02 September 2012

How a hummingbird made me cry

This move has been hard for me.  There are a lot of reasons why that I could list here...worry about the kids starting yet another school, the expense of living off-post for the first time in a long time (electricity is not free in the civilian world, FYI), the exhaustion of finding a new doctor, dentist, orthodontist, and most importantly a new hair stylist (I'm not kidding...that is a REAL issue for me), etc.  But the main issue is that I wasn't feeling CONNECTED.  When you live on post you have a built-in community.  Neighbors are in close proximity, usually with kids around the same age and with husbands around the same rank and in the same stages of their careers.  You're all stuck in these not-so-great government houses with not-so-great floor plans or storage, but you don't really care.  The schools are usually better (emphasis on usually), the commute for your spouse is usually shorter and the lack of a mortgage is usually less stressful.  United in this kind of "yeah, this sucks but let's make the best out of it" attitude, it becomes a way of life.  And a pretty awesome one, at that.  As an extrovert, it's the reason I have been so happy the past seven years.  (Conversely, as a huge college football fan, it's the reason my husband grumbled under his breath every time the doorbell rang or kids ran through our living room on a Saturday afternoon the past seven years).  I was so happy, in fact, that I didn't even think it possible for this move to be hard for me.   Big mistake.

Along with my love for most things on-post living is my love for wild birds. Is it hereditary?  Probably.  I remember my mom and dad always had an Audubon Society book of birds on the coffee table when I was growing up.  My dad never had a pair of binoculars more than an arms reach, either.  My aunt has always been a bird person too.  (And much to my uncle's chagrin she is also a bunny person).  So I think I come by my wild bird affection honestly.   Really though, I think I love birds and bird watching because it is a guaranteed  in my ever-transient life.  Birds are everywhere and have surrounded every place we have lived.  When Joshua is deployed, they are my alarm clock.  When I am missing my dad, they are my comfort.  And for the past 13 years as an Army wife, they have been my constant.  Constant is good.  Constant makes me feel connected.

One of my favorite birds and also one of the easiest to feed and observe is the hummingbird. I have had a hummingbird feeder for years and have spent many a summer morning/afternoon/early evening watching them through my kitchen window. I have spent more money than I care to admit on hummingbird food but I did so happily.  Every early spring I would catch a glimpse of the hummingbirds coming around my window and that would be my signal to put out the feeder.  The kids would help too, always taking turns climbing on the counter to peer out the window and trying not to scare them away before they could get a good look.  Last summer there were so many we started naming them!  And we even got a ruby-throated at the feeder a few times!  Yes, it is super dorky.  But it made me happy.  It made me feel connected.

A week or two before we moved this summer, I started to panic.  I was moving.  Moving meant I had to take all of our stuff.  Even the bird feeder.  There was no way were were going to clear housing with a giant red bird feeder on a shepherd's hook in the front yard. Who was going to feed my hummingbirds?  What was going to happen to them when they came looking for food and all they got was a yard full of neglected weeds?  I felt like I was abandoning Mother Nature and I was sad.  My neighbors (love them, love them, love them) were wonderful but not bird people.  I made a last ditch effort the day the movers showed up and tried to give my feeder to one neighbor but it didn't work.  Apparently she thought two dogs, a cat, two kids and a deployed husband was enough to worry about.  I couldn't blame her.  Totally depressed, I dumped out the food, washed the feeder and let Leroy wrap it up and pack it next to my pink toolbox and my "T" welcome mat.

As I was unpacking at the new house one day I came across the box with my bird feeder and toolbox and welcome mat.  Since the feeder was wedged ever-so-tightly in the bottom of the box (nice work, Leroy) I got careless and yanked.  I yanked hard and in the process the feeder flew out of the paper and crashed to the ground.  It was at that moment when I saw that also wedged in the bottom of the box was the hummingbird bird food. And the cap had fallen off.  Do you know how sticky hummingbird food is?  Think liquid jolly rancher.  Nasty.  And now it was coating everything in the bottom of that box, the box under it and my laundry room floor.  Curse you, Leroy. I threw everything in the sink next to the washer and forgot about it.  On to the next box.

Two weeks later the house is set up and I'm still not feeling connected.  As I put in a load of laundry I see the red, sticky mess in the laundry sink and decide to clean it up. As I am washing out the feeder I notice that I think it has a leak. This stinks. It probably happened when I yanked it out of the box.  I couldn't bear to throw it or the remainder of the liquid food out, so I mixed up a batch, filled the feeder, grabbed the hook and marched out to the front yard.  I got the feeder up and it started leaking. It was a slow leak, but a leak none the less.  Or so I thought.  I went back inside, glancing over my shoulder as I went, hoping to see a hummingbird but knowing I would not.

Weeks go by and I obsessively check the feeder.  As I walk out to my car every day I try to gauge whether the fill line has moved at all.  I think it has, but I am never sure and I convince myself that there IS a leak and that no birds whatsoever live in Northern Virginia.  During those same weeks, I am still struggling to meet my neighbors, explore the area (my GPS is taking a beating) and keep my kids entertained until school starts. My mind started to mess with me.  What if the final six years in the Army are going to be this way?  I have always loved this life and the multitude of opportunities it brings us.  If I can't recover from a 50 mile PCS (permanent change of station) how am I going to handle the inevitable PCS back to North Carolina in a few years or even a PCS overseas?  What if I don't snap out of this?  It was starting to scare me and it was starting to affect my family.

And then a few days ago it all turned around.  I was working out in my driveway and walked around the side of the house to take a breather (Don't judge, I was in the middle of a particular nasty workout comprised of sit ups, burpees and squats).  As I rounded my car I saw it.  A hummingbird at the feeder!  In a split second it was gone but I saw it!   The feelings of relief from the doubt and uncertainty kicked in and I cried.  I kind of cried a lot.  I actually cried so much that I couldn't finish my workout.  Silly?  Yes.  A bit dramatic?  Yes.  But it restored my faith in this life we live.  And it reminded me that things aren't always easy.  Things worth doing usually never are.  And thanks to a hummingbird, it is something I will never forget.


Binnie said...

So glad you are at peace with this move. As the wife and mom we feel responsible for everyone else's happiness, but sometimes we forget about our own. Keep watching and I am sure more and more hummingbirds will find you again.

The Tall chick said...

I love when life presents us with little acknowledgements that things will work out, and that life will get back to "normal". I enjoyed reading this post. I've never been surrounded by the military community (via living on post), but it sounds like a great experience to have.