(photo courtesy John Kay)
Turns out, it’s not that easy to make friends with a crow. Crows are reclusive, skittish, and not easily wooed (adjectives which my friends will tell you also apply to me). If I was a birdwatcher I probably would have noticed this before, but since I’ve never been particularly interested in birds, I’m learning as I go.
So far, my success at befriending three neighborhood crows has been sporadic. For one thing, we can’t seem to get on a regular schedule. I hear them cawing but when I go out, I can’t find them. I wander around in my pajamas with eggs in my hands, cawing like a lunatic, but they don’t show up. Other times they appear but ignore the food. On the other hand, they do seem to recognize me (“there’s that weird one”) and I get the feeling that, although they don’t know what to think about me (“what the hell is she trying to do?), I have captured their attention (“let’s keep an eye on her”). So as I sit here looking out my window, wondering why they haven’t touched the perfectly good food I put under the telephone pole across the street, it occurs to me that this whole endeavor is an opportunity for me to think about friendship.
The other day, my daughters and I got into a conversation about friends. We were driving (it seems like most of our best conversations happen in the car where we lack our various means of distraction) and Kenyon was worrying about not having a best friend at school, while Gwyneth was complaining that she doesn’t want to go to kindergarten because she won’t know anyone. Then we began analyzing the term “best friend.” We agreed that “best” means there’s only one—two things can’t be the best simultaneously, and not even a four-year-old can say “bestest” without sounding dumb. “How does the word ‘best’ make everyone else feel?” I asked, “I mean, can a mother of two say one child is best?” (Resounding “NO!” from the back seat.) We decided that we like different people for different things and discussed the difficulty of choosing just one friend and agreed we’d like more: the more, the better.
I think both girls felt a bit better after our talk, but not me. I just don’t have much time for friends anymore. One of the loneliest things I ever did was have children. Of course, I’m not supposed to say that; I’m supposed gush about how I gave birth to my two best friends and that I will never again need to leave my house, except for groceries. But babies need all the food, all the sleep, all day and all night, all the love, all the air. They will always want more, they never stop wanting; it’s a bottomless pit of need. After I had my first, all my friends without young kids disappeared. It wasn’t with a wink of an eye but rather a slow dissolve as they each wandered off to their own cleaner, sexier worlds where they had interesting careers, went on dates, slept all night, finished sentences, and had plenty of time to exercise and read books. I didn’t begrudge them, I just miss them.
So I needed new friends, ones whose lives were closer to mine. Now, we all know it’s hard enough finding someone with whom you have chemistry, but when they also need to live close, have kids (ones who get along with yours), a partner who’s nice (or at least tolerable) and a flexible schedule, well that’s just impossible, especially for someone who’s skittish and somehwat reclusive. But then I miraculously found Susan, a fellow English teacher with a daughter just a little older than mine. Our girls actually enjoyed playing! We didn’t have to do contortions to make time since we taught at the same school. We could meet at lunch and talk about literature, share lesson plans and compare notes about our outrageous, precocious girls.
For a friendship to click, both creatures need to be in the same place at the same time—literally at the same place but also on the same wavelength. Maybe, when it comes to friends, “closest” is a better term than “best” since it conveys both a physical and psychological proximity and also leaves room for change. Best sounds fixed, like an indelible rubber stamp but, when we’re talking about moving bodies, what is closest might change in a moment.
I think the crows and I are having trouble getting on the same wavelength. We’re neighbors and we all seem interested but we haven’t managed to establish a pattern of interaction. Usually, if we do manage to cross paths, I walk out of my house to find (what I imagine to be) the same rather small crow waiting. Upon seeing me, this little fellow fluffs up his feathers (with excitement? Or to make himself look bigger?), crouches down on the telephone wire, and hollers like crazy for the other two to come and get it. The other two bigger, braver crows take their time arriving but he waits patiently until they’ve swooped down and picked over my offering before he takes what’s left. I think this one is an adolescent acting as look-out for mom and dad.
For about a week I’d find him waiting for me every morning but then, they were gone. I received several books about crows for Christmas and, although I don’t have much time, I have read enough to learn that an urban-dwelling breeding pair can have a territory up to 10 acres wide so perhaps the crows found a better, more consistent food source elsewhere. I also read that crows lay their eggs sometime in March and that they build a new nest every year– that would explain their distraction. Could it really take that long to build a nest? I can’t seem to find an answer, but I’ve decided to remain optimistic and watch vigilantly for their return. When those eggs hatch, my crow friends will need a little extra help.
Susan was my closest friend, but just after my second daughter was born, she died of cancer. I never got to say goodbye. I cried for days; I woke up crying in the middle of the night, I cried onto my bowl of cereal. I remember sitting on the edge of the bathtub and the sound of my own sob echoing against the tile was so desperate that I scared myself. I didn’t even know exactly what I was crying for—perhaps it was the realization that two kids was not just twice but exponentially harder than one and that I was doomed to fail, or postpartum fluctuations in hormones, or lack of sleep, or Susan’s death, but for whatever reason, it was the loneliest I’d ever felt. I didn’t even have myself to keep me company: I was so busy feeding and tending and washing that I had lost myself. I watched listlessly while my personality and interests were swallowed by others’ needs. You might look at a mother with a baby clinging to her breast and assume that she and that child are experiencing an extraordinary, profound connection, and you’re probably right. When you realize how long she’s been holding that kid, how much her back hurts, and remember how highs are often counterbalanced by lows, you might have a fuller appreciation of the whole picture.
But it passed. Every day, my kids need me less, I’ve made new friends, and I find more and more time to write. It seems that now I even have enough left to share with the neighborhood crows. I think that’s a good sign.
post script: I’m going to try to rise to WordPress’s challenge to post once a week and hoping not to sacrifice style or meaning for the sake of the deadline. Wish me luck!