Tuesday, May 10, 2011
I am fascinated by primal motherhood; fascinated by the instinctual drive in animal species. As humans, we are brought to the task of mothering with reason, common sense, compassion and with any luck, grace. No matter the species, mother animals mother with instinct and for all of the advantage we have in our superior knowledge, instinct is what often lacks in humans. That is not to say that we cannot defend our young on a level that is primal or that we do not have that built in sense of knowing; the thing that makes a mother stir when she knows something is wrong somewhere or that makes her reach for the phone just as a child is calling home with a problem. A sixth sense is woven into and wrapped around reason somehow, but instinct is quite different.
I have a pair of rather prolific love birds. Separated from one another at the pet store and reunited after 6 weeks, they paint a story of star-crossed lovers in their colorful display of affection for one another. Once a suitable nesting box is offered, Owen knows that he can begin courtship and he knows that to win Jasmine’s heart, he must begin to furnish the home and show his intentions by feeding her. He did not read this or learn it from his dad; he simply knows. Upon accepting his offerings, the two spend a day consummating the relationship, after which they work feverishly to gather appropriate nesting materials into the box. Jasmine knows that she needs moisture in the nest and takes strips of paper and dips them into her water dish, layering them between dry pieces. She knows nothing of the science involved and had no teacher to teach her the technique. She just knows.
Once she begins laying, one egg every other day, she spends all day and night incubating the clutch, coming out only occasionally for nesting supplies or water. Owen keeps watch outside and brings her meals in bed. There is no bickering about who should be doing what; they have their designated jobs and they accept them. Once the babies hatch, both parents work all day feeding and warming, bringing fresh bedding and moist strips to keep the humidity just right. The instinctual teamwork is without ego or competition; there is beauty in their partnership.
We take classes, we read endless books by renowned experts, gather in groups to share and learn and teach and for all of our knowledge gathering, we do not have the same harmonious rhythm that is wired into the simplest of species. Perhaps the greatest contrast that I have observed is that animals know when the job is finished. A mother animal will risk her life to protect and raise her young, but the moment the mission her accomplished and her young possesses the ability to thrive on their own, she boots them out without hesitation. As humans, we let out the tether, but find ourselves uncertain as to when our offspring are really ready to fly, our insecurities likely keeping them closer to the nest than necessary.
Jasmine began biting her young once they were eating on their own and my admiration for her instincts turned to scorn. She wanted them out, and yet they had barely the skills for survival. In the wild, they would have left the nest and likely not come back. Separating the babies to a new cage, I discovered her urgency. She had laid a new clutch of eggs; her instincts told her all of her time and energy was to be dedicated to hatching and raising these babies.
I am fascinated by primal motherhood; by the instinctual drive of mother animals. I am also keenly aware of my human instinctual shortcomings and the gift of human love and bonding that separates us from the animals. Fledging our young is much more complicated, but I am grateful that when they leave the nest, they are likely to return again and again.