Ideas coming into focus. I search for a place to sit and quietly watch them settle, hoping I can make note of them, capture them before they…
Be careful! Don’t startle them. Any sudden movement or noise may scare them into flight and who knows when they’ll be back again. Ideas, like birds, are flighty things.
An old woman sits on a park bench and watches the birds. She simply watches, content and satisfied with her view. They alight, coo, and walk around pecking the ground at her feet.
A young mother comes by, pushing her new baby in a stroller. It’s one of those big heavy contraptions that a car seat fits into. From her park bench, she sees the mother arrive in the parking lot. Stepping from the sedan, she walks to the back of the vehicle as the trunk pops open. She reaches inside, and with both hands heaves the stroller base out onto the pavement, snapping it open as she lowers it to the ground.
“I remember being that strong,” the old woman thinks. The young mother maneuvers the stroller to the side of the car, opens the back seat door, pulls the baby car seat out of its base, turns on one foot and sets it atop the stroller, locking it into place with a snap.
“Does that baby even know where he is?” She chuckles to herself. “I sound like an old woman, even in my head. Back in my day…” She smiles as she watches the mom start her brisk walk around the park. She’s here for the exercise and baby is the resistance weight. “Two for one deal,” she thinks, “Mom gets a good walk and baby get some fresh air. He’s probably napping the whole time anyway.”
She goes back to her birds as they settle once again at her feet, instinctively pecking the ground. There are so many different varieties of the same kind of bird. Pigeons are not known for their beauty, but they are fascinating. Interspersed between them are several sparrows that flit in and out of the group, dwarfed by the lumbering pigeons.
A war cry is sounded to her right and the pounding of small feet, “Josh, honey, no! Don’t chase them off!” Mom comes walking breathlessly after her toddler son just as the birds scatter to the sky and trees. “I’m so sorry. He gets so excited about the birds.” She bends down and scoops him up into her arms. “That’s ok. They’ll be back. I love watching them return just as much.” Mom smiles. “How old is he?” “24 months and always running.”
Twenty-four months. Why not just say 2½? It’s strange the way we do that with a babies age until they’re three years old. Maybe after that it gets too cumbersome. Fifty-four months would be a lot to calculate, I guess.
“Sit down, honey. Let him chase around the bench for a moment and catch your breath.”
“You don’t mind?”
“Not at all. He reminds me of my own sons when they were that age. Always chasing after something. I’m just sitting here taking in the sights and right now, you’re it!”
“Thank you. Young boys aren’t always welcome. All that energy. They have to run it off somewhere!”
As she takes a seat, she leans forward to set her son down. The moment his feet hit the ground, he wobbles and takes off again, toddling to the back of the bench. He babbles about the rocks and sticks he finds back there as the two women smile and listen. While he’s distracted and out of view, a few birds return to the ground in front of the bench.
He makes his way around to the side of the bench, quietly, almost stalking his prey. He’s showing a lot of restraint for a two-year-old. He wants to see the birds so badly. As another bird lands he bolts out among them, “Birds!” They scatter and he laughs ecstatically. Mom and the old woman shake their heads. “You’ll never catch them that way,” mom playfully scolds.
“I don’t think he wants to. He sure gets a lot of joy from the power he exerts over them. See that smile as they scatter? He has won his battle.”
“Birds!” the boy yells again.
“Yep. Birds. Birds everywhere.”
He smiles and grabs mom’s hand, pulling her in the direction of the playground. “I guess we’re leaving. It was nice talking to you.”
“Nice meeting both of you. Have a good time out there!”
She settles back into her spot on the bench and sighs. The quiet of the park starts to move back in and surround her. The birds have returned, along with a small squirrel. They don’t seem to mind the small stranger and she watches as the birds move out of the way when he darts in among them. They all know this is where people will leave snacks for them. They scour the ground around the bench for bits of popcorn, sunflower seeds, and cracker bits. So much energy put into scratching around for scraps.
It’s warm out today, but the soft breeze brings comfort. It smells of fresh cut grass and wet pavement. She takes a deep breath and tastes the scent. It brings back memories of her childhood in this same park. Climbing the jungle gym and standing atop that slide thinking it was the longest drop she had ever seen. Looking toward the playground, she can see young girls on the swings. Their bare feet pointed to the sky, hands reaching to the side to try and touch as they pass back and forth.
She hears their mom call to them from a picnic table nearby. “Come eat your lunch, girls! We have a little work to do, but I think it will be fun.” The girls jump from the top of the arch of their swing and land gracefully in the sand, plop, plop. One stumbles over from her dismount, not so graceful but full of energy, rights herself and comes running behind her sister. “Nice one, dork.” “Stop. Please don’t start, you two.”
The girls fall to the table and begin munching on sandwiches and chips, as their mom picks up a book and starts to read to them. The cover is so bright and bold, the old woman can see it from her park bench. “Drawing with Children” is says. They must be homeschoolers, she thinks.
“Girls, after you eat, let’s try to draw things we find in the park. What do you think?”
“I’d rather swing!” the older one states. “Me too!” her little sister chimes in.
And then surprisingly, “So would I!” says Mom. She closes the book and heads toward the swings, both girls running ahead to get there first. The swinging commences with gusto, Mom reaching the highest point first due to her expertise. The girls struggle to keep up.
“Ok, that’s enough for me!” Mom stops pumping her feet and slows the swing to hop off.
“I’m beat. I think I’ll draw birds instead!” She goes back to the table, picks up a sketch pad, and sits in the grass. Within a few minutes, both girls are by her side. They want to see what Mom is drawing. “You guys, I can’t get anything on paper with you pushing your face in to see what I’m doing. Get your own sketch pad and draw something yourself. We can share ideas in a bit.”
Running to the table and back, they plop down in the grass beside her and begin to draw with intention.
The old woman smiles as she watches the swings sway and slow and finally stop. Her birds begin to return, and her attention is pulled toward them once again. There are more now. A few of her favorites have arrived. They are clearly pigeons of the same build and make, but these are snow white and without a blemish. How does that happen? They look like obese doves, ones that escaped from someone’s wedding cake and have been gorging on bits of cracker and popcorn instead of their usual kept bird diet of clean birdseed.
Stroller mom walks by, earbuds in. She isn’t loud or sudden, so the birds just move out of the way as she goes by, returning to their pecking the moment she passes. It’s a small neighborhood park, so she passes by every couple of minutes as she does her loop. The fourth time, she slows and stops to sit and rest.
“Do you mind sharing the bench for a moment?” she asks the old woman, slightly out of breath.
“I’d love to. I was hoping you’d stop so I can get a glimpse of the new human.”
Stroller mom chuckles. “He is pretty cute, if I do say so myself.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.” She smiles and Stroller Mom lifts the canopy of the car seat to reveal her prize. Her new son, all chubby and swaddled, sleeps his afternoon away, completely unaware that he’s being rocketed around the park.
“Don’t you wish you could sleep like that?” she asks.
“I wish he’d sleep like that at night!”
“That’s the way, isn’t it? As soon as it’s quiet, the noise in your head gets louder and you can’t get a moments rest. I’ve always had trouble sleeping at night. It’s when all my ideas start to come through. My husband used to complain that I’d be up all night writing out ideas, only to sleep all day while the tv blared and the traffic snarled outside our window.
“Babies probably feel the same way. Once all the stimulation is gone, they start to think and process, and then cry about it. I know I did!”
“That’s funny. I do the same thing. Growing and creative minds must be so similar.”
Stroller Mom closes the canopy. “Breath caught. Three more laps and I’m off to the showers. Thanks for the insight. You come here often? Maybe I’ll see you again?”
“Every afternoon I can, that is, until it gets too hot.”
Stroller Mom smiles and gets on her way.
The birds are quick to return to the ground around her bench once again. She is quiet and doesn’t move much and besides, she has seed they can’t resist.
“It’s fascinating to me how easily they startle and how quickly they forget what scared them and return. Do they forget, or is the lure of food too much for them to ignore? Or maybe they know how fast they are? Whatever the reason, they’ve gotten this far with the strategy. Look how many there are!”
As she sits and ponders the evolution of park birds, she notices a woman walk in from the parking lot with a lawn chair and a sketch pad. Clad in a flowing skirt and a tank top, she seemingly glides across the park like a dryad.
She seems to know exactly where she’s going, a small shaded spot under a flowering tree directly across from the old woman. She sets her lawn chair down and situates it so she is facing the old woman and her birds, expertly flipping open her sketch book. She attempts to pull a charcoal pencil from behind her ear, but it gets tangled in her flowing gray hair.
“Ugg.” The old woman hears her grumble to herself as she sets the sketchbook down and tries to extricate the pencil. The birds are frightened into flight once again by the angry flop of the sketch book.
“Dammit.” She looks up at the old woman and eyes her apology.
“It’s ok, sweetheart. They’ll be back soon.”
The artist smiles at the old woman, too shy and embarrassed to approach and speak. She’s there to draw after all, not have a conversation. The old woman has been her subject for weeks now. The looks are all the conversation either of them needs. She gathers her pencil and paper, settles back in her chair and waits quietly, filling in from memory where she left off the week before.
The old woman knows what the artist is up to and subconsciously tries to look her best. She sits up a tad straighter, fixes the fallen hair from her bun, and sucks in her sagging belly as best she can. With the return of the birds, the distraction of an adorable squabble between a chipmunk and a pigeon, she relaxes again into her natural state, and the artist attempts to capture the charm with her pencil.
One of the swinging girls has taken an interest in the old woman feeding the birds and comes to investigate. She’s been creeping up slowly and shyly from the side for several minutes. The old woman noticed her minutes ago but hadn’t said anything yet. She hoped to allow the girl to prove her bravery and approach. After several slightly stressful minutes, she decided to help and speak first.
“Is there something you need, dear?”
The girl glances back at her mother for encouragement, returns her gaze and shakes her head no.
“There’s plenty of room for two here, if you’d like to sit.”
Again, the girl glances back at her mom. Mom smiles, “It’s ok. Most people warn you with behavior if they bite.”
The old woman chuckles. “Oh, I don’t bite anymore, but I used to. Do you want to hear the story?”
The girl looks down and smiles from under her blonde bangs. “Yes.” She says, and giggling walks up and plops herself on the bench beside her.
“Well, I fibbed a bit there. I never was a biter, even when I was little. More of a hugger.”
The girl smiles up at her. “A hugger?”
“Yes. I’ve always loved hugs from anyone I meet. You can tell a lot about a person when you try to hug them. Some move away when you try to put an arm around them. Some don’t but stiffen up when you hug them, like they’d rather you didn’t but can’t say no. And then some…oh these are very special; they simply melt into your arms like it’s all they ever needed in the world but never had.”
The old woman is tossing the last of the seeds in her bag to the birds as she talks. She stops and looks at the youngster beside her. “What kind of a hugger are you?”
“Me? I don’t know.”
“Would you like to find out? I’ve always found that asking a person if they’d like a hug before you hug them is a good idea. Some people just don’t appreciate a touch from someone they don’t know and springing it on them makes it much worse. Would you like a hug?”
The girl looks to her mother. She’s always been told to keep her distance from strangers, not because they’re dangerous, but out of respect for their space. The mother is walking over with the picnic basket in one hand, a backpack over her shoulder, and holding her little sister’s hand. “That one has always been a hugger. We’ve been working on consent since she was tiny.”
The old woman smiles at the thought. She never could understand why anyone would want to refuse a hug, but to each his own. We have to respect each other’s feelings if we’re going to want people to respect ours.
The little girl stood up from the park bench and turned to the old woman and as she leaned in for a hug, her little sister came barreling in from the side. “Let me in!” she squealed and all three melted together in a comforting embrace like old friends.
“You smell like a grandma!” the little girl chimes. The old woman chuckles, “That’s because I am a grandma, several times!” The older girl laughs, “I knew it. Only grandma’s give hugs like that!”
“Come on girls. Let’s give her a break from your ruckus. We have baseball practice in an hour.” Shifting her attention to the old woman. “I hope we weren’t bothering you. We see you here every week and kind of feel like we know you.”
“Never a bother, dear. I love hearing the way you talk to them. I feel like you respect their person and they sure seem to love you.”
“Thank you so much for saying that. Really. When we took them out of school and decided to ‘unschool’ I was terrified about what it would look like to people. Most people just laugh and shake their heads. Some are outright angry and have told me in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t get control over them, show them who’s the boss now, I’d lose them when they are teenagers. I just don’t see children that way, something to be controlled and molded into what we want.”
“Neither do I. That’s how we were raised, and I always feared my parents. They thought they had control over my brother and I, but we just lied to them and hid our real lives away until we were old enough not to need their approval. But wouldn’t it have been nicer to be able to talk about things together? Ask questions and get their advice?”
She sat thinking about the last time she saw her mother. “No dear, you’re doing right. Things change and so can we. These days we need to communicate openly, use less force, and allow children to do things their way as long as they aren’t hurting anyone else.”
Sighing in relief, “You have no idea how much that means to hear someone say that.” Gathering up her things, “Listen, we need to run, but you’ll be here next week? Maybe we can talk more?”
“Of course! I’ll bring some cookies.”
“Like a regular play date for grown ups.”
They both laugh. “Bye, then! See you next week!” She calls as they race to their car.
The afternoon rolls on and the shade of the tree starts to move off her favorite bench. It’s almost time to head home. Most of the birds have given up on getting any more food, but there are a few persistent beggars pecking around under her feet. “There’s no more, I tell you. Why do have to try and ruin a beautiful day?” She chuckles at them.
A scream of indignity calls her attention to the parking lot. The toddler doesn’t seem to want to leave yet and mom insists with her most stern voice that it is, indeed, time to leave. She argues with the boy but finally gives up, reaches for him and scoops him up, plopping into his car seat. That’s when the real howls begin.
She looks up apologetically at the old woman on her bench and the old woman, in turn, gives her the sympathetic universal look of, “We’ve all been there.”
The artist/dryad seems to be giving up on the moment as well. She’s packing up her pencils and folding her chair. Will she come to talk to the old woman this time? Her focused attitude as she packs and heads toward the bus stop says, probably not.
“I would have liked to know her story.” She thinks as she gathers her things as well, slings her bag over her shoulder and dusts her hands of any bird seed crumbs. Two quick beeps of a car horn alert her to the presence of her ride home.
Her daughter pushes the passenger side door open from inside, “Hi, Mom. Do you need help with your things?”
“Oh, no, I’ve got it. I’ll just put these at my feet.”
“Have a nice time?”
“Always do. And today I met a new person.”
“Got a hot date, Mom?”
“Oh, no. Too young even for me! Would you mind stopping for coffee on the way home?”
“That sounds nice. Let’s go in and get a muffin too!”