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For The Birds

Leaving the movie theatre Friday night after seeing "Up," Bryce's voice caught my attention as he called to us: "What is this I'm looking at? Guys!! What is this?" Normally I would have let my impatience to hurry up and live this pesky life override any temptation to exacerbate Bryce's already overblown sense of curiosity, but the tone and message of Pixar's latest masterpiece was still fresh, so in one fatal moment, I turned around and said, "what?" Bryce's usual, seemingly impossible stationary bounce was magnified and exemplified by his wide eyes and pointing finger, and I followed his gaze into the freshly mulched movie theatre garden of prickly bushes and saw two pink, writhing, see-through lumps of flesh topped by dry, open, barely chirping, tiny bird mouths. John tried to keep walking, but now Quinn was involved too, and soon all three of us were guilting him into helping the pitiful creatures. It wouldn't be that hard, I said. My own brother found three nestlings as a kid, I said. My dad raised them on whatever gruel we could find in the house and they lived and flew away weeks later, I said.

Once in the car holding the makeshift nest, a sense of panic and doom came over me. "Uh, this doesn't look good," I said, noticing how truly transparent their less-than-paper-thin bird skin really was. "I don't know if they're going to make it." John nodded his "yeah, I know, that's why tried to keep walking" nod. Pet stores were closed, so we rushed to the nearest open grocery store and quickly settled on baby formula as the method of Bird Life Saving we would try on, like a cheap new pair of shoes or something else equally necessary but unfamiliar when the technical requirements really become important to know. There was brief panic when the grocery store's pharmacy was closed: "WHAT? WHERE WILL WE FIND AN EYE DROPPER?" We searched frantically until we came across a basic syringe, then breathed deeply and tried to keep from exploding when the cashier needed an old-school price check on it: "Can we show the guy where it is on the shelf? Don't you know we have dying baby birds in the car, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PEOPLE?!"

The box from Bryce's serendipitously recently purchased tennis shoes was still sitting out waiting to receive its new occupants, who miraculously lived through the night despite my pathetic attempts to feed them human baby formula with a syringe, despite my almost choking and drowning them in human baby formula, despite my not keeping them warm enough in that huge shoe box on a marble counter top in an an air-conditioned house built for humans a thousand times their size. The little one died a few hours into Saturday morning, simply but tragically still when I came to feed them both mid-morning after being shocked that the night hadn't taken them. Who knew Death liked to hang around 'til mid-morning? And for a harmless baby bird, at that. I spent a few hours looking for a wildlife rehabilitation center, but couldn't get anyone on the phone, and realized that when I decided to "try to save the birds," it was really my decision and not one I could somehow pawn off on the local authorities like I think I'd assumed in the back of my mind outside that theatre. I took the kids to find real bird food and an eye dropper after John suggested the human baby formula might have been too rich and the syringe too aggressive for these tiny, tiny creatures. The real bird food was thicker, and after a few feedings left a paste on the outside of the remaining baby's beak. But, again, despite my horrifying performance as a baby bird rehabilitator, he lived through another night.

He didn't make it past dinner time, and this time Death decided to play it up for us, make the whole thing more traumatic and memorable. When Bryce and I went in for a feeding, the still-naked bird felt cold and looked paler than before. I offered the eye dropper of freshly prepared, bonafide baby bird food, and he opened his mouth, but when I gingerly squeezed a drop in, he sputtered and gagged, and he seized and drew his wings and tiny pink feet as close as possible, until...nothing. Bryce said, "what's he doing? Why is he doing that?" and since he'd been anticipating the second bird's death for the past 24 hours, said, "Is he dead?" "Well....he's dying," I said. The bird's beak opened a few more times, but his breathing had stopped after the first (last) drop of food. Bryce asked, "Should I carry the box in to the kitchen and let everyone know?" When he walked up to John and shared the news, John said, "Well, we did everything we could." I gave him the evil eye, thinking his response was cold and brief and non-responsive, but it was actually what Bryce needed to hear. "Wasn't it lucky that I spotted those birds? They were SO lucky that we found them and tried to help them live longer."

We all participated in the back yard burial and memorial service, which consisted of the kids and I in our pajamas and John in shorts and flip flops with a shovel, the two bird siblings wrapped ceremoniously in official deceased baby bird paper towels, and our dog Pax in the background, perplexed and softly mouthing his chew toy, which all of us thought was a symbolically significant and sudden chirping of neighborhood birds. When John noticed it was only the dog's toy squeaking, we all laughed, patted the ground, and sat on our back porch before having ice cream.