We've been watching some of the birds and their eggs hatch and their chicks grow and fledge this season thanks to The Cornell Lab resource.
We first watched the barred owls with great interest. Their two chicks, which we named Coochee and Cheecoo, (although their official names were Pignut and Hickory) were a great source of daily entertainment, as they grew from white fluff-balls into young birds and eventually fledged away from their nest.
After they left, we watched the American kestrels for a while to fill the void left by the departure of the barred owls. All five chicks fledged within hours of each other and flew away, and we turned to the red-tailed hawks for our daily moments of Zen. The oldest one has fledged, the youngest is poised to do so, and the middle child was retrieved by staff this morning after it was observed to have developed an infection a week ago and had been growing increasingly lethargic.
Watching these birds has been such a pleasurable experience, but the one thing these birds of nature have reinforced in me is the significance of parenting.
Looking back on my early years with D, I find it is just so sad that child-rearing has become a contentious issue, with much of the debate almost always revolving around gender imbalances when it comes to shouldering parenting responsibilities. The whole 'women could be doing so much more on the professional front if only the bulk of the parenting responsibility didn't fall on their shoulders' was almost always the talk of the day.
While I understand and support this argument, I must admit it has affected me in unexpected ways. For most of these past five years, although I chose to be a stay-at-home mom with D, I felt as if I wasn't living up to my potential or making the most of my time in this lifetime.
As I saw women struggle to hold on to their careers by a tattered thread, almost always on the verge of breaking, I felt utterly guilty at choosing to do one thing, to look after this child.
It also did not help that I felt my decision to stay at home would have been more justified had I had more than one child. I mean, if I was sacrificing something as important as my career, I might as well have had more children to justify what I was giving up.
Thoughts like these swirled endlessly in my head for most of this time. I realise now that a lot of these thoughts had risen from the messages blasted constantly by society and culture.
A college classmate once said to me she had decided to never have children because it was expected of her, as a woman, to do so. I asked her if she wasn't giving into stereotyping as a consequence. She didn't explain her stance to me saying it was pretty complicated, but to me it was clear that if we choose to do or not do something simply to oppose cultural norms or stereotyping, we are being influenced more by those norms than by what we truly want.
All this while, I had wanted to spend time with my child, but back then I felt a lot of shame and guilt for wanting this. I felt I was letting myself down by choosing to do so. I felt I was not being a good role model to my child who'd surely come to believe that moms are meant to stay at home and look after their children while only dads go out to work.
At a time when I just wanted to fall into someone's arms and weep about how hard I was finding it to cope with the demands and anxieties of parenting, some family members pointedly told me I was wasting my time and that I ought to be doing more on the work front, given my education and professional background.
It's only in the last few months that I've grown so much surer of what truly matters to me in life – being with D and KrA, and writing. There is no order to it. On a day like today, I managed to write more than my recent average, but I also had to spend a lot of time with D. I was so exhausted in the evening I couldn't think straight. In fact, I have been 'writing' this post for the past hour, my mind drifting away, my eyes seeking out the video of the unwell hawk fledgling's retrieval.
Normally I'd have picked up a fight with KrA, arguing about how tomorrow it was going to be his turn to keep D for the bulk of the day while I sat at my desk and wrote. But I am so determined this time around to not repeat old patterns that I actually sat down for a bit and recounted the day, and realised that I actually had more writing time and time to myself today than yesterday.
I had been so tired and exhausted I was looking for something to blame it on – KrA almost always being on the receiving end of my ire – without pausing to acknowledge that it is tiring, that no matter how much we do, there will always be more to do, and in our incessant strife to make our lives ideally convenient and pain-free – because in this rhetoric, children have surely become a dire source of inconvenience – it has become entirely easy to be swayed by what the world is ranting about and not pay attention to how our lives are truly unfolding in the midst of all that din.
What I'm trying to say is that it is truly hard to peel off the layers and understand what we truly want when we're constantly bombarded with contradictory messages from culture and society.
To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. ~ E. E. Cummings
Where the human world couldn't help me with when it came to parenting, the beautiful birds at The Cornell Lab came to my rescue.
Even now as I write this, I'm watching the mother hawk, Big Red, in their nest with the last of her chicks, K3, who remains hesitant to fledge.
These parent birds have been a personification of patience, of going with the flow, of doing all that they can to look after their young. I draw my inspiration and courage from them. I can't help but feel a little sad as the season draws to a close, but I'll be here again next year, watching new eggs being laid, new chicks being hatched, and new lives emerging in this beautiful world of ours.
In parting, I'll leave you with these words from Tara Brach. It is an excerpt from her latest book, Trusting the Gold: Uncovering Your Natural Goodness.
I have discovered that enoughness has absolutely zero to do with accomplishing, nothing to do with achieving, and is not at all about trying to be good enough. Rather, the realization of enough is right here in the fullness of presence, in the tenderness of an open heart, in the silence that is listening to this life. These are the moments when the glow of gold shines through.
Pause and let yourself sink into this moment, into presence, into your heart.
Gently say to yourself, “There’s nothing to do. This is enough…I am enough.”
Feel the fullness and peace of coming home.
~ Tara Brach