On the other side of my back fence is a pond. When you combine that with a nearby forest preserve, a golf course and a reservoir, you get wildlife, in particular, water fowl.
In the spring, the forces of nature take over and we are soon treated to a variety of cute, fuzzy waddlers trailing behind vigilant mothers who, while caring, have…well…bird brains. This means that they are constantly dragging their children through dog-occupied yards, into parking lots, across streets, etc.
And this is where our story begins.
A chilly evening a few weeks back, I had just picked up B_____, my seven year-old daughter at dance class. We had just pulled out of the parking lot into rush hour traffic when we both spotted a mother duck and what looked like four or five chicks standing in the gutter on the opposite side of the road apparently trying unsuccessfully to get over curb.
Now, as those of you who have read my wife’s blog probably know, my youngest daughter is not only exceptionally empathetic, but she loves animals. To this day, she occasionally tears up thinking about our old dog Molly who passed away over two years ago. If it’s fuzzy, furry or feathered, B_____ loves it. Unconditionally.
As we drive past the ducks, B______ is climbing over me saying, “Dad! Dad! Why are those ducks in the road? Dad! Dad! What’s going to happen to them? Isn’t anyone going to help?”
As I turned the corner I pulled back into the parking lot, wheeled around the bank, came out on the street with the ducks again and wheeled into the parking lot across the street.
The weather was chilly, mid-50’s with a good breeze, but my critter-loving daughter jumped out of the car in nothing but her leotard and a lace dance skirt and headed for the road. When we get there, the mother duck is none too pleased. I shoo her over the curb and on to the grass and start picking up little chicks and putting them on the grass while Momma duck tries to bite me.
Just as I get the last one up, Momma jumps the curb again leading the rescued chicks back onto the busy road. Just as B______ and I started trying to get them back on the grass again, a twenty-something girl wheels up and leans out the window and asks what’s going on? B____ replies that we’re saving the ducks but they just keep getting in the road. Miss Twenty-Something immediately turns into the parking lot, jumps out of her car and comes running over to help.
Well, that was enough for Momma. She starts crossing the road just as the light is changing and the cars start moving again. Twenty-Something jumps out in the road and stops traffic, Momma waddles across the road and B______ and I stand on the side watching the progress. It was then that we both realized that we could still hear the sweet “Cheep, cheep, cheep,” of baby ducks.
Looking around, we see nothing except the grass, the curb, the road, the sewer grate…
“Oh shit.” I thought.
B_____ and I immediately put our heads down to the slotted gutter grate and see six baby ducks swimming in the standing water. They were a good four feet down and the slots were just wide enough for a baby duck, but not nearly wide enough for a human arm. Momma hadn’t been trying to get up the curb; she was just refusing to leave her fallen babies behind.
“Daddy, what are we going to do?”
So Twenty-Something looks back and yells, “What’s the matter?” I yell back that there are baby ducks in the sewer and she yells that she’s calling the police. In the meantime, a bald, Gandhi-looking, 50-something guy pulls up after seeing me and my seven-year-old with our heads in the gutter and asks what’s up? I explain the situation and he pulls into the parking lot and comes over to help.
Let’s recap. Twenty-Something is standing in bushes by the parking lot across the street watching Momma and her babies so they don’t wander off, the police have been called, Gandhi is lying in the gutter with me and B_____ is standing on the parking freezing her butt off asking what are we going to do?
After several minutes of watching the ducklings and listening to Gandhi talk to Bronte and me about how we are really nice people, that most of the drivers are just rolling past despite the fact that something is obviously wrong, Gandhi decides to call the police again.
By this point, I’ve sent B_____ back to the car to stay warm. The poor thing was so upset and so cold and it didn’t look like anything was going to get better anytime soon. And still the police hadn’t come. So I tell Gandhi that I’m going to get the police to come. He asks how and I dial the non-emergency number and get transferred to the dispatcher. I explain that a bunch of crazy people are standing in the road at this very busy intersection and they really ought to send someone.
“Excuse me sir, is this about the ducks?”
“Yeah, I think it is.”
“The Animal Control Officer is one the way.”
B_____, at this point, comes back wearing my 12 sizes too big Cubs jacket. Despite the coat, she is slowly turning Cubby blue in the cold wind. A minute or so later, we see the Animal Control van turn the corner and head toward us. As she slowly rolls past, she sees me point down into the sewer.
At this point, just let me say that it is a testament to the fine parenting skills of both myself and my wife that my daughter could read the officer's lips perfectly as she said to herself, “Oh shit.”
After surveying the situation, the officer gets a tire iron out of the police van and pries the grate up. The ducklings are so far down that she has to get a fishing net, lay down in the gutter and bend at the waist face first into the open sewer grate.
Next thing I know, she is handing baby ducks out of the sewer. I grab a couple, B_____ takes one, Gandhi takes a couple and puts them in his jacket pocket. When we get to five, the officer pulls herself back up and says, “I think that’s it.”
Then we hear it. One more faint “Cheep, cheep” coming up out of the sewer.
The officer gets back down in there and says that the ducking has swum into the pipe and won’t come back out. We put one of the missing duckling’s siblings back into the net and put it back into the sewer and try to get it to peep. It finally starts making some noise, but to no avail, the last one is gone.
B______ looks at the officer and asks were the last one went. She says she doesn’t know, but that there isn’t anything else to do. B______ immediately says that she’ll go down after it; all we have to do is just lower her down there. My seven-year-old daughter dressed in nothing but a Cubs jacket, a leotard and lace dance skirt stood before a police officer and two total strangers and tried to convince us to lower her into a water filled storm sewer so she could go after a lost duckling.
Twenty years from now, when someone asks me about what kind of girl my daughter is, I’m going to describe this scene. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of her.
When the officer said no, we weren’t going to put a seven-year-old into a storm sewer; B______ again asked what were we going to do? The officer went and got a box from her van, we put the ducklings in the box and she walked across the street to reunite them with their mother.
B______ and I stayed and listened in hopes of hearing the last one again but we never heard another peep. It was clear that the last one was gone.
When the officer came back, B______, with a tear in her eye, again asked about the last duckling. The officer, to her credit, told B_______ that she had done a wonderful thing; that she had saved five ducklings and that if B______ hadn’t stopped, we would have lost them all, and probably more as the mother stood in the gutter during rush hour with the rest of her babies. Gandhi and Twenty-Something joined the chorus about what a great thing B______ had done, Twenty-Something nearly in tears. As I picked B______ up to give her a hug and take her back to the car, Gandhi gave her a smile and told her that she was a special little girl for what she had done.
On the way home, I tried my best to get B_____ to focus on what a great thing she had done, at what a hero she was to Momma and her ducklings, but she could only manage a forced grin as she worried about that poor lost duckling that we couldn’t save.
She has such a big heart that child of mine. But like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz, I’m afraid she’s learning the down side of having a heart. It occasionally gets broken and as a parent, it’s hard to watch. I just hope her heart stays this big because despite the pain it causes her, it is just so beautiful to watch in action.