Sunday morning Benjamin came padding into my room—make that “our” room—around 7. “Mom,” he said, “I was looking out my window and I saw a…wait, what are those birds that are all red?”
My brain attempted to swim up through the Jell-O of sleep and break the surface of of consciousness. “A cardinal,” I said.
“Cardinal,” Joe mumbled, about one syllable behind me.
“Well, I saw a baby one of those fall out of a tree,” Benjamin continued.
“I was looking out my window and I saw a baby…no, it wasn’t a baby, it was probably a kid…cardinal try to flap its wings and go out of the nest but it fell.”
“Did it die?” I was starting to have hazy visions of starting the day way too early, outside on the patio in my pajamas, consoling my compassionate 6-year-old as we stood over the smashed and broken body of a baby—no, a kid—bird. In my mind, the creature looked like the cartoon bird from Are You My Mother?
“No, its mom was watching it from another tree to make sure it was OK and no animals got it.”
“Good. We’ll talk about it some more later. You can go downstairs if you want.”
Then the sleep Jell-O rose again, gushed up around my brain, and I lost sight of the waking world for a little longer.
Home Is Where the Boxes Are
Boxes. Full boxes. Empty boxes. Nearly empty boxes that stubbornly hang onto a few random objects that have no obvious destination.
Boxes have been the center of our existence for weeks now. First we made boxes and filled them at Joe’s house and then at my house. Now we have empty boxes and collapsed boxes in our house. It feels like some weird representation of the Circle of Life, complete with ostentatious product placement by U-Haul.
There are so many decisions to be made. What goes in there? Do you mind if I put that here? What do you think about adding this to that? We should get one of those things to handle that stuff over there. Are these OK, or should we get new ones? Have you seen the thing that does that thing?
We are close to two weeks in now. It’s better every day. Sometimes it’s better every hour. With each box that completes its circle, the house becomes more livable. There are curtains up now, which feels like an unbelievable luxury since I spent the first week trying to figure out how to get dressed in our master bedroom or bathroom without flashing the neighborhood. (There was no way to do that. One night, I changed in the hallway.)
On top of unpacking and finding and nesting and working and leaving to speak at a conference just days after we moved in, there’s the fact that, oh yeah, we’re blending families. We’re no longer a party of three. We’re a party of six sometimes, and sometimes we’re a party of four, depending on the day. Sometimes it’s just Joe and me, which we will guiltily admit to each other is a serious upside of divorce.
I have my own feelings about all of this but I’m more worried about the munchkins—all of them. Are they OK with everything, all the new changes, all the adjustments? Is this stressing them out? Do they feel sad under those smiles?
I worry that my children have subsisted on TV and video games since we moved in. I decided not to worry about screen time during this early transition, but then I pass my kids on the way to put something else in the garage and I find myself trying to get a read on how they’re doing as I whoosh by.
For months now, there has been so much to do. So many things to check off lists. I wish I could just put “ensure positive mental health of children” on that list and check it off.
Did It Really Happen?
I keep waking up every morning, and Joe is there, and we are in this house that I daydreamed about for weeks. Joe is there—here, I mean—every night, no hour commute in between, no saying goodnight over the phone.
Sometimes this doesn’t feel real. I walk around and put things away and work in my office (that is a room, rather than a cramped corner of the kitchen) and the kids do their kid stuff, and no one seems too traumatized by all this. Sometimes I wonder if I’m still in my daydream.
The kids went to their dad’s Sunday evening. After I dropped them off, I realized that I’d forgotten to ask Benjamin about the baby cardinal. Then I started wondering if I had dreamed that, too, and maybe the conversation never happened. Or maybe he had dreamed the incident but thought it was real. His description seemed so vivid. How could he have seen all that from his window?
“Did Benjamin come in the other morning talking about a bird?” I asked Joe the next day.
“Yes. He said he saw a baby cardinal fall out of a nest. Or maybe he thought he saw it but he just dreamed it.”
I love a little dream interpretation just for shits and giggles, so I thought about this maybe-dream of the cardinal.
The bird was no longer a baby, but a kid, just like Benjamin. Cardinals are red. Red, as all hippies know, is the color of the root chakra. My mom brain and my hippie brain melded on that idea and panicked for a moment—root, stability, security, and falling, the bird was falling. Was Benjamin the bird, and was he concerned that his stability was in jeopardy?
And then I went to the online dream dictionary (because sometimes I do that, so don’t even) and looked up cardinals. It said this: “To see a cardinal in your dream represents vitality and happiness. It also may mean first place or your position in the front.”
So does he feel that his happiness has taken a dive? Or maybe that his mom is preoccupied, and he doesn’t feel like a priority?
But then I remembered: The bird fell, but it was OK because mom was keeping a watchful eye.
This moving shit is hard. I can’t tell you how much sleep I’ve lost over sending my kids into a brand new school and how many entreaties I’ve shot up to the universe, like “please let the other kids be nice to my children,” “please let my kids make meaningful friendships,” and “please give them someone to sit with at lunch.”
These things are out of my control. We already left our cozy little nest of the Single Mama Townhouse. Eventually they’ll have to leave our big, new blended-family nest and start school. I cannot catch them if they falter, but I can do what I can to prepare them. I can watch, and I can cheer them on. I can infuse them with the belief that even if they fall, they can still be OK and they can try again.
I can let them know that mom is always here. Mom is always watching. That sounds like a creepy thing to say, but you get my drift. Don’t ruin the moment, mmkay?