There I sat on the window seat in my room at a conference center. It was early morning and I was preparing for the day--nesting if you will. Suddenly a cache of birds bulleted their way to a tree just outside the window. They tore leaves from its branches with their beaks and raced to another tree across the street. Then they were back, this time pecking at each other instead of the tree. They seemed to fight over each leaf. How odd, I thought. There's an entire tree full of leaves and they're fighting over one.
It turns out that this tussling for territory is part of birds' nest-building instinct. Most birds simply won't tolerate competition from a bird of the same species. Another variety is tolerated, but not a bird of the same feather. And once boundary lines are settled, birds protect them desperately, even creating "sidewalks" in the air from tree to tree for nest approach and departure.
While this fighting might be an acceptable pattern of behavior in birds, I can't help but see a sad parallel in us as moms. We, too, can be fiercely competitive.
We stand in the checkout line and look at the mom whose child is whining for candy. When she gives in and says yes, we sigh and mutter, "She's ruining him." We exchange knowing looks with other parents when a friend's child throws a tantrum. "She needs to discipline that kid," we say to ourselves. We encircle our homes with the security of same-race, same-class, same-belief friends in order to insure our child's--and our own--comfort. We cluck under our breath at the working mom who wrestles her child from her car while still clad in her business attire, or we tsk, tsk toward the stay-at-home mom dressed in sweats and a ponytail.1