker chair in the garage and drag its monstrosity across the lawn to my patio. I’m so ready for this. I settle in with a sigh and throw my feet up on the fire pit. No more than one moment of peace, barely time to think, “I really need this”, and a high-pitched cry pierces the sky overhead. It’s Ginger, our resident eagle.
Usually, Ginger’s calls remind her mate to stop gallivanting the neighborhood, return to the nest, and provide her with a much needed break from “egg watching”, so she can swoop down to the lake and snatch up a pike for dinner. But this is different. She screeches twice more, sharp and desperate. I leave my comfy spot, shade my eyes and look up a few yards toward her favorite branch. Circling near Ginger’s snow-white head is a little black bird, jutting toward her and away with teasing repetition, pecking at her neck. Ginger ducks, flaps and squeaks again, not wanting to leave her perch near her nest. But the beastly pest is relentless.
I wave my arms around, yelling “shoo!” and “knock it off!”, “leave her alone!” A crazy woman ranting to the skies. Then I place my fists on my hips like Wonder Woman, channeling some Marvel superpower, and stare down the evil menace. It circles once more, but doesn’t dare touch my eagle friend, who cocks her head down to view my antics. The menace leaves in defeat, maybe just mere coincidence, but I take all the credit. I shout out to Ginger, “Us moms must stick together!” Then sit back down and enjoy the magenta and amber horizon quietly with my wild companion.
We’ve shared much over the past couple years since Ginger has come to live in the tall pine adjacent to our bedroom window. We’ve experienced the fledging of our babies from the nest, mine to college and a special needs day program, and hers to the forested lakes beyond. As I was crying myself to sleep at night, trying to cope with letting go of my 19-year-old to his dorm life 45 minutes away, Ginger was coaxing her 3-month-olds to branch hop and make their way to the wind. I witnessed her watchful circling overhead as her oldest attempted daily wobbly flights and nest crashes. And I heard her hollow cries when the youngest drowned in the lake.
I’ve read about the dedication of bald eagle parents and can only imagine what the loss of an offspring last summer did to Ginger. I sense she isn’t the same mother she was in round one, yet, here she is, doing it all again: the egg hovering, the patient waiting through spring snow and wind storms, the annoying visitors. Her nest is broader, fortified with secure branches, and save for the poop on our front patio and bloody bunny fur strewn about, I enjoy having this feathered friend around. Her resilience to continue to mother, even if only instinctual, is inspiring, and somewhat familiar.
When my daughter, Sarah, almost died after heart surgery, at six-months-old, the trauma nearly kept me from having my son. I remember crying in the bathtub the night my husband and I finally decided to have a second child. I can still see the hot water pouring over my toes, feel my tears in my hands, and hear the voice in my head, like a menacing black bird, picking at my sanity. Would this one be born early, underweight, have Down syndrome, hearing loss, a hole in their heart, too? If so, could I even survive it all a second time? Despite the geneticist who said that chances were minimal, and my daughter’s cardiologist who promised early ultrasounds and testing; the latent post-traumatic stress still coursed through every vein of my body like an anxious drug, skewing thoughts, draining my energy, and making me hide alone in warm bathtubs behind closed doors.
I couldn’t speak any fear out loud back then, but other mother friends intuited it. When I became pregnant again, and ended up at home on bedrest, it mimicked too closely the months of hospital confinement with Sarah. My friends knew this, encircled me and stood guard, watching my daughter, bringing me Dairy Queen, doing laundry, and shooing away all worries and stress. I couldn’t have done any of it without them. Each kind gesture like a superhero’s command for fear to take leave.
After Jacob was born, full term and healthy, I looked into his sweet eyes and couldn’t imagine life without him if I’d chosen not to take another motherhood leap of faith. But at the same time, I still wonder what kind of mom I’d have been without the extreme trauma experienced first. Would I have been less paranoid, protective, smothering my kids with my love and attention? Would I be less of a worrier, a warrior and, certainly, less exhausted?
I look at Ginger, and imagine I see a slightly less energetic, more stoic bird too. Maybe a little more cautious and less carefree than last season, feathers ruffled, aged exponentially; and yet here she is again, growing her nest and sitting guard, still watching sunsets on a days filled with pecking pests. I am honored to be her mother friend, modeling after those who came to my rescue (and still come) time and again, like Wonder Women to shoo away the black birds in my life, whenever I dare cry out. “Yes”, I repeat, “us moms must stick together.” Ginger returns my gaze and I know, somehow, my wild companion appreciates this too.