Earlier this summer, while starting to pack for our impending move, I discovered a pile of brown detritus inside a decorative bird cage on my porch. It looked like just a pile of dead leaves and pine needles, so I carried it down three flights of stairs to dump all out in the green space behind the apartment. As I turned it upside down, though, I heard squeaks. It was not a pile of dead leaves, it was a nest, with three tiny birds. Scrawny, pink, eyes sealed shut, hungry beaks gaping, they chirped fear and indignation at my up-ending of their safe home. I looked up, and the mother was perched on the rail near my front door, worried and watchful.
I returned the nest to its cage and carried it back to the porch. We checked on mother and babies for weeks. One didn’t make it, but after a while the two surviving hatchlings, covered in soft down, left the safety of the bird cage and flew to the pines just behind our home.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my eldest child, my own hatchling, has an affinity for birds. My goodness, she even based an entire faerie character, Avian, on a bird. She carried around an egg and had little patron girls help her nest throughout the day!
She has little birds all over her room, and last night, as she finished packing to fly the nest today, we had to discuss which decorative birds she would take, and which she would leave. Happily, she left me some that I will be using to decorate my part of the new house.
My first bird just flew away in her Easter egg yellow Chevy Spark. I don’t think she saw me standing in the parking lot, watching her until the speck of her sunny car disappeared around a curve.
A couple of weeks ago, she found a box of old letters that had been in storage. Most were notes passed in junior high between she and her (still) best friend, Mandy. But tucked in amidst all the expressions of adolescent angst was a letter I had snuck into her backpack on her first day of high school. As we read it, both crying, we realized that my words to her in 2004 were the very same I say a decade later as she heads halfway across a continent to chase her dreams: remember who you are.
I wrote to her then, and it strikes me now, she was the one who awakened my mother’s heart.
There are a lot of precious firsts in this life: first day of school, first two-wheeled bicycle, first kiss, first car. But there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that compares to the first time you feel the flutter of tiny feet or hiccups inside your own stomach, the first glance into the eyes of your first-born child, or the first time you put that child to your breast and hold her close as she draws nourishment from your very own body. With Hilary, I learned how to change a diaper, swat a behind, and deal with a child’s digestive distress. I discovered how to make a ponytail, waded through parent/teacher conferences, and practiced listening without judgment (or keeping that judgment to myself). I learned about letting a kid make and clean up her own messes and how to let her make some truly unfortunate fashion choices.
Hilary is a study in contrasts. Her diminutive stature, enormous eyes, and button nose perfectly match her sweetness. But she has a salty side, and a will that is nearly indomitable. She is, as Shakespeare described, little but fierce (not, however fierce enough to face a tree roach unarmed. At age 11 she clad herself in toe-sock gauntlets and a jester hat to do battle with the one in her room). She is an introvert who illuminates a stage.
I will never, ever forget the breath she took as Ondine’s memory was erased, the smile that lit her face. Performing started at age four as a clown in the Wild West show in Annie, Get Your Gun, continued with her first endeavor as a director-actor-costumer with her musical pantomime to LeAnn Rimes’ “The Middle Man,” and drove her life through dance recitals, high school plays, post collegiate work, and now to L.A.
As she has become a young woman, I have discovered the truth that your daughters become your best friends. We drink way too much pinot, have watched every episode of So You Think You Can Dance together since 2008, and have tentatively learned to share secrets about being women that have only deepened our love for each other. I am so very blessed that she was my first child, and even more blessed to behold the woman she has become. One of her very favorite plays is J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. I think these words perfectly sum up why: “‘Pan, who and what art thou?” he cried huskily.
‘I’m youth, I’m joy,’ Peter answered at a venture, ‘I’m a little bird that has broken out of the egg.’”
Fly, my little bird.