Spring has sprung, more or less. I’m sitting here bundled up like a bag lady because I absolutely refuse to buy heating oil in May — in MAY, for crying out loud — no matter how chilly the house is. So we all wear double socks and triple sweaters and gaze longingly at the untouched bathing suits and sandals I optimistically took down from the attic a month ago.
The rest of nature seems unaware that it’s frickin’ freezing: the tulips are in bloom, the bees and ants are working away, and the lilac tree outside my window is heavy with purple blossoms. And every time I see that tree, I breathe a little prayer to a merciful God: please, Lord, no robins this year.
We had robins last year. I was utterly delighted: right there outside our very window, something better than any science kit or home school nature unit. There were the busy parents, manically dashing two and fro, following some blind compulsion to build and prepare. With baffling skill and speed, the nest quickly formed, and it was a beautiful thing: round as a cup, solid and lovely, a work of art.
And then the eggs. Four of them appeared one day, in that unmatchable shade of blue. We felt as if the whole thing were a gift to our family. The children couldn’t get enough of check out these perfect little eggs. We would all file outside and I would hold the kids up one by one, so they could gasp and coo over the secret little treasure in our tree.
One thing bothered me a little bit: every time we got close to the fragile little nest, the mother bird would fly up in a panic . . . and rush out of there as fast as she could. “Some mother,” I would mutter. “Lucky for you we’re not a cat! Aren’t you even going to try to peck us?” But she would just hide herself in a nearby bush, keeping herself safe and letting the eggs fend for themselves.
Humph. Well, she’s just a bird. I knew I was taking the situation too personally, and that robins lay several eggs every year for a reason: they’re not all going to make it, and that’s a fact.
Still, I got madder and madder at this lousy mother bird. Only a bird, sure, sure, but WHAT KIND OF A MOTHER ARE YOU? I suppose you’ll just go ahead and LAY SOME MORE EGGS if these ones get ruined through your cowardice and neglect! Who cares, they’re just your CHILDREN, that’s all — why go to any effort? If there had been some Egg Protective Services hotline, I would have had it on speed dial.
But it just got worse. When the baby birds were born . . . they were horrible. Just painful to look at. I don’t mean fragile, I don’t mean vulnerable or unfinished-looking — they were monstrosities. Every scrap of their essence spelled out H-E-L-P-L-E-S-S in a way that was unendurable to me. I forget if I was pregnant at the time, or trying to fatten up a baby who wouldn’t nurse properly, or if I was worried about an older kid who was struggling in school, or what, but every time I looked out this window, all I could see was this dreadful image of my own vocation in that smelly little nest. It held the two indisputable facts of the life of a mother:
Number one, you must protect them.
Number two, you cannot protect them.
So. One day they began to fly. Sort of. They left the nest, anyway. I couldn’t keep myself from trying to keep track of these babies, because their parents were so lousy at it. One, two, three — where’s number four? WHERE’S NUMBER FOUR? Ah, there you are. Now where has the grayish one gone? All right, he’s over in the driveway. Once I stopped the lawnmower just in time before running over one fledgling, thrashing around helplessly in the tall grass.
Two of the little ones learned how to flutter around pretty well, and within a day or two, they were hopping from limb to limb in the tree in a convincingly birdlike way. They had puffed up and feathered out, and their terrible nakedness was hidden and forgotten. So far, so good.
The third baby bird got hit by a car. Its little body flapped in the wind of the traffic for a day, and then something hungry carried it away.
And the fourth one was just gone. I don’t know what happened to it. Maybe it learned how to fly really quickly, and set out in a brave and forthright manner to start a family of its own, and it was healthy and successful, and sang happy songs every day. I assume that this is what happened.
Is it wrong to pray for birds? If I pray for those little robins, I think God will know what I really mean.
Please, Lord, no more robins this year.