we started a tradition in our household of the "new year's drinking bird." maybe you remember these from childhood: it's has a thin blown-glass beaker sort of thing for the body, a flocked red beak and head with a hat on, and a green feather for the tail. the beaker is filled with blue fluid, methelene cloride i believe. the bird is on a pivoting stand, which makes up the legs and feet. you place it in front of a glass of water, and every now and then, depending on drafts and humidity levels in the room, it will tip forward and "drink" from the glass.how and why it works is still a mystery to me, but that's really the fun of it. if you put the glass close enough to the bird, when it tips back, the bottom of the beaker will touch the glass and go "dink." cosmo likes watching the bird, waiting for it to go, and after it drinks, he says "deeh." [trans. dink] adorable. we decided to bring it out on new year's day every year, and put it away at the end of january. a sort of post-holiday treat.
observing as language first begins to develop must be one of the most fascinating things for parents. i am completely blown away. cosmo moves from indexing (pointing at everything that catches his eye) to pointing and vocalizing to attempting words and sounds (roar! dink.)and most amazing to me is how much more he understands our words. i am also witnessing the power of repetition. if something is present and named over and over, he learns it. if i say "cosmo, go get goodnight gorilla and bring it to mama." he will stop in his tracks, turn to where he remembers last seeing that particular book, and will go to it, pick up the book and bring it to me. he then sits down to hear the story and look at the pictures. he knows the book well, and points to characters and makes certain sounds for them. on the black page with the two eyes, he will suck in air, and say "huh!?!" with a surprised look on his face. that is what we do on that page each and every time we read it to him. pavlov's dogs? that's what it makes me think of, and it is scary. he also knows the term, concept and gesture for "hot," he waves his hands, fingers spread, and says "ha! ha! ha!" he knows to stay away, and does. all we have to say is "cosmo, hot!" and point at the object, and each time he sees the object, he will go "ha! ha! ha!"
carl's father made us a bird feeder for christmas. it's a really nice one, shaped like a little house, with an extended roof to cover the tray, and a little flap door on top to pour the seed in. we've seen a few birds in the brush in our back yard, including some cardinals, and i like the idea of attracting more. i thought we might need to set it on a pole at first, but i noticed a tree limb about 20 feet or so up in the pecan tree. if we could run a long rope through the Y in that limb, we could set the feeder at just the right distance from the tree trunk to keep the squirrels away, and it would hang in perfect view of our kitchen window. late in the evening, after cosmo had gone to bed, carl and i set out to do just that.
it was comical really, to see us out there with our high hopes and bad throws, trying over and over to get that twine hung over that limb. carl had the great idea of tying the twine to the end of our foxtail (a toy made of a leather ball on one end, and a long multi-colored nylon tail). it was the perfect weight, and if it should happen to stray across the property line, and hit the neighbor's minivan, no harm done. first we tried it from our upstairs neighbor's balcony, but the angle of the roof made it difficult to see, and it was an awkward position from which to throw, especially since we are both right handed. carl went first, and then decided it would be easier from down below. i gave it a try. or two. or three. unfortunately, though i could see my target, and it wasn't that far away, i couldn't get enough force behind it, and i guess i've got terrible aim. carl tried from down below. he managed to get it up there more than once, but it kept getting caught on old leafy branches, and we'd have to pull it down and start over. still though, we were getting hopeful that it was not out of the range of possibilities. finally i suggested carl try again from upstairs. i showed him the view i had, and he agreed that it might be easier. he gave it a couple of good tries, and then, at last, the foxtail ball made it through the Y! it was stuck in some light branches, but thoroughly through the big branch and so carl began to gently tug on his end of the twine.the foxtail began to slowly loosen and inch its way down. i got so excited, i started coaching the thing, and grabbed the rake and held it high above my head, ready to snatch the ball when it got close. i am sure our neighbors thought we were nuts, making quite a commotion out there, but we were on a mission. finally, inch by inch, the foxtail made it to the rake, i swung at it and pulled it down. we had our twine hung, ready for the feeder.
once we had the feeder heavy with food and swaying lazily from the tree, i couldn't stop staring at it in awe. i felt like a kid on christmas eve that night. i couldn't wait to go to bed so i could get up in the morning to see if any birds came to our feeder. i woke up several times in the night, as i am wont to do with a night waking baby, and each time i would think "is it dawn yet? can i go check the feeder yet?" it was a big disappointment to learn that it often takes a while for birds to find your feeder. we didn't have any birds at the feeder that day. or the next. or the next. but the beautiful thing about hanging a bird feeder is that you begin to notice birds. i could suddenly hear their songs all around me, and i'd catch them fluttering around in our bushes and trees. i saw at 4 cardinals in a couple of days. but none of them noticed our gift.
last night, carl spotted the first one. a female cardinal. i raced to the window to look, but it had flown off. later we saw a male cardinal on the feeder, a couple of other birds, and what we suspect is an adolescent male cardinal. it was smaller and its feathers were kind of orange and gray instead of red, but too bright for a female. i know nothing about birds really, and i doubt i'll be getting into bird watching as a hobby or anything, but i just like seeing them in our yard, and cosmo does too. he was thrilled when we showed him the bright red bird on the little house hanging outside our window. we even trimmed the foliage in front of the window so cosmo could see the feeder from his height.
i've embarked on a personal writing project. its a memoir really, but scaled down to sized. i have three periods in my life where such strange things happened, i find it impossible to explain them fully to anyone. so that's the challenge. three stories. of course now that i've started, i realize how challenging it truly is, and not in the ways i first imagined. first of all, there's the problem of memory. i can't recall all the details, so to fill the story out, i will have to invent. i'm not a fiction writer. i know nothing about character development or dialog. so these are things i will need to practice and learn. it will be frustrating and difficult. i admire all of my friends for whom writing is a big part of their profession. it can be so excruciating. and yet, so utterly thrilling in those moments when you know you get it right. this is how anyone making anything ever keeps on going.
as anne lamott suggests, bird by bird.