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Nesting Instinct

Motherhood is all about patience, right from the start

by Stephanie Piper

I'm a sucker for symbolism. Maybe it was an overdose of poetry at an impressionable age. Maybe it's just something in my superstitious, mostly Irish genes. Show me a rock or a flower or a certain slant of light and I'll find you a hidden meaning.

So you can imagine the mileage I'm getting out of the fact that a dove has built her nest on our den windowsill.

We've had birds in residence before, robins nesting in the garage, a family of sparrows who once set up housekeeping in the laundry room. But this is a dove, the ultimate avian symbol. This is peace, and enlightenment, and olive branches. It means something.

I check on her morning and evening, peering cautiously around the curtain. Sometimes she flashes a beady black eye at me, wary of any sudden movement. More often she is asleep, her taupe velvet feathers spread like a mantle over her treasure.

I saw the eggs once when she flew away. There are two of them, pearly white, tucked into the circle of woven twigs. I look at them and wonder at the strange kinship I feel with this creature.

I, too, became a mother twice in May. I lined a bassinet with quilted satin and made some tiny kimonos out of blue seersucker, stitched by hand. I filled glass apothecary jars with cotton balls and laid in a supply of cloth diapers and starched and ironed the family christening dress.

And then, like this dove, I waited. My children were latecomers, biding their time in the watery darkness. I wandered through the Charlottesville K-Mart, pricing highchairs and car seats. I made huge lunches for my student husband. I slept heavily in the quiet afternoons. At twilight, we walked through the neighborhood breathing the honeysuckle air and counting the past due days.

The second May baby came in New York City, bouncing his unborn way uptown with me on the First Avenue bus, joining me in post-weigh-in hash browns at the Greek coffee shop near the obstetrician's office. Together we toiled the weary blocks from nursery school with his older brothers in tow. Together we sat on the playground bench as they scaled the monkey bars and sailed on the swings. The baby stirred within, turning lazily. Three weeks past the appointed date, I waited.

I watch the dove's vigil and remember my own, that ambivalent blend of restlessness and calm, impatience for the event and a sort of primitive satisfaction with my role as human incubator. I wanted it to be finished. I wanted it never to end. It was so purposeful, that waiting, so perfectly in tune with the rhythm of nature.

I turn from the window to my own nest, now empty. My May children are long gone, and my heart leaps when I think about them wheeling around out there in the real world, soaring on their own wings. These days I keep another kind of vigil, waiting for their flying visits home.

Meantime, peace has come to roost on my windowsill. She nestles close to the brick, settles deeper into the ivy. Her haunting three-note greeting hangs in the air like a benediction. It means something. I hope she stays until I know just what it is.

May 11, 2000 * Vol. 10, No. 19
© 2000 Metro Pulse