“Mama, Mama, come quick!”
Panic in their eyes.
“Come! Come!” Soccer Boy shouted and mimed the twitching of a wounded animal.
It was a bird. A starling. Likely clipped by a car. Still breathing.
Soccer Boy was petting it sadly. I tried not to be grossed out by this, and I could see that the bird was twitching in pain every time he touched it, so I told him to stop so he didn’t hurt it more. He tried to obey, but it was hard.
We went home for a shovel and to wash hands and then the boys went back to guard the bird. Guide cars around it.
I decided that there was really only one thing to do.
Call my dad to come take care of it.
The bird was still alive when my parents arrived.
“Can you fix it, PapPap?”
Part of me wanted him to be truthful, but part of me wanted them to keep that optimism.
My parents brought a cage with them, along with birdseed and water in two laundry detergent lids. They promised to put food and water in the cage and see what happened. But they were honest and said it didn’t look good. The bird would probably die. They would bury it and show the boys where it was tomorrow, and they could put a rock there to mark the spot.
It died on the way back to their house.
We came back in and I told them that they needed to get baths and I would get them some supper.
Both boys went up and came down with wet hair. I was suspicious of the quickness of Little Man, so I smelled his hair. No clean-soap smell. So I had him grab the shampoo and I washed his hair for him in the kitchen sink.
Then I smelled Soccer Boy’s hair. Nope. So I washed his too.
Then I looked at his feet. It was pretty clear they had not been cleaned well, if at all. Stinky boy. So I picked him up and plopped him next to the sink and gave him a full-on sponge bath.
As I washed his arms, his back, his feet and we giggled, I thought about this little starling of a boy who has flown into our lives.
It’s funny how we don’t think much about the birds all around us until they are laying in the middle of the road, dying. But there is One who cares for the starlings, the robins, the sparrows, all of them. They don’t pass his notice. They are cared for and sustained and nursed.
And this little boy, too, has not been beyond His notice. And now he is in my road, wounded, sometimes quaking at my touch, but desperately needing my help.
Little boys are funny little things. They have bounds of energy and flashes of temper but soft, gentle spirits underneath. They are helpful, kind souls hidden inside a shell of crazy boy-distractions like farts and burps and loud and bravado and running and jumping and energy that ramps up often to cover something else.
And it’s easy to see them flying like little sparrows, flitting here and there, busy, busy, soaring and diving and swooping and never still, and pecking, pecking, pecking on your last nerve. It’s easy to forget how fragile they are. How with one barreling barrage of freight train parenting, they can be undone.
It’s not about caging them and domesticating them. It’s about meeting them where they are in all the dirt and the muck and the farts and the smells and waiting for them to land in your arms.
Because they will act like they can fly, fly forever. But they desperately want a place to come home to roost. And they don’t have the words to tell you.
So I try to let them flit around in the orbit of my world. Listen to the words they do have. Listen to the words they don’t say.
We’re all broken sparrows here. We don’t know the ways Soccer Boy has been knocked out of the sky, and he hasn’t heard the story of my flight yet, or the wounds that my Little Man nurses.
But Someone else knows them all. And He has cared for me, and bound up my wounds, and wept with me and shown me grace and mercy and faithfulness. And most of all, He has never let me go, even when I beat against it with everything I had in me.
And now Soccer Boy is here, and I will wash his feet, and I will bind up his wounds, and I will find his chinks, and I will listen. Not to his angry stares, or his downcast eyes, or his manic energy, or his stinky farts. I will listen through all those smokescreens to his soft, sweet heart.
And soon, I will have to let him go from my arms. But he won’t be out of my heart, and he will never fly far enough away to be out of the arms of the One who holds us both.