While driving my 11-year-old to her before-school chorus class, I spy a solitary crow atop a telephone pole. I keep a bag of roasted, unsalted peanuts in the car so that if we see any crows while we’re out, I can do my whistle (a melodic “yoo-hoo” between the teeth) and toss out a couple nuts.
But when I roll down my window, my daughter gasps, “Oh, mom.”
“What?” I look over at her and smile. “It’s part of my charm, right?”
“Don’t whatever me. It’s sort of fun, right?”
“It’s just funny.”
I wonder when she learned to speak in italics.
When I get home, I find my 5-year-old sprawled on the rug in front of the heater. She still thinks I’m charming so I sit down beside her and ask, “What do you think about me feeding the crows?’
She doesn’t hesitate: “Crazy.”
“What do you mean, crazy?”
“It’s just unusual.” (Yes, that’s the actual word she used. I’m not making this up.) “You buy peanuts for the crows when our family could eat those peanuts. You should buy food for our family.”
“But you can eat the peanuts if you want,” I tell her, feeling ashamed. And ashamed for feeling ashamed; I bite my tongue and try to act like an adult: “I understand what you mean, though: I should always feed our family first. But what if I told you I feel like those crows are part of our family?” (This statement is not exactly true. I don’t feel duty-bound to feed the crows, but I ask because I’m curious to hear her answer.)
“A family lives in a house.”
“So we should only feed the people in our house?”
“Yes. That’s our family. Not crows.”
“But what about Plum [our cat] and Piccolo [our fish]? Should we feed them?”
“They’re our family, too.”
“So it’s not crazy to feed the cat and the fish, but it is crazy to feed the crows.”
“The crows are not in our house.”
“What about homeless people? Shouldn’t we feed them?”
“Of course.” She looks at me like I’m a total nut or, more precisely, like she’s been saddled with the chore of assisting some stunted, drooling, and vaguely criminal moron. “But you can’t feed everybody. If you do, you won’t have any food left for your babies.”
Who can argue? Okay, I probably am crazy. For attempting a debate with a 5-year-old, which is like arguing with Buddha.
I suppose it is inevitable and even healthy that my girls sometimes think I’m nuts. It’s part of the separation process that began before the doctor cut the cord and will continue until, well, until I die, if I’m lucky. These days, they assert their individuality like rabid hyenas. The 5-year-old will only wear summer dresses and sandals, even if it’s freezing cold. She brings me two dresses, tells me to pick my favorite, and puts the other one on. The 11-year-old disagrees with everything I say, even before I’m done speaking– it doesn’t matter, the answer is no. By choosing what they like (and don’t like), they are shaping themselves. Will they be coffee people or tea people, city or country people, cat, dog, or people people? The other day we were listening to an entomologist speak on NPR’s Science Friday– or I was listening and my big girl was rolling her eyes and hyperventilating since I wouldn’t change the station– anyway, the program ended with the phrase, “Bee people are a special breed,” to which she quipped, “Well, I’m definitely not a bee person, and I’m never going to breed with one, either.” So just because I am a crow person (or a “crazy crow lady” as big girl likes to say) doesn’t mean they have to like crows too, and in fact probably guarantees that they won’t.
But by challenging my once-real authority, the girls bring up a good question, one I haven’t paused to consider. I have written about how to make friends with crows, but I haven’t stopped to consider why. Here’s my list so far.
Why Make Friends With a Crow?
* Crows are my neighbors; it’s just neighborly.
* As a city-dweller, I get fewer chances to experience nature. This is one way for me to feel connected to the natural world.
* Crows don’t need me– unlike the kids, the cat, the fish, the house, and the garden, they can do for themselves, thankyouverymuch. For me, they make the ideal hobby.
* They are fascinating creatures: extremely intelligent, curious, adaptable, aloof, mysterious, and visually striking. There’s so much to learn.
* My kids are learning a lot, too (vicariously, against their wishes). Part of what they’re learning is that it’s okay for mom to be intensely interested in something outside the house.
* Everything is weird to a kid. But in a few years maybe, just maybe, it will be cool.