Every Spring, a pair of robins make a nest in an odd, completely pointless J-shaped metal ledge on the underside of our front door awning. The first few years, their construction was too sprawling and ended up being blown down. Looking through the remains of the nests, pathetically upside down on our front stairs, was like conducting forensic analysis on the waste from a seedy strip club – intertwined with twigs and grasses were feathers, glittery threads and ribbons, strips of dollar bills, hair, dental floss and, one time, what appeared to be a tampon string. Sometimes the nests came down as empty husks; others, they were surrounded by splatters of broken eggs and disappointment, scattered like the target practice attempts of a blind person.
We share an uneasy relationship with the robins, based on the unspoken agreement that as long as the human family keeps their spying at a respectable distance, the bird family will not let loose their butt bazookas upon our heads.
Last year, they mastered the art of building a compact, wind-proof nest, and we were able to watch the eggs hatch and, several days later, the baby birds leave the nest for the for the first time. I worried over them, as their mother had left early the day before, not to return. In human terms, maternal abandonment is the makings of long-term therapy, drug abuse, and successful careers writing country music and smutty novels. In wild bird terms, it’s as simple as, “I am so over this shit.” And I totally get it. Some days I want to run away, too. Not forever, and not far. Just to a nice hotel, somewhere with room service, decent coffee and a solid 24 hours of not making food, providing reassurances that that mark is totally normal, making food, managing through temper tantrums, making food, looking for lost shoes, making food, medicating my headache, and making yet more food. For such little people, they really do eat constantly; I related to the Mama bird as I watched her flying to and from the nest, through a series of seemingly endless days, regurgitating time and again for tiny outstretched beaks that never bothered to say thank you or show their pleasure. Wow, mother, that earthworm was truly a delight! And the way you hacked it back up, with a minimum of bile and phlegm! Thank you for that! No, they just demanded more, more, more.
“I understand,” I whispered through the window, willing the robin to understand me. “I know how it is. Come away with me. We’ll go to the Hyatt Regency and use the bathroom uninterrupted and watch Bridesmaids and order room service. I’ll give you my bread, you won’t even have to share it.” But she just kept flying back and forth. Until the morning that she left and never returned. I watched for her through that day, wondering what had become of her. Was she off having a girls weekend without me? As I fixed the third snack of the day for the children who had been “too full” to finish their lunch 60 minutes earlier, I felt the sour pull of bitterness in my soul. Here I was, still stuck in the neverending loop of making and cleaning up food, and she was off doing who knows what. Catching a show at whatever cheap club she’d swiped her nesting materials from, or enjoying a buffet at the dumpsters behind The Cheesecake Factory, I imagined. “I like cheesecake, too,” I muttered, slamming down a plate of sliced apples and nut butter.
Nick was barely in the door when I fled, desperate to find some quiet to soothe my overstimulated brain, and a few moments alone to check on the baby birds. They were still there, chirping in the nest. They had feathers now. I thought about trying to feed them but decided it was best to leave them alone. 12 hours later, in a cool, misty morning, one by one, they left, too. They flapped frantically as they took leave of the nest, then hopped clumsily across the yard and out into the world.
This morning, Isabel noticed the start of a nest in the ledge again. Sure enough, our robins are back. I settled in with coffee and watched them. In past years I’ve always been so fascinated by the process of building the nest and caring for the baby birds that I’d not paid much attention to the male. I knew he’d been around and that I’d seen him, but I couldn’t recall what he’d been doing. What was his job?
I leaned forward in my chair and scouted for him. There he was, sitting on the railing. Doing… nothing.
There was Mama Robin, flying back to the nest with what looked to be a bit of Christmas tinsel. With quick, determined movements, she wove it in, then used her back feet to do the frantic little dance that gives the nest its form.
And there was Daddy Robin. Sitting in the sunshine.
Oh, hell no, I thought. I suddenly forgave the Mama her abandonment of me last year. Not only had she been burned out by the demands of her chicks, her mate was a total dud. No way would that fly if I was the mother bird. “What are you doing?” I’d ask Nick, looking down at him sitting on the railing.
“Watching for predators,” he’d say, puffing up his chest and trying to seem threatening.
“Oh, please,” I’d say. “We’ve built here every year for the last five years. It’s safe, motherfucker, that’s why we build here. Now go find me some more tampon strings and start weaving, asshole.”
And this is why Mars/Venus relations are so much better for humans. Because we have language to call each other out on our shit.