First the parents did the bird-version of a Sunday drive through their favorite neighborhoods – flitting from tree to tree, inspecting the local schools and restaurants. They made their skittish way to a birdhouse outside our window, alighting on the backs of deck-chairs and overhangs to spy on the neighbors, trying to make sure we were friendly. The birdhouse location and square footage, well, technically, the square inchage, suited their needs, and they moved right in, carrying twigs and seed-fluff and dog hair.
Soon after, we noticed that only one of the birds was coming and going from the house … no doubt the harried father getting take-out for the nesting mother. Then one day we heard tiny peeps. I put a sign on our sliding glass door that said, “Use garage door,” to remind us not to startle our avian neighbors by going in and out of that door.
The tiny peeps grew in volume as the days went by, and the babies started to sound more like demanding toddlers than newborns. Both sparrow-parents worked their wings to the bone all day long, bringing food to the gaping mouths that crowded the birdhouse hole. I imagined the parents rolling their beady eyes at each other, saying, “Man! If only we could get ten minutes of peace and quiet, just to relax and have a drink in that birdbath across the yard!”
As I sat down with my cup of coffee one morning, I heard the baby birds start their hollering at six-fifteen a.m. and glanced outside to see the bird-mother perched on the birdhouse, doing the first feeding of the day. Her babies never reject the lovingly presented meals she stuffs down their throats. They push and shove their way to the “door” of the birdhouse, cheeping so loudly it sounds more like “shriek! shriek!” than “peep, peep,” their tiny maws alarmingly agape. See? Now those are some gratifying appetites. Those baby birds don’t turn up their beaks and complain, “That’s the wrong kind of worm – you know I like the thin ones, not the thick ones,” or “This grub was touching the pansies – I won’t eat it if it touched flowers.”
When my son was a baby, he ate like a ravenous little bird. Even as a toddler, he ate whatever I put in front of him, including broccoli. Then came the Twin Terrors: free will and an opinionated temperament. Certain foods disappeared from his repertoire, never to be accepted again, first among them broccoli. Other foods had to meet scrupulously observed criteria. Toast might be spread with peanut butter and honey, but not jam. Milk must come from a cow, not a soybean, and should never include chocolate syrup unless it was heated and topped with whipped cream, in which case it became the acceptable “hot chocolate.” Spaghetti noodles must be the proper thickness … no angel hair or fettucine. As a matter of fact, at some point, tomato sauce was banned and pesto was permissible. At one time, bananas had been a staple … then they fell out of favor.
As a parent, I fixed meals while toiling in the ambiguous gray area between “This is not a diner, you’ll eat what I fix or go hungry,” and “You don’t like your dinner, sweetie? Let me fix something else for you, my prince.” I tended to serve a variety of foods, usually at least one thing I knew my son liked. If he rejected everything, he could have toast. That was it. No dessert. He wouldn’t starve, but he wouldn’t be ordering me around like a surly customer, either.
My son is seven and a half now. Over the years, I have become crafty. Not in the Martha Stewart-hot-glue-gunning-dried-flowers-t
Since he’s not a baby bird, eagerly devouring whatever I offer, I have devised ways of ensuring that he gets enough good stuff in his diet. After all, I am still the mother bird: I want him to get enough vitamins.
“Mom, can we have milkshakes?”
I’m famous for after-school milkshakes among the first grade set. “Sure, honey.” That dollop of plain yogurt whipped in with the low-fat milk and ice cream doesn’t change the taste of the milkshake, but it does increase the calcium.
Homemade cookies? Sure, why not? I don’t always have the time to bake, but when I do … some whole wheat flour and flaxseed will substitute for some of the all-purpose flour. Again, it doesn’t change the taste of the cookie, but it does increase the fiber.
Spaghetti for dinner again? Sure. You don’t like broccoli, but when it’s steamed and pureed, I can add a little bit of it to pesto (or tomato sauce, for that matter) and you’ll never know. Just enough for the phyto-chemicals … not enough to make the sauce gritty.
The first batch of sparrow babies flew the coop one day. We weren’t exactly sure when … but I did see a very fluffy little guy perched on the deck overhang one day, peering down into the house, as if to say, “I’ll never forget the old neighborhood …”
Do sparrows lay more than one clutch of eggs a season? If not, we have new neighbors. The whole routine repeated: bird parents showed up with new furniture - fresh twigs and dog hair - arranged everything to their liking, and promptly hatched a new flock. Harried parents have been providing food to the shrieking, gaping maws twelve hours a day again. If these are the same sparrows as before, I have newfound respect for these hardest working birds in show biz.
I hope when these babies fly the coop, the parents get a chance to lounge around the birdbath, catching up on all the things they used to do before they had kids.