For Some Families Starting Out, Four Wings Are Better Than Two

By Qin Sun Stubis

(originally published in The Santa Monica Star)

ching bioI was fighting to take down a fiercely stubborn vine in my backyard when I discovered a gentle surprise underneath it: A nest nestled among some azalea branches. In it, a bright green-blue egg screamed for my attention. Then, I heard the cry, sounding more like a hissing, angry cat than a bird.

Fittingly enough, it was a gray catbird barely three feet away, making warning calls at me with all her might. She was ready to put up a fight if I dared to get any closer, aiming her beak right at my eyes. “Sorry,” I muttered as I retreated. Of course, I had to leave the vine and her nest alone. As one mother to another, I respected her fury.

As it just so happened, the nest was right within my field of vision from where I often sat and did my writing. For the next few days, I spotted my catbird flying in and out, and admired how hard she was working. It occurred to me that most birds have two parents attending a nest, and I wondered if she, too, had a mate sitting on her egg while she was away searching for food.

But she didn’t, for she would fly away for barely a minute before she was back again in her nest. She was a good mother and wouldn’t leave her unhatched baby unattended for very long. Nevertheless, I could see her struggling between feeding herself and fulfilling the duties of a parent.

A few times when I happened to be in the garden, I could spot through the branches that turquoise-colored egg sitting vulnerably alone. I had so many what-ifs in my head–the neuroses of a mother. I knew I would never, ever leave my infant child alone at home. But, I had the luxury of entertaining such a thought, having a loving husband to share the work of raising a family.

My poor catbird was all alone, a single mother trying to do everything herself. Had we belonged to the same species, I could imagine myself crawling into her nest and sitting there for her until she returned. Instead, all I could do was check on her and her nest several times a day with my protective eyes. I was relieved every time I saw her tail rising above a stack of twigs, knowing all was fine.

And, then one morning, I found a piece of that familiarly colored shell resting on my stone patio like a splatter of paint. My heart constricted. I prayed that this wasn’t my catbird’s egg. And it was, though I wanted to believe otherwise. When I took a closer look, I found all signs of life were gone from that contraption of a home perched among the azalea bushes. No more turquoise egg and no more mother bird.

The outcome could have been different had there been two parents extending four wings of protection. As I mourned the loss of a catbird family, I thought about all single parents these days struggling to make ends meet, keeping a roof over their heads, scrambling for meals and attending sick kids–an often overwhelming job even with a partner, let alone on their own, raising kids and holding jobs at the same time. Sometimes, having just a little bit of help can mean a world of difference.

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