Sunday, October 19, 2008

Running Up That Hill

I was watching a very small baby bird, I’m not in the Audubon Society so I don’t what kind it is-to me, ‘small and brown’ is more than enough description-the other day sitting on the ground below my office window. I heard it, through the glass, before I saw it, peeping/chirping or whatever the technical term for kvetching is with birds, as the momma bird (?) kept feeding it.

The baby bird wasn’t that much smaller than the parent which I found amusing as it continued to cry for food. It just seemed to me the baby bird could have flown away at any time and gotten its own food. After all, it had gotten from a nest, someplace, to the ground beneath my office window—and in about twenty minutes, sure enough it followed the parent and flew away.

I started to wonder if the parent were feeding the baby because the baby wanted food or because the parent needed to feed it. Maybe it’s NOT just
Holden Caulfield who wants to be the Catcher in the Rye. I then wondered why I had assumed the parent had been the momma and not a daddy bird. I’ve read about the male Emperor Penguins in the Antarctic who hatch their mate’s eggs by carrying them on their feet, under their belly flap, keeping them warm through the darkening winter cold. I suspect it’s a slightly different form of bonding than reading to the embryo from Joyce’s Ullysses.

I have two children who are actually adults in their own right even if I don’t see them that way in mind’s eye. My son, Patrick Michael, is 26 and his sister, my daughter, Michelle Alison, is 21 and they both squirm when I start to get misty-eyed about them as children. There is, I suspect, an excellent reason why we do not remember our earliest moments on this planet: because we don’t want to. And that’s what we have parents for: to remind us at weddings and christenings, at graduations and sometimes at funerals, that
we share the same biology, regardless of ideology and that there is nothing more natural than for parents to love their children.

I think my two children (excuse me, our two children. Sigrid has done all the heavy lifting while I’ve perfected the motionless glide that, from a distance, looks like parental involvement but isn’t) haven’t had it easy with me as their dad. I grew up positive I didn’t want to get married, and thanks to physical and emotional limitations, was dangerously close to making sure that didn’t happen. And then, after marriage, knowing I would be the sum of all of my life experiences, I never embraced the idea of parenthood until the physician in the ER at the Offenbach Stadtkrankenhaus told us Sigrid was pregnant. My grin at that moment was so wide, so from ear-to-ear, it was possible the top two/thirds of my head could have fallen off. That might have been an improvement.

Months later, I ran into that doctor again at the hospital, as Sigrid was being prepped for the geburstsaal (delivery room). He asked me where I was going. When I told him ‘to be with my wife’ he seemed puzzled (I guess German men at that time didn’t do those things, but I never got that memo) and asked why, so I had to explain since I had placed the order I should help with the delivery. The look in his eyes told me that despite the differences in language, he had gotten my point but hadn’t gotten it all, at the same time.

Sometimes when one of the two is visiting (and I always appreciate the visits as I can only imagine how much fun our house is when you don’t live in it anymore-sort of like Hudson and Landry’s
The Prospectors (I, too, couldn’t live like that)) I’m always tempted to stop in at the local grocery store that has a sign designating some spaces as “parking for customers with children” just to see their eyes roll.

No matter how far we travel from one another we’re always joined by the same sky overhead and the thread of memories. I give my time to total strangers but it’s the home team to whom I always return at the end of the day. That is, I believe, the way it is supposed to be.
-bill kenny

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