Marsh wrens are little songbirds that build multiple nests in their territories. Often described as dummy nests, males build these nests for three reasons. First as a courting center, male wrens use dummy nests to attract, sing and display their male fitness to females. And it’s a battle for desirable sites, desirable mates. For to attract a prospective mate requires displaying nests that not only impress, but also remove other males from their territories. Second as a decoy, dummy nests are used to confuse predators, thereby reducing predation around breeding nests. So the more dummy nests around 1 active breeding nest, the greater the odds that a predator would find an empty nest and leave the area before discovering the breeding nest. Third, as a cover or site for survival, dummy nests are used to shelter new nestlings. Court, confuse, cover, these three C’s, perfectly illustrate how I have silently survived mothering and work during this pandemic of a lifetime.
As a mom to three children under the age of 8, I did my best to become friends with the complexities of homeschooling. A desirable harmony with homeschooling was the goal when school began in the Fall. The Spring version of homeschooling at the start of the pandemic was a disaster. I wanted joy in the Fall. So, we began for example with a family newsletter to chronicle our daily experiences through homeschooling. We took pictures, shared little stories, even encouraged ourselves to love school now effectively at home. It lasted for six weeks. Homeschooling was at times harsh, was at times vigorous, at times rattling and at times weary and I did my best to court it fully even with joy in mind.
As if that wasn’t enough, the pandemic ushered in a new age of confusion alongside the madness of reality. In fact, we’re were all mad. We learnt to smile with our eyes and laugh with our mouths all invisible due to mask wearing. We learnt to accept and cringe with school at home and home at school. Even with assignments from homeschooling that required our children to imagine animals were mask, a bee for example wearing a mask. Like, I said, madness became a new normal. That and hiding. We learnt to hide in bathrooms for work, hide in closets for sleep, hide in cars to free ourselves from the chaos of running, energetic children during the day and night, in the morning or in the evening. They were everywhere hence the age of confusion for mothers like myself. All that work life balance we said we had, with home helping to strike the balance became a lie. In fact, as a global health researcher, there was no balance not with work or with my life as a mother to three children and a new infant, born at the height of the pandemic.
Yet through it all, the pandemic became the cover I never knew I needed for my survival. Not only did it awaken my eyes to the multiple dimensions of my life, it also helped me realize how much for example, I love to ask questions too. Questions that keep me alert to my potential. Questions that continue to awaken a desire for more. The sense of unfinished questions, unfinished goals, unfinished ideas, became a cover during the pandemic and it kept me motivated. I also taught my children the significance of their own questions, and how it can usher a confidence about yourself or what you are grateful for as with the drawings from my daughter below.
In the past few months, I not only courted the pandemic, but I watched as it ushered an age of confusion with my role as an academic scholar and a mother. Ultimately, the pandemic became a cover or a shelter for survival and self-discovery. One that provided the time necessary to discover what I am called to do in this world. That I long to make explicit our stories, long to shed light on the unthinkable, long to disassemble every myth, and long to recognize the brilliance of Black women who mother and work moves me enormously.
The time also has come to turn light on all the unexpected corners we court in life, all the spaces that confuse, and all the things that act as covers so we soar. My world as a Black woman scholar with four your children is vastly different from how other people see me. I know this fully well. And by courting the pandemic, allowing its confusion to wet my soul, while also basking in its cover, I know my way forward. Keep marsh wrens and their 3 c’s in mind and court, confuse, cover your life story.