The Birds

A friend of mine who provides spiritual direction wrote a beautiful piece about Spring and about hanging bird feeders, wondering if the birds would find the food. They did.

At the time I read the piece, I could not relate to my friend’s hopefulness. You see, a few days ago, my daughter Skye found a bird nest in our yard. Her chickens were gathered around it, pecking. Skye rescued the nest and all seven tiny baby birds. She convinced her father to buy bird feed – the powder kind you mix with water and fill a syringe to stick down the bird’s throat. She and I were already familiar with such bird feeding. In the past, Skye has rescued other birds who landed on a sidewalk or yard, apparently falling from their nests. They were young, but not as young as the current seven. These tiny birds stood only an inch to two inches tall. But it was reassuring that they instinctually raised their bodies and craned their necks with open mouths in the direction of the syringe.

I worried that the birds were SO young and I told Skye I would not be responsible for feeding them during her school day. Nevertheless, she turned her bathroom into a bird hospital. Skye, with help from Journey, set up a child-size wooden horse barn with hay and cotton balls to build a nest. They set up a heat lamp and towels to warm the birds. And they began the feeding process. They also cleaned the excess, crusted formula from the birds’ beaks and feathers with q-tips.

Monday morning came and I was alone in a quiet house until the incessant chirping began. I could not help myself. I entered the bathroom, turned on the light, pulled off the barn roof and peered at the chirping birds, all straining their necks for food. I picked up the syringe and began to feed them. One of the birds, the bird Journey called May, was a runt. It could hardly balance as it strained forward for food. I made sure all seven received a portion and marveled at their small bodies that produced a droplet of white and gray bird poop after receiving nourishment. They were fighting to live.

Despite my words to the contrary, I kept up the feeding every hour that I was home. But our human lives could not stop because of the birds, so there were times during the day when I was gone for several hours. On the third morning, I came in for the first feeding and counted only six birds. Surely, I thought, Skye would have said something if a bird had died. I eventually found little May in the trashcan with the soiled cotton balls and hay. Later that day, I asked Skye about this. She said, “I couldn’t tell Journey. May was her favorite.” We agreed that Journey would be more heartbroken if she found the bird in the trash. So, I retrieved her little body and placed her on a paper towel. When I was alone with Journey, I broke the news. Silently, tears poured down her face. Did she want to bury May? She shook her head. Journey said, “I knew this could happen, but I hoped she would survive.”

I was reminded that Journey is always drawn to the underdog. That is a good quality. But it sets her up for disappointment and sad times too.

Skye and I continued to feed the birds when we could. The next morning, I found two more dead bodies. Two more had died by the following day. This morning, a sixth bird gave up the fight. There is one remaining. He or she just ate and pooped. The cry for food is not as strong. I don’t know if it has a prayer for survival.

Last night I told Skye that this whole process was making me very sad. Why had we taken this on? Skye was very realistic about it. She has a “survival of the fittest” mentality. Some things live and some things die. That is the nature of life.

I’m not sure what “mentality” I have. It’s not as cut and dry for me. Investing in a life makes that life more important somehow. I know there are children dying every day all over the planet, but the ones whose lives touch mine are the ones I cry for.

At present, John and I are making decisions about new schools for some of our children next year. There is sadness in this as well. We hoped for smooth sailing with public schools. We are in a good school district and many of our neighbors have sent their children through the local elementary, middle, and high schools and on to good colleges. We have had less success. Without going into detail about each child’s experience, I will simply say that our impression is that public schools serve certain children better than others. It has taken more time and effort than I ever imagined to sort out what each child’s needs are and how to get those needs met. Each time we make a well-researched change, we are full of hope. Each time our attempts fail, we are saddened and frustrated – mostly saddened. It’s hard to find fault with a school for being what it is. I can accept that. The frustration is mostly directed at myself for not knowing any better, for not anticipating my child’s latest failure. I am sad that they will lose something – daily contact with friends, a system that is familiar to them, etc. – each time we choose to change their learning environment. At the same time, there is renewed hope that THIS TIME the change will produce the desired result – a happy, productive student, living up to his or her potential.

The one remaining bird just ate again. I still feel sad to have lost the others, and I’m not convinced this one will make it either. But I’m certain that it is worth making the effort just as I am certain it is worth making the effort to find the right schools for my kids. When it’s all said and done, I guess I do believe that my own little birds will find their food and thrive if I can just get it those bird feeders hung.

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