June 2019

This week my pattern has been waking up in the fours. The birds and their sounds have been so prolific and profound they’ve gotten the attention of the neighbors on Nextdoor, who comment and wonder along with me what sort of birds are calling so early in the morning with such vigor.

The undercurrent of the Nextdoor conversation is that the birds are a nuisance, waking us up. The reality for me is that the birds have been keeping me company for awhile, and that they’ve again risen to the level of companions, especially in the hours I’m most alone, when their activity and voices remind me that in fact I’m not.

In 1992 when we bought our house, it was not surrounded by trees. There were two good-sized maples at the back two corners of the yard, which are still there, and one on the front corner, which is gone. We planted a garden full of vegetables that grew.

Over time, the trees have grown up into a bird paradise. From my living room couch where I sit now, I look into a canopy of leaves for which I have my ex-husband and mother to thank. He chose this particular Norway Maple seedling to allow to grow up through the front hedges, she trimmed around it in it’s early years.

From my back porch, where I rested in my hammock awhile this morning after waking in the fours in a hot house, where I rested last night at the end of a long week, my daughter off with friends, I looked into canopies of leaves. The two maples have grown larger. More have joined them along the side, along with enough mulberries to feed the birds.

While I ate my dinner on the porch last night a jay came and rested on the post across from me. He or she gazed toward me a long time, the feathers on his or her breast fluffier and more disheveled, the eyes larger and wider and more contemplative than I expected for such a reputably aggressive bird. The bird paused there a long time, reminding me of the world outside my phone when I’m alone, causing me to pause as well, to consider the bird’s perspective.

I set up my camera quietly to capture the bird. As I pressed the button, the bird flew off, up to the mulberry to eat, leaving me with a frame of nothing but my porch post and wicker chair.

Birds are ephemeral that way, a reminder of the connection between earth and sky, between heaven and earth.

This week I’ve noticed a proliferation of mourning doves. Last weekend I counted nearly a dozen in my back neighbor’s yard. Last night as I lay in my hammock a pair greeted one another at the end of a long week, flapping their wings over and around one another in an entangled way. I had been moved to read about the doves this week after wondering why so many had appeared and had learned, as I had suspected, that the birds are monogamous, and as I had not known, prolific reproducers.

We have a lot. Last week when my seven came in from playing on her own with a collection of people in our back porch doll house she let me know she had been kept company by an owl. Ah, I had replied, the mourning doves. They sound a bit like an owl, whooing as they do.

Last night as I ate dinner then rested on the porch there were at least two jays, a cardinal, the mourning doves, a robin, some grackles, and other birds I didn’t identify or name. All these birds come to my backyard overgrown by trees, in a city lot, for which I’m grateful. In a sea of concrete and asphalt and buildings, I have nature, trees, birds, even insects. As the ants invade the house this year I teach the children to let them be, to coexist, to watch and wonder rather than to poison or to flee.

We are not alone, the world is telling us. The birds and flowers, the plants and animals, are here and we are with them if we dare to be, even in the city, especially perhaps, if we live in a place that is somewhat neglected, where trees are allowed to grow from seed and people have the wherewithal and/or the disinterest to let them.

The birds follow the trees, seeking shelter, food, rest, perspective. We humans become surrounded, called back to our own nature as ones of the earth rather than controllers of it, as ones seeking companionship as much as ones destroying, as ones who are not as alone as we might think. The jay looking into my eyes at dinner and the birds talking to one another when I woke too early this morning reminded me. Who reminds you?

Today my daughter beat me to the shower and she was first out the door to work. She is starting her first day in a job she’s been moving towards for years, helping people organize their homes and lives. I’m heading downstairs shortly to a job I’ve been doing for years, helping people care for and raise their children.

If my daughter is evidence of my work, I can be proud.

Monday she started joining me in my work. This summer she’ll be a teacher in the day care, helping me to care for ten little people in a space and program that helped raise her.

Monday night I attended a meeting at the Quaker Meeting House, learning a new role I’ve been invited to take on, a role that feels both familiar and brand new. I’m taking over for an old friend who is stepping down after twenty some years as co-clerk of the Trustees Committee, the committee charged with overseeing the facilities and finances of the Meeting.

As I sat in Meeting for Business in the Meeting House on Sunday, feeling the beauty of the space and community around me, I thought of my grandmother who was on the Altar and Rosary Society at St. Vincent’s Catholic Church, a church her father or grandfather helped to build. I thought of my father’s father and the country church he helped to care for if not to build, around the corner from the farm where my dad grew up.

Why do you work so hard?, a former co-chair of mine at the Choice Program once asked. I think I learned it from my family I replied. I think I did. Perhaps my daughter did, too.

Time for work!

Today I’ve been on the porch much of the afternoon and evening. I had lunch with my guy, rested in the hammock, caught up on social media and pondered life, made a call, wrote e-mail, texted with teachers, and wrote progress reports at the table.

Early in the day the next door neighbors were on their porches, too, the father of a day care child upstairs, two young adults downstairs, sitting in silence on their computers, facing the yard and trees.

I can smell the barbecue of the neighbors two houses down behind me, folks I don’t know gathered in the yard of one of the new luxury condos that are creeping one by one into this old school Somerville neighborhood of two and three family houses, surprising and paining me with their wall to wall white and gray, finished basements, master suites, open floor plans, and luxury prices.

When I arrived here we were the new people. We bought the house the year we were married, moved in a month or two after the lease on our old Cambridgeport apartment ended, just as I began my first and last full time job teaching in public school a long and difficult commute away from the city we had chosen for our home.

At that time, we were outsiders. Many of the folks living around us had grown up in the houses. Many were related. Some were old. Over time the older ones died, their children lived in the houses, sometimes their children and grandchildren shared them, too. There are a few of those multi-generation households left. A few of us still live in one unit and rent the other. As far as I know I’m the only one since I’ve been in this neighborhood who’s cared for other people’s children in a family day care. I’ve felt vulnerable, criticized, and appreciated for that fact.

Even so, without the day care, I wouldn’t feel so at home here. Almost every weekday for almost twenty four years the day care kids and caregivers, including me, have walked to and from the park greeting the neighbors, which once upon a time were on their porches and in their yards greeting us, are now only rarely home during the day to say hello. Once upon a time there were many yards decorated for the holidays or full of flowers for us to admire. These days, not many of us plant flowers and very few of us decorate for the holidays.

In the early days there were also young renters who partied late at night, who lived in the more neglected houses, in groups that shifted over time. There were no condos. Most of the homes were owner occupied. Now that balance has shifted. Condos are becoming the norm. The groups of young people renting must have moved to other neighborhoods. The renters are mostly quieter, couples, young families, and single working people sharing space.

Over the years I’ve cared for a few neighborhood children. This year there are three who live in close proximity, two whose families rent, one who bought a single family where another day care family lived many years ago. I now get calls fairly regularly from neighbors looking for care for their children, whereas that used to be rare. When we moved in their were very few young children, mostly older children, teens, and their parents, young adults, and older people. I love caring for neighbors, love that there are young children and their families living here, hope that trend continues.

My neighbor just moved his trash and recycling bins to the curb. For many years he was our alderman. Then he lost to a friend of mine, a more newly arrived resident from a faction of the political scene that is less grounded in Old Somerville. When he first moved into the newly constructed house which was one of the first to be built, on a patch of ground that held a bunch of garages and open space my old neighbors used to play in when they were little, his daughter was a toddler I would watch as she and her dad listened for the ice cream truck that used to drive these streets. She lives in New York and has for several years. I haven’t seen her since she graduated high school, before that when she briefly babysat my kids.

I feel grateful my own kids come home, though my oldest, who also lives in New York, is an infrequent visitor. My younger two are here a lot. We hang out on the porch. We make dinner together. We still love this place, the porch, the house, the neighborhood, the city. In the midst of so much change, in our lives, in the neighborhood, in the city, we’ve persisted in our commitment. My middle child now lives on the other side of town, a renter with his partner, living the young adult hipster life in Somerville I think I missed. Though I was here as a young adult and loved my life, I was already married. We owned a two family house and were thinking about if and how to raise our family here. I didn’t ever feel hip, here or elsewhere. It wasn’t clear then we wanted to raise our children here, but over time we, then I, did.

It’s been hard for me to leave this place. One relationship after the other has ended and I’ve continued in my relationship to this house, to this place. Even through hard times when I was feeling pushed out of Somerville by my connection to the charter school group, when we endured hostility from the elected officials and those who opposed the charter school, I stuck it out here, committed to my home and family and day care life.

Yesterday my daughter let me know that old friends whose children I cared for and were friends of my kids, have sold their two family in another part of Somerville. She grew up here. They raised their kids, made friends, married and divorced here. Now they are selling the house I encouraged them to buy when they’d been renting just outside Davis Square from a woman whose children she had babysat as a teen. Their house is selling for a lot. They’ll start over somewhere else, with money in their pockets and memories of life here.

Everyday I get solicitations from developers and realtors who want my house. Every day I ask myself how much longer I can and should and will keep it. For now, I’m here, on my back porch, surrounded by folks who’ve been here longer and shorter than me, with someone’s boom box, a bird in the tree, and the gorgeous early summer evening light singing to me, stay, stay for awhile. If not forever, be here now.