As I walked to the mailbox that Monday, the clouds were the color of nickel, round and silver and rumbling just a little, like the rattle of a piggy bank. I glanced at the sky as two or three drops of rain splashed on me. I was not surprised. It seemed like it had been raining on me since I got out of bed.
The storm had started when my thirteen-year-old son, Bob, and I had argued earlier that morning. He’d wanted to wear an old, faded sweatshirt with cutoff sleeves to school, and I insisted on the nice, new shirt his grandmother had given him for Christmas, the kind with the button-down collar and blue monogram on the pocket. I’d pointed to the letters. “It’s not everybody that has his initials on his shirt,” I said reasonably.
He had rolled his eyes to the kitchen ceiling. “Nobody wears initials on their shirts, Mama. Nobody!”
Soon we were shouting. He said awful things. I said awful things. Finally he’d yanked on the grandmother-shirt. As he picked up his books, I’d reached over to give him a hug, but he stiffened and drew back.
The truth was, I wasn’t sure how to deal with Bob since he’d entered the world of adolescence. He’d scarcely arrived in it, and already we were skidding into little puddles of rebellion that left me feeling exasperated. He was a fine boy, a good son, but there were days he questioned everything I said. Days he seemed to test me deliberately. There’d been so much conflict and quarreling between us lately I was ready to throw up my hands and quit.
Shaking away the morning’s events, I sighed and walked on toward the mailbox, which looked as defeated as I felt. Ever since a car had plowed into the side of it, the pole had been bent and the door hung ajar.
Reaching inside, my hand brushed against a stack of envelopes—then something peculiar, like broom bristles. I peered inside. The day’s mail sat on top of a small collection of weeds and pine straw. Somebody’s idea of a prank, I decided.
As I raked it out, a drop of rain splatted on my face. I shuffled toward the house, not bothering to hurry.
That afternoon Bob breezed in from school and disappeared into his room. “How was your day?” I said, tagging behind him, trying to ignore the rift between us.
“Okay,” he said, pulling off his shirt. He tossed the monogrammed thing on the floor at my feet. I glared at it, like he’d thrown down a gauntlet. He rummaged through his drawer for the inevitable cutoff sweatshirt. I wheeled around to leave, then turned back. “Did you put pine straw in the mailbox?” I asked.
He gave me a confused look. “What?”
“Never mind,” I said.
The next day when I went to the mailbox, it was there again. A smattering of pine straw, some twigs, two dead dandelions.
Each day I found a bouquet of weeds in the mailbox. And each day I whisked it out. I didn’t bring up the subject with Bob again. As a matter of fact, I quit discussing anything with Bob. Every time a conflict arose, I simply flexed my authority, then left the room or changed the subject. It was just easier that way.
On Saturday Bob wandered into the den where I was reading the newspaper. “Mama, can I go to the movies?” he asked. I flipped the newspaper to the theater section. The movie he was asking about was rated PG-13. The number thirteen indicated an extra note of caution to parents. I looked at my thirteen-year-old son. The irony was not lost on me.
“Nope, not this movie,” I answered.
“Can’t we even talk about it?” he pleaded.
“There’s nothing to talk about,” I said. “We would only end up shouting again.”
“Mama, you don’t understand,” he cried. “You don’t even try!”
When mail time came again, I walked out as usual and there was the same maddening bundle of debris. Reaching in to pull it out, I caught a flash of something small, round, and blue in the twigs and straw. It was a bird’s egg.
Chirping burst from a nearby tree. Scanning the limbs, I spotted the mother bird with a piece of pine straw dangling from her beak. I pushed the ragged nest back inside, impressed by her tenacity. Every day she had started a nest inside our broken mailbox and when she returned to find her efforts whisked away, she had tried again.
“You don’t even try!” Bob had said to me.
He sat beside his desk absently turning his globe around. “Hi,” I said. He looked up at me and stared, and for an instant I glimpsed the vulnerable little boy he’d once been, as well as the young man he was becoming. “Wanna talk?” I asked. “I promise to listen.”
My sitting there, listening to him pour out his anger and resentment and needs seemed to soak up the pain between us and give us a new beginning.
Later we printed a sign: “Dear Mailman, A bird has built her nest inside the mailbox. Would you deliver our mail to the front door until her eggs hatch and the birds fly away?”
Three baby birds appeared in our mailbox. Every day the mother perched on top of it and sang. It was the song that would get me through the teenage years—the sweet, stubborn sound of love that never quits.