A few weeks ago, my brother-in-law, Winslow, put up two bluebird houses for me. Hearing him talk about the enjoyment he’s had of watching the birds in his houses, I wanted to give them a try. While my life is very full, I know that I want to slow down and make the space to enjoy those beautiful creatures, their perfect coloring of deep blue and russet a delight for the eyes, and their cheerful morning song music for our ears.
So much of what I’m learning at my age has to do with slowing down and being present. That’s true, not only of bluebirds, but of the time I spend with two of the most important people in my life: my mother and my grandson. Two days each week, I keep my ten-month-old grandson, Baker, and twice each week, I visit my ninety-five year old mother in the nursing home. While those may appear to be very different activities, I’ve discovered that they require the same thing: I must slow down and pay attention in each moment.
I visit Mama at Parkview during mealtimes so I can feed her. It’s been a long time since she could take a spoon or fork, load it with food, and bring it to her mouth. She still enjoys eating, and the staff often marvel at how she, unlike many of their residents, “always has a good appetite and eats well.” While I’m thankful that Mama does consistently eat and drink well, since I’ve seen her when she couldn’t, it always tickles me when they say this. My retort is, “Yeah, well she gave her daughter her good appetite!”
Feeding Mama, I have to go slowly, sometimes having to remind her to swallow when she gets lost in the process. It requires paying attention to the texture of the food, especially to overcooked meat or that piece of fresh pinapple that’s too hard. I have to watch for when she wants her iced tea and when she’s eyeing that piece of chocolate cake. Sometimes she stops to look around at the other residents as well as the nursing assistants–when they call out to her, “How are you doing, Mrs. Rosser?”
I’m glad for those days when she smiles at them and tries to respond. But sometimes, if I’m there for the evening meal, it feels like it takes a very long time to feed Mama because she eats slowly and needs to be prompted. On winter nights when it gets dark early, there’s the meal and then our routine of visiting her friend, Pauline then back to settle in her room before I can leave for my fifty-minute drive home. Those are the visits when I have to remind myself to slow down and just be present while I’m there.
When I keep my grandson, I have to watch for some of the same things when I feed him–that he swallows what he has before reaching for something else, that everything is in small enough pieces. He’ll quickly let me know if he doesn’t want what I offer, pushing it away and turning his head. When he’s not eating in the safe constraint of his highchair, he’s exploring the world by trying to walk, edging sideways and barely holding to the furniture, a constant risk for falling. I have to be vigilant as his spotter, watching for any hard surface that he may bop his head against or some tiny object on the floor that he’ll put in his mouth.
With Baker, the world is opening up and I love watching him make new discoveries. This week he’s delighted that he can clap his little hands. I watch his face light up as I sing a chorus that pushes up in my memory from when his father was young, “Clap Your Hands, All Ye People, Shout Unto God with a Voice of Triumph.” By slowing down, and taking in his new development, I think I’ve loosened up. There is a flow of joy that comes with singing and clapping my hands, being as dramatic as I want because no one but my grandson is watching.
Yesterday, I introduced Baker to the birdhouse in our front yard and later pointed out a male and female bluebird sitting on the rail of our back deck. I bought Stokes’ Bluebird Book for me to learn, then teach, Baker about bluebirds. As a grandmother, isn’t that part of my responsibility–to help my grandson enjoy learning about birds and other creatures?
I think of how Mama made a beautiful birdhouse with her grandson, my older son, Brooks. She was always a patient teacher. She and Brooks constructed the birdhouse, with the help of a man from her church, then Mama skillfully painted the trailing morning glory vine and bricks in the chimney. What a treasure that time she spent with Brooks, present and paying attention as they created together.
I read online that bluebirds are considered “harbingers of happiness.” Thinking about the weeks ahead of watching the birds, hoping they’ll make their home in our houses, I can see why they have that name. Those birds will remind me of these days of being present in each moment with Baker and Mama as she was all those years ago when she and Brooks created that birdhouse.
What about You?
How do you need to slow down and be present in your life?
What are the “harbingers of happiness” that may fly your way when you’re paying attention?