Jewish birdwatching

Parenting is like birdwatching. After a certain point in your chidren's lives, all you can do is learn their migration pattern, position yourself for a sighting, and wait.

My college-age daughters have been gone all summer, one to South America, the other to Wisconsin. My son has been in Israel for 10 days as a Maccabi athlete. Even the dog was gone for a few days. It was heaven, for as I always say, how can I miss them if they don't go away? Now, they're all beginning to trickle back home this week, one by one, and by the end of the week, with a couple of trips to the airport, I'll have a full table again, plus a few strays. For one night. For one meal.

The change in the rhythm of the house isn't subtle, and neither is the change in the grocery shopping cart. There's more to buy, but there are more hands to help bring it all in and put it away, and the older actually help without asking. It's noisier at times of the day, but quieter as they set themselves up in front of their laptops, watching old TV shows. The front door opens and closes again at odd times of the night, displaying nocturnal forays to other local habitats. Beds are filled, and so are laundry baskets. It doesn't take days to fill up the dishwasher but then again, there are fewer for dinner, since their schedules fill up with meeting friends for meals or coffee.

Each child's natural behavior pattern for establishing the personal nesting space appears. One child is a fan of the "horizontal closet," with every item of the suitcase spread out on the floor, feathering the nest, as it were. Another has organized the personal items completely, no matter how short the sojourn, so the impact on the environment is minimal. The third just keeps the baggage open and works from there each day, until they're empty, and everything's in the laundry anyway. It's like a step back into before-time, but with the birds far more comfortable with being away from the nest.

Their seasonal migratory patterns have landed them back in the nest for very few hours. The entire nest is full for exactly one meal's worth of time, so I've got one shot at this. I will set up the habitat that is most likely to attract these wild and unpredictable birds. The time for the field positioning is Shabbat dinner. I've called my mother to join our sighting party; I told her it's her one shot at seeing them. Instead of binoculars, tripod and a field guide, I'll have chicken, challah and a Kiddush cup. The young ones will perch and preen for each other's amusement, showing off new plumage. I will sit back hold my breath, and watch them flutter in, settle around the table, and listen for their unique birdsongs. They will tell stories of their travels to new and amazing lands, and the grownups will be very, very careful to keep quiet in their presence, so as not to spook them into early flight. Then, hearing a signal only they can identify, they will rise as one, and take to the sky, stretching their wings, and showing the youngest, still-in-the-nest brother-bird what it's like to take to the air, but always know the way home again.

An occasional chance to take a moment, take a breath, and look at what's around you with Anita Silvert.... Read More

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