An empty nest is full of questions

One day last week John pointed out to me that there was a pile of leaves stuffed inside the stroller we have been keeping on our porch. I hadn’t noticed the leaves, most likely because when I am on the porch, our two boys are leaping off the porch to run toward the street.

“I think it’s a bird’s nest,” John said.

When he was sure the nest had been abandoned, he decided to clean out the stroller. And he brought the nest inside so the boys could see the tiny, perfect, speckled eggs. Then he set the nest back on the porch just in case the mother bird returned. Since she hadn’t been there in days, that seemed unlikely.

The boys were fascinated by the three little eggs, and Leo started asking questions.

Where is the mother bird? Why would she leave the babies? When would she come back? She would come back, wouldn’t she?

For a moment, I hesitated. We don’t talk about adoption all the time here. We’re too busy talking about rockets, Batman, lightning, Halloween, or whatever else is on Leo’s mind that day. But we do look for ways to work adoption naturally into conversation. And I wondered whether I should take this opportunity to speak about how a mother can’t always provide for her children, how sometimes circumstances prevent her from raising her children herself, how heartbreaking that can be.

As quickly as I considered it, I stopped myself. This, after all, was a bird. A bird doesn’t have free will, or a real understanding of challenges, or an opportunity to make an adoption plan for her children. And, if there were baby birds inside the eggs, they were faced with no wonderful—or even satisfactory—plan B. Even if we did everything within our power, they would never survive without their mother. 

So I took a different tact—speaking honestly about nature. I explained to Leo that many creatures chase and eat birds. I talked about cats and foxes and raccoons. I mentioned that a bird could get hit by a car or a truck. Leo listened, and I wondered whether I was telling our 4 1/2-year-old a bit too much. He sat quietly until I stopped for breath.

“Mama,” he said. “I think the mother bird is probably out getting a worm so she can feed it to her babies when they hatch.”

Aha. Now why didn’t I think of that?

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.