Very near to where I live, for a certain portion of the year, there is a little flock of little birds that flies in low, fast, continuous, little circles– and it just doesn’t seem to make any sense. I wonder why they do this – go round and round, over and over, day after day.
I don’t know what type of birds they are or why they do what they do. I like to think that there is a reason, an actual purpose behind their actions, even though it might not be immediately apparent. The birds never go far – it is a limited area, confined by invisible boundaries — though they always seem to be in a frantic hurry to get somewhere. Of course, despite their persistence, they never actually get there.
The birds fly their circles, above a corner gas station, in between my house and our local YMCA. This is the other direction from my son Jonah’s elementary school, but along the same main road. I spend quite a lot of time driving on this road.
A typical day goes something like this — get up and get dressed, eat breakfast, make kids’ lunches, hug, kiss, and wave good-bye to Joshua as he leaves for middle school on his bike, and then the same to husband as he leaves for work in his car, and then again to Jonah after I drive him to school. Next, drive to the Y, exercise, and drive home. Shower, work, do laundry, wash dishes, eat lunch. Drive to pick up Jonah from school. Drive home. Supervise homework, snacks and music practice. Discuss school day with kids. Drive boys to swim practice at the Y. Drive to nearby grocery store, shop for groceries. Drive home to drop off food. Drive back to Y to pick up kids. Drive home. Make dinner for family. Eat dinner with family. Ensure kids get to bed at a reasonable hour. Kiss the kids goodnight. Watch some TV. Kiss husband. Go to sleep.
This typical day routes me by the circling birds no less than 6 times, and sometimes more – because there are often additional places that I need to go such as meetings, errands or volunteer work, and of course there are band practices or friends’ houses to which the kids also need to be driven. As a result of everything, I am constantly pressed for time, rushed, and feeling frazzled.
My neighbor, who is older than I, and never had kids, comments that she always sees me, constantly going in and out, back and forth, day after day, and wonders how I keep up with everything. I see other women my age, driving mini-vans with kids in their back seats along the same main road, and wonder, do any of them notice those birds up there?
Each time I drive by the birds, I consider looking for an actual, scientific explanation for why they might be flying in circles. I could call the Audubon Society easily enough. Or buy a book on bird behavior. Or even google this phenomenon. But, in the end, I never do any of those things.
Instead, I simply go in and out, drive back and forth, and watch the birds go round and round — over and over, day after day. It is with much fascination for their boundless and vital energy, along with a certain amount of disdain for their apparent lack of destination, that I continue to watch the birds fly in quick, never-ending, little circles.
Lisa Pawlak is a San Diego based freelance writer and mother of two boys. She is a regular contributor to Carlsbad, Orange Coast, Hawaii Parent and San Diego Family magazines — and has also published with Working Mother. Lisa’s personal essays can be found in Coping with Cancer magazine, the Christian Science Monitor and in six anthologies of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Additional essays will be soon be available in Greenprints, The Story Behind the Recipe and How to Survive Tantrums and Babysitters.
A thick, dense blanket stretches
from one end of the horizon to the other
catching in bunched hitches
on tree lines, over rooftops
more gray than white,
more beige than gray
a loose, loveworn cotton
and in the back seat, the baby
sucks on his sections of the sky
as if it all were a dream
just like each day before
Amber Koneval is an alumni of Regis University with a B.A. in Religious Studies and English. She lives in Colorado where she works as a full-time nanny by day and a full-time poet by night. Her poetry has been published by such journals as ‘Time of Singing’, ‘Doxa’, ‘The Wayfarer’ and ‘The Chaffey Review’; and her first collection, ‘Drunk Dialing the Divine’, was published by eLectio publishing in 2012.
He is my dragonﬂy. He hatched in my waters; A little larva, Molting,
Shedding skins. Some day he will move From motherland
And ﬂy away.
Shelley Little is a full-time writer whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in: Funds for Writers, The Centrifugal Eye, Mom Writer’s Literary Magazine, and Shemom. Her recent short story, “Clear-Cut”, won First Place in the Midwest Iron Pen Competition, and her poem, “Remains of a Life,” received honorable mention in the Bettendorf Love Poetry Contest.
Like most moms of the past couple decades, I raised my children on Disney films. I can trace my children’s growth by the succession of one-liners they memorized and recited from each new release, which frequently extended to entire scenes of dialogue. By the time our fourth child, Noah, was born, all things Lion King were standard fare for his brother and sisters. The soundtrack of Noah’s young life included his three siblings marching around him, singing, “Oh, I just can’t wait to be king!” Then they’d pounce on his chubby baby belly with their tiny plastic lions. Even I could put on my best Scar voice and growl, “Idiots, I will be king!” We all loved The Lion King for its combination of entertainment and valuable life lessons, from the perils of pride to the delicate balance of life. Many years later in college, Hannah would choose “Hakuna Matata” as her personal belief statement.
For the first year of Noah’s life, we happily rode around in our minivan singing “The Circle of Life” at the top of our lungs, completely unaware of how it was about to move us all. On August 9, 1997, I put Noah to bed in his Lion King pajamas and by the time the sun sank into the sea the next night, we understood the despair we’d been singing about. Noah wasn’t crushed by a herd of stampeding wildebeasts, but he was run over by a 10,000-pound Chevy Tahoe. And so it was that from the day he arrived on the planet, Noah had only fifteen months before he soared to the stars. There he joined the ranks of Mufasa, blinking down on us from the night sky while we began to learn to live with the scars.
Recently, I learned about a relatively new scientific discovery called microchimerism. Michrochimerism is the presence of cells in one person’s bloodstream that originated from a different person and are therefore genetically distinct from the other cells around them. In humans, the most common form is called fetomaternal microchimerism. This occurs during pregnancy when cells from a fetus pass through the placenta and establish cell families within the mother. As far as we know, these fetal cells remain and multiply for many decades, perhaps even forever. I’ve been pregnant thirteen times and I have five living children. Noah was the first of my children to ascend to the heavens, but he wasn’t the last. For me this means that swimming around in my body could be the cells from thirteen different babies. I am the embodiment of my children, most of whom are otherwise dead. And as I’m carrying them, they, too, are carrying me in their celestial wanderings. When my children died, a part of me died, too. I knew this. I felt this. I just didn’t know exactly how to explain why. And now I do.
About a year after Noah died, The Lion King 2 came out with it’s title song, “He Lives In You.” The theme of the song is that even in death, Mufasa lives on. Just as he’d taught his young son, Simba, Mufasa’s body had become a part of the grasslands, but his soul lived on in Simba and in all whom he’d touched in his life. Now, as we rode around running errands and missing our baby, we had a new soundtrack. “Mamela!” it commanded us. Listen! So we did. We listened. “And a voice, with the fear of a child, answers, Oh, Mamela.” And we began to comprehend. We’d lived through that first terrible night without our youngest cub and continued to take each night as it came. Our hearts were broken and our bodies exhausted, climbing that mountain of grief, but we had the strength to simply sit and listen to the soothing voice of this African man. “Wait! There’s no mountain too great! Hear the words and have faith,” he encouraged. Have faith? Slowly, we understood his wise words of hope. Slowly, we learned to sing along. With tears streaming down our cheeks, we lifted our voices and sang, “He lives in you, he lives in me, he watches over everything we see . . .”
Noah wasn’t completely gone from us. And even though we had not even one drop of African blood in our bodies, we even learned the more obscure Zulu words like “Ubokhosi bo khoko,” meaning “throne of the ancestors.” Our forebears hailed from England, Ireland, and Germany, nowhere near Africa. Carved on our family gravestones are the words of my Mayflower ancestors, “To live in the hearts of those we leave behind is not to die.” We believe that from death should spring life, so in keeping with our own circle of life, we planted Noah’s ashes with a sweet gum tree. There, they would grow to shade those words etched in stone. The confluence of these three things—our family motto, modern science’s microchimerism, and The Lion King—is commonality. They all impart the same message. In those days as I’d struggled to find peace with this, I’d glance in my rearview mirror at the faces of my young children as they sang their hearts out, “Into the water, into the truth, in your reflection, he lives in you.” And there, in that looking glass, I’d see Noah.
Kelly Kittel is an author and a mother. She’s had 13 pregnancies and has five living children, her best work beyond compare. She lives with her husband and their two youngest children on Aquidneck Island but her favorite writing space is in their yurts on the coast of Oregon. She has written many notes to teachers and has been published in magazines and anthologies. Her first book, Breathe, A Memoir of Motherhood, Grief, and Family Conflict, was published last May.