Mother’s Day was bittersweet for her, but new family members lifted her spirits.
- Posted on Apr 18, 2013
Mother’s Day was crowded at my mother-in-law’s house. She was surrounded by her nine children and many grandchildren. It made our own house feel all the more empty when my husband and I got home.
My own mother had died years before. My eldest daughter was giving birth to a grandchild a thousand miles away. Most of all I missed my son, Jason, who’d died of leukemia when he was just a boy. I’d felt that loss every Mother’s Day since.
I made myself a cup of tea and sat at the kitchen table. My eye went to the framed needlepoint hanging on the wall: four bluebirds sitting on a wire with an inscription underneath. Their feathers were blue as the bright May sky, their breasts the color of ripe peaches.
It wasn’t the colors that had drawn me to the picture all those years ago. I bought the needlepoint kit when Jason was spending more and more time in the hospital. I needed something to do with my hands while he had his chemotherapy treatments, so I went to the craft store for crochet supplies.
I spotted the needlepoint kit on the rack. Three of the birds were facing me. The other faced into the distance, like he was getting ready to fly.
Looking at the pattern, I felt like I was seeing my own family. The little group of three birds together were my daughters. The fourth bird—the one getting ready to fly off—was my son. We knew even then that he would one day soon leave us to fly up to heaven.
I straightened the picture on the kitchen wall. Now all my birds had flown the nest. No mother can keep her children close forever, I told myself. Eventually you have to let them go. My daughters were grown up into amazing young women with lives and families of their own.
Usually I was proud and happy with the women they had become. But on days like today I wished I could hold them all close again. I wished that things didn’t have to change.
I turned from the picture to look out the window. The backyard was quiet. The birdhouse I’d bought at an auction months earlier hung from a pole on the deck. Beyond it the sandbox and swing set sat empty—more reminders of the past.
I was about to turn away when a bird flew up and perched on the deck railing, not six feet from the window. At such close range I could see its wings clearly. They were the exact shade of blue as the birds in my needlepoint. And the bird’s breast was the same warm peach.
“Come look at this!” I called to my husband.
“I’ve never seen a bird quite like that,” Ed said when he came to the window. The little bird hopped up and down the railing, then jumped to the birdhouse. It disappeared inside. “Maybe he’s found a home.”
We watched the bird until it flew off again. Its feathers were so bright, and such a perfect match to my needlepoint, I had trouble believing the bird was real.
“Time to do some research,” I said. I got on the computer and searched pictures of bluebirds. It turned out this was a real bird, of course, but one extremely rare for our area.
“The Eastern Bluebird,” I read off the screen. “It says here The North American Bluebird Society is trying to increase their numbers.”
My husband looked over my shoulder at the pictures. I pointed out our visitor, a male of the species. “And look at the birdhouse—just like ours.” It was made by the Bluebird Society, designed specifically for the Eastern Bluebird. We had bought it without even knowing.
I couldn’t have asked for a better Mother’s Day present. The next morning, while I was having my coffee, the bluebird returned. He went in and out of the birdhouse several times before settling on top to sing. I listened as his soft warble drifted through the open window.
“He has a mate,” I said. The female bluebird’s feathers were more of a blue-gray than a bright blue, but her breast was the same peach color. She went in and out of the birdhouse as the male watched, puffing out his chest as if proud of the home he had found for them.
For the next few days the two birds worked diligently to put things in order. They carried grass and pine needles to the house, slowly building their nest. One day a sparrow tried to claim it for himself, but together they chased him off.
According to my computer, bluebirds aren’t bothered by humans, so one afternoon I lifted the roof of the house to take a peek inside. I found a teacup-sized nest made of soft grass with four little blue eggs inside. Just like my family, I thought. And just like my needlepoint.
All that summer I watched my bluebird family. The mother sat on the eggs while the father brought food. Eventually when I lifted the roof of the birdhouse I found four little orange beaks at the end of four skinny necks. I got so attached to my bluebird family they felt like my chicks.
One afternoon while I was looking in the birdhouse I saw my husband on his way to the car. “Pick up some mealworms when you’re out,” I said.
“Bluebirds like mealworms,” I said. “You can get them at the pet store.” The mother and father bird worked so hard to feed their family, I couldn’t resist lending a hand.
A few weeks later a little head popped out of the hole in the birdhouse. The first and bravest of the chicks had come out to explore the world. Soon they’ll all come out, I thought, watching from the window. Then they’ll all fly away.
The sadness I’d felt on Mother’s Day returned. But I knew there was nothing I could do. Being a mother meant letting go. I’d known that ever since Jason had died. Maybe that’s what God wanted to remind me of with these bluebirds, I thought.
I looked at the needlepoint on my wall. The inscription read: “To love and be loved is the greatest joy on earth.” I was grateful for the love I had in my life, even if it didn’t last forever.
One by one the little birds learned to fly. They left the birdhouse. Their parents did too. By fall it stood empty. I tried to embrace the letting go.
Time went on, through winter and into spring. One morning in May— right around Mother’s Day—I saw a flash of blue out the kitchen window. An Eastern Bluebird alighted on the birdhouse. Was it the same bird from last year? Or one of the children?
I wasn’t sure. But I knew that soon my birdhouse would be full again.
For 16 years the bluebirds have returned to our backyard birdhouse. I love it when Mother’s Day in our house is as full as the birdhouse full of chicks outside. My children and grandchildren take delight in their visits, and I cherish our time together.
But no matter whether my house is empty or full, I know love is always there. The ones we love may leave us, but we will be reunited among the angels in heaven. With God, letting go doesn’t mean forever.
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