One afternoon in early spring, I was sitting out on my front lawn, the sun startlingly warm against my face, in the pleasantly shocking way spring sunshine is after a long winter. I spotted two blue jays eagerly eying the large old pine tree in my neighbour’s yard.
They seemed to be “house shopping,” flying around the tree and hopping from branch to branch, perusing the tree for suitability for their spring nest. I was rather pleased when they deemed it just the right niche to raise the young that would soon come, building their nest high up in the old pine.
All spring long, I saw the two birds happily flying around the tree, swooping from the towering old elms on the nearby boulevard before gently landing way up high on the pine’s sturdy boughs. Although their nest was too high up for me to see, I knew it likely possessed the treasure of the ages- new life.
As time passed, I imagined them tenderly caring for their new spring chicks; I couldn’t wait for when they’d begin to emerge from the nest and begin to fly.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, something terrible happened. And, while the ending was very sad, it taught me some lessons on the fragility of life and on what it means to fight for that which is most precious of all.
My neighbour’s little granddaughter was out playing in the magical, sun-lit fairy world that exists beneath the trunks of pine trees when she found one of the jays’ babies. It was tiny and injured, having fallen from the high up nest and crashed down to the hard concrete ground below.
Knowing we have had pet birds for years, my neighbours called for my help. As I wheeled on over to where they had all anxiously gathered in a circle, my deep hope was that this was a case of mistaken identity. Perhaps it was not an injured baby nestling, but instead, a fledgling learning to fly, taking it’s first tentative foray out of the nest and into the world. That kind of little bird definitely would not need human intervention.
However, my heart sank as I saw the little bird. It was definitely more nestling than fledgling, too young and underdeveloped to be on his own outside the safety of his nest. It would have been cruel to leave him lying there, injured, to fend for himself against the myriad of cats that live on our street.
As my neighbour scooped him into the safety of a cardboard box, he gave out a plaintive cry- a heartwrenching baby cry that any parent- animal or human- recognizes.
Several of us ended up spending 90 minutes trying to figure out how to help the little one. We tried calling our local animal wildlife rescue organization, but couldn’t get through their phone lines. We nearly took him to a nearby veterinarian. However, after I turned to Google, we learned the best thing to do would be to try to return him to his nest (apparently it’s a myth that the mama bird would reject him if handled by humans).
Another neighbour, who lives across the street, arrived with a big ladder. He attempted to climb up high in the tree- but still couldn’t reach the nest. So, we decided that if we couldn’t get the baby to the nest, maybe we could create a little nest on a lower branch for his parents to come to him. There’s nothing like a parent’s love for a hurt child, and we hoped the mama bird would come feed him and care for him in the box in the tree.
Carefully grasping the box in one hand, one neighbour climbed up the ladder, then balanced it on a branch.
Sure enough, soon Mama and Papa Jay were flying around the box chattering anxiously to each other. Mama even clambered on to the edge of the box and peered down at her baby. However, this caused the box to wobble so much that we feared the box and its precious cargo would soon crash on back down to the ground.
After retrieving the box, another neighbour, came by with an ice cream pail, which was soon lined with branches and the softest of moss.
The baby was carefully transferred into the pail, which was hung up in the tree. We all left quietly, hoping against hope that magic would happen and the Mama Jay would come save her baby and make everything right.
Except, she didn’t. She couldn’t
From a window in my house I waited and watched as the Mama flew near, then away, then near again, landing plaintively on the fence by the tree. Her anxiety was palpable.
I knew exactly how she felt.
One of our kids has had some challenges the past few weeks. It is incredibly hard as a parent to see your child struggle. I’ve had a lot of days where my heart has been in my throat, trying my best to help but wondering often if my chosen actions are what is needed to help.
As a mom of a teen and young adult, one of the themes in our family over the past year has been preparing our kids for the day when they will eventually leave the safety and comfort of our nest. (Or, to attain as high a level of independence as possible, even if that looks like disability- assisted or supported living).
This past year has been awash with working to help our kids gain skills, such as riding the transit, learning basic money handling, safe decision making, and being able to go into the community independently.
The years prior to when kids are getting ready to fly the nest aren’t easy for any child/ parent but are especially challenging when developmental disabilities are present, and also when the child didn’t come to the nest in the typical way, such as in my family.
When you are parenting children who have lived through trauma and who joined the family at older ages through adoption/ caregiving- sometimes the stakes seem that much higher, and any potential fall from the nest that much harder.
There’s a reason why people say the early years are incredibly important in a child’s development and health. When those years are difficult or full of hardship and loss, the impact is life long. It can make for some very, very challenging times for the child as they transition into young adulthood.
And so, my heart went out to the mama jay as I watched her from the window. I was sure that she would do everything in her power to help her own hurting, injured little baby.
But then…. she flew away…. and didn’t return again to her baby. I cried.
Cried for the baby bird…. and cried because sometimes the obstacles seem so high for my kids that I just don’t know what to do to help them. Those are the days I hang on for all I’m worth, my tears and prayers leaving tracks through my soul.
Some time later, my neighbour crept up the ladder to peer at the baby. And, I cried some more: all the pitching in of so many people had not been enough to save him. He had died in the tree in which he had begun his life, swaying in the gentle wind, under the big blue sky.
I reflected later why so many of us on my street had all stopped everything in our busy lives and taken so much time and effort to help the baby jay. The answer, I realized, was that he was precious to us. He was worth the time and energy and effort, and even though we had not been successful, we had done what we could for the precise reason that this tiny bird was precious to us and we were invested in its well-being and success.
The analogy to my own kids hit me really hard. Things in older child/ teen adoption or caregiving are often not easy- for child or parent. But, it is worth it. Worth it because, so much more so than a baby bird, a child’s life is precious, the most precious thing in all the earth. All children are precious. And when a child has gone through hard times that have wounded his or her spirit- we as the adults in that child’s life are called to do all we can, to drop everything, and devote our lives to helping that child in a healing way.
All the tears, all the pain, all the struggles are worth it to invest in the life of a precious child who has not had it easy, but who deserves as much of a good life as any person does.
Older child adoption is a common theme in media- from books to movies to magazines. What nearly all these stories have in common is what I call the “Anne of Green Gables” premise: a child is moved out of difficult circumstances and then sails off into the sunset with their new family, with all traces of pain vanquished, all hurt easily gone and healed. The child, in fact, brings easy joy into the adult’s life, enhancing things for all the adults around.
The reality is often different, and there can be many hard times. That’s not the way it often goes, in large part because as adults we are to be there for the children, and not them for us. The reality, I’ve discovered through our journey and the many other adoptive and foster-care families I’ve met over the years, is that it is often not easy. There are often hardships and pain and sacrifice involved. But yet, because that child is precious, every hardship is worth it.
And, oh, there is joy too. Often deep joy.
That joy comes in bonding with a young life and knowing that no matter what their earlier years consisted of, that you are doing what you can to give them a good, happy, healthy life for the remainder of their childhood. The joy comes because there is nothing more precious than a child.
Being involved in adopting/ caregiving of children/ young adults is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but by far it is also the best blessing God has ever given me.
For all my days, I will thank God for my precious children, and I will fight with every ounce of my spirit for them.