When I was a little girl, my father taught me gardening basics and sparked my lifelong love of nature and all wee creatures. That tough, argumentative New York City man longed to be a country farmer, but his dreams were dashed by the complicated circumstances of his life. So our suburban backyard became his homestead, with a fresh vegetable garden where he employed organic gardening practices (before it was cool), built sturdy wooden bird houses and feeders, installed the ubiquitous 1970’s cement bird bath, and even found room for a pair of pink plastic flamingos.
Moving to an urban city when I had my own family, I lived in high rises and could only look down longingly at small patches of green.
You were lucky if you heard a bird call 39-stories into the sky.
After a series of personal tragedies which included the deaths of my father and two younger brothers in addition to the sudden loss of my home after a flood exposed an environmental nightmare, I gathered my family, our three rabbits, and whatever belongings we had left, and rented a little house in Northern New Jersey.
The brick exterior reflected strength at a time I needed it most. The small, albeit neglected backyard offered me a chance to dig in the dirt again. The years of stress, profound grief, and deep personal loss had taken its toll.
I didn’t even know who I was anymore.
My kitchen has a window I like to refer to as my television. It’s five feet wide and runs almost the length of the green granite countertop where I stand doing the dishes each day. It looks out over my backyard and a small cluster of houses that rub shoulders with each other, six in all in a tight, little square. There’s always something going on.
One cold, rainy morning, I watched a little bird perching on my deck railing, dipping its wet beak into a dish I had set out with seed. That was my first bird feeder. I watched that sweet, persistent soul brave the weather in the simple act of eating breakfast. It brushed off the pelting rain, put down its head, and got to work for the day. I didn’t have an epiphany. I was still too weary for anything as ambitious as that. But it did make me stop feeling so sorry for myself. I admired that little bird. Despite the cold, despite the frigid rain, it did what it had to do to live.
You can learn a lot about life from birds if you take the time to quietly watch them. I know I do. And I pushed myself that day to work a little harder on putting my own head down and getting on with the work of life.
But the fates weren’t done tangling with me.
The divorce came first in 2019, after 21 years of marriage. Then the pandemic hit in March of 2020 and brought down the successful business my ex-husband and I had built together and still maintained as partners. By this time, I had lived in my rented home for two years. I had planted bunches of cheery spring bulbs, lush summer perennials, and my own organic garden, just like my father had taught me more than 40 years ago. I erected bird houses, bird feeders and watering holes for my growing flock of feathered (and furry) friends. There was a great peace in being outside, headphones on, covered in dirt, participating with nature. It was a source of healing that reinvigorated me in ways that I couldn’t yet comprehend.
I was brought to my knees wondering what to do next as the pandemic raged on, my marriage was over and my business closed.
Who would hire a 54-year-old ex-entrepreneur with no college degree?
Sure, I had run a successful business for almost 20 years, but how did that translate to the real world of employment in a degree-demanding era? I revised my resume and started applying for jobs online. Nothing. Not even a peep for weeks.
I finally received a call from an employer who was hiring immediately and wanted to interview me over the phone. Sitting in my bedroom, I gathered my confidence and transitioned into selling mode with the goal of getting this job.
In the past, I would breeze through job interviews. As a freelance copywriter, most of my work was gained from word of mouth from other happy clients. I was a hard worker and aimed to please. My portfolio spoke for itself. But I had spent the last 20 years building a fitness oriented business – a specialized indoor niche that didn’t translate well in the Covid-era job market. And everyone wanted a college degree which I just didn’t have. I hung up the phone dejected. My son was standing next to me. “How did I sound?” I croaked. He gave me a hug of encouragement and told me not to worry.
But I was worried. I was very worried.
I couldn’t crumble – I had two teenagers beside me looking to their mom for strength. I’m not one to cry or sit idly by, either. My DNA is far stronger than that. It reaches back to Ireland to my great grandmother Catherine who raised five children by herself after losing her husband to tuberculosis. In the 1930’s, my grandmother Rita, full of city moxie, plucked her infant son with Down syndrome out of sanatorium, despite a doctor’s insistence to keep him institutionalized for life.
My own mother, a high school dropout, announced to my then unemployed father she was getting a “little job” as a telephone operator back in the 1970’s to help pay the bills. Her salary kept our family afloat when New York City went through staggering unemployment in the trade’s industry, leaving my father without a job for years. And my mom ended up retiring from that “little job” – as a top manager for AT&T.
I would not give up. But getting up and going, now that’s where it got tricky.
When one is over 50 years of age and tasked with suddenly having to reinvent themselves both personally and professionally, I’ve discovered the challenge lies in not creating someone new. Rather, it is centered upon understanding and respecting what makes, you, well, you. I began to understand it did not require any invention at all. What it required was a good dose of honesty and ambition for just myself and no one else.
That was a very new concept for me because I had structured my entire life on helping others. I advocated for my family through our multiple profound tragedies. I focused on making sure my two wonderful children graduated college – something I could never accomplish myself. (One down, one to go there – I’m so proud of these two incredible, creative souls.) I quietly stayed in the background and worked hard to boost my ex-husband’s profile as a professional coach. I helped build a successful business that was a reflection of his dreams and passions.
But where was I in the total picture?
After a few weeks of unanswered job queries and that disastrous phone interview, I began to have a very sinking feeling deep in the pit of my belly. My resume had really grey hair. And it was showing.
Many of my native skills were now available on $5-per-project virtual job sites. And no amount of “go-get-‘em-girl-power” was going to change that any time soon. So I pivoted and turned to the hustle. I’ve freelanced before, I thought, and I could do that again. I reached out to business colleagues that I hadn’t spoken to in years. The proposition was almost irresistible. In exchange for a testimonial, I would work to help build their brands for free – marketing, copywriting, website development – whatever they needed. The first two emails I sent produced positive results. I was back in business.
Not so fast, though.
Although I worked for free for almost two months with one client, a contract never developed. Providently, I did click with another former colleague who is now one of the three founders of the TheBirdMom.com site. Denise is a dynamic, whip smart woman whom I always admired tremendously as my boss in my corporate life two decades ago. We brainstormed for days on ideas of how we could work together. In my mind, I was ready to go for something I really wanted to do. What would my ideal job consist of? What would really get me out of bed in the morning, challenge me mentally, and make enough money to pay the bills?
I looked out my window and returned to the birds.
Denise and I met over Zoom almost every week during the Covid-19 lockdown (and yes, I had to learn how to attend a Zoom meeting). She became my motivation to think and innovate. I really do have so much to thank her for. She’s quite the amazing woman with her own entrepreneurial fire that burns bright. Those meetings got me dusting off the cobwebs to my ambitions and gave me the impetus to believe in myself again. To think big. To consider what I wanted to do now at this stage of my life, for me and for my future. I felt scared and excited and really thrilled to begin something new. And thanks to Denise, and her friend, Susan (artist extraordinaire and lover of fonts), The Bird Mom hatched in the fall of 2020 (sorry, couldn’t resist).
It hasn’t been easy, but it has been one of the most challenging and transformative periods of my life.
Now I don’t know where this will go, but I’m happy we’re on our way and you’re joining us on our journey. The Bird Mom will open you to all of the amazing connections I have had with my backyard birds over the last few years. The lessons I’ve learned through observations and experiments. The parallels to our own personal struggles that I see in nature every day. And the peace and healing that our feathered friends can impart upon us when we really need it most.
Thank you for taking the time to visit us. Drop me an email at [email protected] and share your comments, suggestions and your own bird stories. I invite you to become one of the flock.
With warmest regards, Lindy