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.


  1. “One, two, three — where’s number four? WHERE’S NUMBER FOUR?”

    Losing it laughing over here…

  2. My mom had a little framed picture with the saying “There are two things you give your children. One is roots and the other is wings.” I feel like parenthood comes down to that and the balance it entails in raising these children of God with free will. YIKES.

  3. We’ve got a male/female pair of robins in our yard this year. I have not seen where they have their nest, but I’ll watch out for their fledglings! It’s been fun to watch the adults in their darty little runs across the grass. We also have white wing doves, blue jays, cardinals, and sparrows and finch of various types. I encounter helpless babies pretty often, especially the doves. Those seem like particularly bad parents. At least the sparrow baby that was stranded in the yard had the continual support of the mother (or father?), who came flying over and flying away. I imagined that the parent was offering encouraging words and cheering the baby on. That one had a successful ending. 🙂

  4. Oh thank-you for this 🙂 My parents had a robin nesting in the hanging flower basket directly outside their front door. The mother would attack the mailman, so they put an ice cream bucket on the driveway for him to leave the mail in. When the babies fledged, my mom fluttered around the yard keeping the neighbour’s cat away, hissing “shoo! shoo!” at it. Adorable memory of her.

  5. We snatched some tadpoles from a local pond last year. I thought it was a priceless science project- for free! We carefully tended to them and watched over them.
    Then, they morphed from completely aquatic creatures to ones that needed space to climb up and breathe air- OVERNIGHT! Imagine the hysteria when four children came downstairs to see a drowned froglet sitting on the kitchen island.

    We rushed the surviving tadpole/froglet thing back to its native pond in a shallow, open container because we couldn’t find any tupperware lids. It was the most nerve-wracking 10 minutes of my life.

    I threw that stupid amphibian back into the pond with a prayer of thanksgiving, and the assurance to the kids that it would have a better chance at survival in the pond than it would in our kitchen.

    I love nature. Just not sitting in a shallow casserole dish in my kitchen.

  6. We once had a bird build its stupid nest on a porch light right by our front door, which we used to go in and out quite a lot, obviously. That nest…STANK. Horrible. And yet, because there were wee birds’ eggs in it, and later, wee, naked baby birds, we couldn’t move it. Bird poop is so disgusting I’d rather change diapers for five years straight than endure that smell again.

  7. We once watched a nest of mockingbirds right outside the kitchen window. That story had a happy ending. The babies grew up and moved to the tree next door, where the mother kept feeding them. It seemed to me that she was bringing casseroles to her grown sons’ bachelor pad.

  8. This just exemplifies your excellent ability and style: a funny and charming beginning that seamlessly morphs into something funny and profound. (At least to me!)

    Yes, there’s nothing like having all our greatest stresses in life trundled out for conscious examination, is there? I’m convinced the only thing that keeps me sane is just.not.thinking about the awful, terrible, wonderful responsibility I have been blessed with. At least, not thinking about it very deeply. Yes, I work hard on absolute trust in God, and I know in my bones that He wills only good for us. But life is still just stinkin’ hard and the mother in me cringes for my children’s sake, whether it’s for their greater good or not.

  9. It is funny that you write about this because I have been keeping tabs on the 4 robin babies in the nest ON MY DECK. I can’t even open the door or I see 4 robins with their mouths open so they can be fed. The robin parents are very devoted though.

    If I can only keep the neighborhood cat away…

  10. HA so great. I hit a squirrel (by accident I swear!) on my way home from dropping my daughter off at school this morning. The rest of the way home I was worrying about whether it was a mama squirrel and I had orphaned her baby squirrels, or if it was a gentleman squirrel in the midst of a spring courtship and I had robbed a lady squirrel of the chance to produce more squirrels. I felt utterly ridiculous for worrying about it, but I came home, and read this post….still feel ridiculous, but not ostracized. So that helps.

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