Lessons of parenting in a tiny yellow bird

The Brooklyn Paper
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The other morning, while Smartmom sipped her iced coffee on the steps of the Montauk Club, she noticed a man looking up at one of the tall London Pines that hang over Eighth Avenue. So she asked him what he was looking at.

“I think there’s a Nashville Warbler in the tree,” he said. “I can’t see it, but I hear it whistle. It’s very distinctive.”

Smartmom closed her eyes and listened. Then she tried for a minute or so to locate the bird.

“There it is,” the man said. “It’s in the middle there. It’s yellow.”

Still, Smartmom couldn’t find it. She asked the man if the Nashville Warbler is a rare find, and he said it was.

She kept looking. But mostly, she was looking at the birdwatcher and having her own flashback. Smartmom’s father is an avid birdwatcher and he used to take her on walks in the Ramble in Central Park. She was never able to see the birds. Her father tried to teach her to use his binoculars.

“Find the bird, then press the binoculars to your eyes. It’s simple,” he’d say.

But it wasn’t, and she was never any good at it. Not being able to find birds, Smartmom found herself frustrated and bored on these Central Park expeditions especially when her father got into long conversations with the other birdwatchers about their recent sightings.

At the time, Smartmom couldn’t wait to get home. But now she wished she’d paid more attention or that her father had been a more patient teacher.

Smartmom wonders whether any of what she tries to pass on to the Oh So Feisty One and Teen Spirit will be remembered. There’s so much she wants to share. Sometimes they show little interest. Other times they’re all ears.

For instance, OSFO loves to hear about the Stay Up All Night Club, the club Smartmom and her friend, Best and Oldest, invented when they were 11. On sleepovers, they’d try to stay up as late as possible, while playing wild games of Truth or Dare.

The dares were way more fun than the truth. Smartmom remembers running naked up and down the stairs of her apartment building because she refused to tell her friend the name of a boy she had a crush on.

The other night, OSFO had two friends sleep over. After midnight, she could hear giggles and girlish trills coming from the bedroom. When Smartmom knocked on the door to ask them to settle down, OSFO said, “Don’t come in! We’re playing Truth or Dare.” Smartmom left it at that. A chip off the old block.

Yet when Smartmom lectures her about her favorite modern artists or the history of the labor movement, OSFO puts her fingers in her ears. “BORING!” she says just as Smartmom gets going.

But that’s all right. She may not seem like she’s listening, but she probably is. And one day, she’ll remember — just like Smartmom did with that birdwatcher on Eighth Avenue.

Teen Spirit used to love Smartmom’s little lectures about Broadway musicals and contemporary poetry. Lately, however, he’d rather do just about anything than listen to his old mom.

Yet the other day, he asked to look at the blonde wood acoustic guitar Smartmom keeps in a hard case under her bed.

Smartmom finger-picked her way through high school. A regular Joni Mitchell, the Upper West Side was her Laurel Canyon as she sang, “I could drink a case of you…” with that old guitar.

Teen Spirit asked if he could play it. Before she knew it, they were walking up to Music Matters to buy a new set of strings.

Back home, she showed him some old guitar licks. He listened politely, but declined to give it a go. “It’s not really my style,” he said, taking the guitar into his bedroom.

Still, she knew she was passing the torch. While she still loves to play her old songs every now and again, it’s Teen Spirit’s turn to harness the power of the instrument she bought at We Buy Guitars on West 48th Street in 1973.

Standing on the stoop of the Montauk Club, Smartmom was all eyes. She tried to remember her father’s advice as she scanned the tree looking for that little yellow bird.

“Find the bird with your eyes. Follow its song…”

“There is goes,” the birdwatcher exclaimed. Smartmom scanned the tree. And then, finally, she saw it. The tiny yellow Nashville Warbler flew from one branch of the tree to another. What a delight it was to see.

And Smartmom couldn’t wait to tell her father.

Louise Crawford, a Park Slope mom, also operates “Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.”
Updated 4:29 pm, July 9, 2018
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