Chance

Her daughter was determined to save that little bird, but would she let her mom help?

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- Posted on Apr 20, 2015

An artist's rendering of two angels tending to a baby bird in a nest

Mini-me. That’s what I called my daughter, Micah. Looking at her across the yard one summer evening, I noted again how much she looked like me: same dark eyes, same quick smile, same long limbs.

She’d spent most of her 10 years by my side. We read aloud together, picked wildflowers, made crafts. Whatever I wanted to do, Micah was up for it. That’s the way it used to be, I thought as I scooped up our cat, Mr. Whiskers, from the grass and brought him inside.

This summer was different. I’d signed Micah up for a morning math class, swimming lessons and a basketball team. But Micah’s favorite things seemed to be texting friends or scrolling through videos on the web. “Want to walk the dog with me after dinner?” I called out to her.

“I’m good,” she said, her eyes never leaving whatever had caught her attention in the grass. “I’m good” was about all she said to me these days. Code for “Leave me alone.”

Why doesn’t she want to do things with me anymore? I thought as I pulled out plates for dinner. What am I doing wrong?

READ MORE: THE STAND-IN ANGEL

“Mom!” Micah yelled suddenly. “Come quick!”

I rushed out to the yard. Micah was lying on her stomach. She wasn’t hurt—but something was. A little baby bird on the ground. My eyes went to the tree branches above us. For the last few weeks our family had watched mockingbirds make a nest and lay eggs in a low-hanging branch.

The babies had just hatched—this little one barely looked like a bird yet. He was ugly and I didn’t want to get near him. “The wind must have knocked him out of the tree,” I said. “No, it didn’t,” Micah said, her face streaked with tears. “It was Mr. Whiskers. You let him go outside!” “Oh.”

My husband, Michael, had reminded me over and over to watch Mr. Whiskers closely while the birds were hatching, but I’d forgotten. “I’m sorry, honey,” I said.

Micah just kept sobbing. I squatted down next to her, but what could I do? I blew gently on the little creature, hoping my warm breath might soothe him. The grey fuzz on his thin skin ruffled a little but then—what was this? His shoulders twitched. The bird’s chest heaved as it drew breath.

“He’s alive!” Micah cried.

I ran into the house and got a paper towel. Trying not to grimace, I put the little bird back in the nest. “He’ll be okay now,” I said. I hope. Otherwise, I didn’t have a chance with Micah.

Happy to put the incident behind us, I went inside to start dinner. Micah followed and hopped on her iPad. “More cat videos?” I asked.

“I’m finding out what to feed the baby,” she said. “In case the mama bird doesn’t come back.” That possibility hadn’t occurred to me.

Micah studied YouTube videos about caring for injured birds. She was more focused than ever. I wish she was half as interested in me. I thought back to easier times, summer afternoons, say, when Micah and I picked flowers on our walks....

Come to think of it, I was the one who picked the flowers. Micah went after frogs and grasshoppers. “That’s nice, Sweetie,” I’d say, recoiling each time she pushed another creepy crawly in my face. I supposed she wasn’t exactly like me.

“It needs a name,” Micah said.

“How about Chance. Since I think he has a good chance of making it with your help.”

“I like it,” said Micah. Finally we could agree on something! Maybe I had a chance too.

READ MORE: LOVE BIRD

That night when I tucked Micah into bed there were no internet videos or tweener tunes blaring from her iPad, competing for her attention. “The mama bird doesn’t seem to have returned to the nest,” I reported.

“We need to pray,” Micah said. I took her hands in mine and we bowed our heads. “Dear Jesus, watch over Chance tonight,” Micah said. Usually Micah followed my lead in prayer. Tonight I was happy to follow hers.

Early the next morning I got up to mix the bird food Micah found on the internet: blended boiled eggs and cat food. “Make sure it’s really soft,” Micah directed as I stirred the goop.

“You’re the boss,” I said. Our breakfast wasn’t needed. Mama bird was back! I was relieved to hand over Chance’s care, but Micah kept a close watch on him. “His eyes are open!” she reported one day. Then, “His wings are twice as big as they were when we found him!” and “He’s got feathers!”

One afternoon I found Micah scurrying around the house, iPad in hand. “Need any help?” I asked.

“I’m good,” she said, but for the first time I wasn’t stung by the expression. Just interested in what Micah was planning. She washed out the remains of a bucket of Cool Whip and poked holes in it. Through the holes she threaded twist ties that she then used to attach the little bucket to the branches under Chance’s nest.

“In case he falls out,” she explained when the contraption was in place. “We don’t want him landing on the ground again. He can’t fly yet.”

“I would never have thought of something like that,” I told Michael that night. “Much less figured out how to make it.”

“Micah’s got a mechanical mind,” he said.

Nobody would say that about me, I realized. I’d always thought of Micah as an extension of myself. When she was little it was easy to ignore all the signs that she was her own person, but at 10 she was old enough to make me see it—with help from a mockingbird.

A week later, at dusk, Michael, Micah and I went out to check on Chance. The nest was empty. Chance was seated proudly on a nearby branch. “He’s got his own spot on the tree now,” Michael said. “He’s an independent bird.”

Micah beamed. I laid a hand on her shoulder. Not a mini-me. Not a mini-anybody. She was her own person, growing more independent every day. But it’s okay. I’m good. And Micah, she’s even better.

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