Over the holiday break, we took the boys on a plane – something we loathe doing – to visit their grandparents in Minnesota. We love our family and had a great time, but we can deal without the blistering cold. Given Ryan’s nap and accounting for the two-hour time difference, our idea going in was to very carefully plan what we would do each day to avoid the dreaded meltdown…by either of us.
And then we met some pigeons.
Actually, Alex did. Alex loves birds. He loves all types of creatures. Always has. I’m no longer surprised when he points out an egret or a blue heron to me when we’re walking by a pond.
The pigeons were located in Rice Park across from our hotel in downtown St. Paul. Alex noticed them from our hotel room window the first morning we were there. The pigeons would sit on the ledges of the nearby Landmark Center building – maybe 50 to 100 of them – and every now and again would swoop down into the park to look for food. Alex was enthralled.
On Day 2 during Ryan’s nap, and with not a lot to do in our hotel room for a few hours, Alex asked if he could feed the pigeons. We grabbed some of Ryan’s uneaten bagel and went down to the park to get to know the pigeons better. They were up on the building, but as soon as they saw us enter the park – like a sixth sense – they swooped down to greet us. Alex began talking to them: “Ok, pigeons, ready for some lunch?” He got worried about a few that were exploring the fountain nearby, trying to coax the birds still on the building to come down to eat. “Come on pigeons, come on down, I have food for you.” He calls them his friends; he took a liking to the only brown pigeon, tracking all its movements. And for whatever reason, I imagine that they kind of know he comes in peace. Two women appear with a big bucket of bird feed. They want to feed the pigeons too and immediately share all of their food with Alex so he could continue to feed the birds. Apparently, there are regular pigeon feeders at the park. I thank them profusely for making my boy’s day.
Day 3 we go first to the hotel restaurant and order plain bread “to go” so Alex can feed the birds their breakfast. We’ve been watching a lot of Star Wars lately and Alex pretends the pigeons are X-wing fighters and the building is the Death Star. The small non-pigeon birds are called AT-ATs. He’s mixing a lot of Star Wars metaphors here, but I love it.
For the pigeons’ lunch, grandma gave Alex some bread that he adorably thought she made specifically for him to feed the pigeons. This time, a family with two young girls walk by and Alex hears one of the girls say to her sister “hey, let’s go scare the birds” to which Alex screams “NOOOOOOOOO.” Luckily, their parents quickly stop them from chasing the birds and a major sigh of relief is breathed by all. Alex and the girls give each other dirty looks, and I give a parental shrug and a “thank you” to the other parents. Each time we stay until his hands are so cold he could barely feel them and he starts to cry. Then we race back into the hotel and sit by the fire in the lobby to warm up.
Our final day in Minnesota arrives. We have to leave for the airport by 9am to give us time to return the rental car and navigate through the airport. But nothing was going to happen until Alex got to feed the pigeons one last time. While Amy and Ryan checked out, Alex and I ran across to the park for our last visit. But the pigeons didn’t come. Not at first. I saw the look on his face and my heart sank. Not today pigeons. Don’t do this to us. The pigeons weren’t in their usual spot. Oh no. We sprinkled some bread around and waited.
The clock was ticking. I see Amy get into the car that the valet just pulled around. And then we look up and one bird starts making its way from the hotel to the park. We look up and the pigeons are all sitting on the hotel roof right above our now vacated room. One-by-one the entire flock comes down for breakfast. I find it hard not to smile at how happy the appearance of these “flying rats” makes me. Alex is beaming as he talks to his friends about what he calls a “feeding frenzy.”
On the flight home as Alex watches the same scene from Star Wars for the 100th time on his iPad and Amy sits behind us wrestling with Ryan and praying he doesn’t have another epic tantrum, I’m thinking about pigeons. We loved seeing our family and all the fun things we did together. But we also loved the pigeons, the only truly spontaneous activity on our trip.
And I got to thinking about 2016 and the parent I want to be. I realize I’m like everyone else that struggles with “schedule-creep,” making sure the boys are signed up for things and that we have a plan for what’s next. But as I sit in my seat, I also realize that so much of the magic that happened this past year was unplanned. It’s those moments we cherish because they come out of nowhere.
So in 2016, my resolution is to make sure we leave plenty of time to “feed the pigeons,” especially the brown ones.