A woman’s work

“A man may work from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done.”

I knew this old adage (some say it dates to the Revolutionary War) was true when I first heard it as a kid in the ‘50s and observed my stay-at-home mother’s long days raising a family of five children, and fully appreciated how it became ever truer in the ‘70s when most moms went out to door to work a 40-hour–a-week job and then return home to all the household chores she was still expected to do.
It hasn’t changed much since.
But what brought it to mind of late was not a human mom at all, but a bird, the mother robin who set up her home in one of the hanging baskets on my front porch. As soon as I realized she was there, or better put, as soon as she made it a point for me to realize she was there, I conceded the basket to her, deciding it would not be watered, or dead-headed, or disturbed in any way until her mission had been accomplished. By then, I figured the ivy geraniums it held would be long dead, but I was willing to sacrifice their lives for those of this mama’s babies.
While I left the basket undisturbed, I did spend the subsequent weeks watching this mother bird from a comfortable distance and came to admire her commitment to the task at hand. Caring for the new life she was about to bring into the world was all that was on her mind.
I observed the effort she put in to building her nest and the way she defended it, even before her eggs were laid, and mostly from me, who, although she had no way to know it, was the least of her worries. If anything, I was her ally, fully prepared to take on any cat or squirrel with malicious intent.
Once the eggs arrived, I marveled at her strength and determination. Through rain and storms, through 96-degree days and dark nights, she sat on those eggs, occasionally darting away at the sound of the morning paper hitting the porch or of the mailbox slamming as the letter carrier made his rounds, but always returning. Always mustering up the courage to do what her instincts told her to do.
And when the babies arrived, her work, it seemed, doubled. Where she found worms I have no idea, but find them she did, returning over and over to the nest of demanding chirps and constantly open mouths.
I was standing in the front yard on the phone with my daughter from Texas when I saw the first little one fly from the nest to the back of a lounge chair and then seem to hang on for dear life pondering what to do next. Then I realized a brother or sister had already ventured out and was willing to help. Together they made their way to the lawn and I went into high alert for fear a dreaded cat would appear out of nowhere and pounce before I could swing into action.
But mama soon appeared, once again with a worm in her beak, and after the two little ones were fed, all three flew off, never again to return to the hanging basket.
I waited a couple of days to be sure the nest was abandoned. It was not until I took down the basket with its wilted geraniums that I noticed a fully developed small bird lying dead over the side of the nest and two little embryos also dead in the bottom. I prayed the joy of the two birds who survived made up for the sorrow that mama robin must have felt for the ones who did not.

Ed Ackerman