I was that little girl who wanted to take care of all of the animals in the neighborhood. Except for the cats. I could take or leave them, unless they were my cat (who was cleverly named “Kitty”). But I was a regular little St. Francis when it came to animals. I once made such a fuss over a dead baby mouse buried in the backyard that the foreman who was overseeing a crew installing powerlines underground through our yard specifically pulled me aside and showed me exactly where he would be digging, and promised to stay far away from the tiny little cross I had made to mark its final resting place.
My cat brought a number of animals home, proudly pawing at the sliding door on our deck, he would tote any number of critters who would be mostly in their last hours. For years an airbrushed painting of me, done by my absurdly talented uncle, hung on a wall in my parents’ house. It was a portrait of me as a 6 year old, holding a baby bird I found one day taken from a photo of a real moment in my childhood.
I remember the day clearly. I was looking for my cat while trying to occupy myself with outdoorsy things to do, and stumbled upon a baby bird that had fallen out of its nest. The mother was nowhere in sight, and I immediately felt as though I had the next-of-kin responsibility for the well being of this baby thing that I put my finger down by its feet, and it hopped right on. Only later in life did I realize that wild birds don’t do that. But Disney made me believe that it was normal, so I didn’t think anything of it.
I walked straight into my house with said bird perched safely on my finger, and found my dad to show him. I couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t more excited to have the bird in the house, but after he swiftly directed me outdoors, he took my picture. (I was wearing a California Raisins sweatshirt and a side ponytail like a good little 80’s child). Years later, my uncle made a large airbrushed copy of the picture, and it was perfect. It basically summarized who I was as a child.
What happened to the bird? I was persuaded to bring the baby back to where I found it, and lo and behold, the mom took it back and wasn’t bothered by the “human scent” grownups tell you will cause the parent to abandon the baby. Maybe that’s true. It probably is. But then you become a parent and realize that there are lots of handy parenty things you can say to your children that let you off the hook. Not that they are untrue or even manipulative. As a kid, however, you’re thinking, “Wow, Mom! That’s so WISE! You know so much about animal behavior! Someday I want to be as versed in zoology as you are!”
Mom is thinking, “Oh, please, don’t talk me into taking that nasty little creature into our house with those beautiful green eyes of yours! It’s going to die anyway, and I don’t want today to be the day I have to see those green eyes fill with tears as we have our first talk about finality and DEATH!”
There were lots of those types of animal rescue moments when I was a kid. Once my cat brought an entire burrow of bunnies home, one by one, for almost a week. At the end of it, we had nursed 6 bunnies back to health. Only one died, but she was in really rough shape. All thanks to the “Kitty”. Tonight, however, I had flashbacks. After the dog had been out for longer than usual, a barely alive 3 day old bunny lay completely still on our back stoop. I had forgotten that we found baby bunnies in their warm little home a few days ago, and that I have a dog bread for small game. Fail.
All of this happened during a meeting we were having, so as the meeting concluded I had to go and survey the damage. A friend of ours had her two kids with her, and her daughter Elizabeth examined the casualty on my stoop as I was searching for the flashlight to see how many of the babies our dog had killed. “It’s STILL BREATHING!” came the triumphant cry. Then she said the very same words I remember saying to my mom, “Can I take it home?! Can I take it home?! PLEASE! It might get better!!!!” Thankfully, Sarah, her mother, was honest and said that though it would die, she had no objections to her taking it home to “die in a warm place.”
As they left with their newly adopted bunny, I carefully investigated the area around the burrow. Two bunnies were dead, but one was completely perfect. Not a scratch. Just stranded in the yard. My courageous (albeit nauseated) husband, disposed of the dead, and I put the little live bunny back in its burrow. It was like being a kid again, but not. I didn’t want my daughter to stumble upon the carnage as she happily frolicked about the yard (yes, she definitely frolicks- that’s not an exaggeration). But the little Carrie inside me felt every bit as much compassion for the perfectly alive bunny as I had when I was a little girl.
And when you’re the grownup, you get to see all sides. I only saw one side when I was a kid. It was the side that felt like a fairy tail. Tonight, I watched little Elizabeth plead with her mother to take the injured bunny home, and I saw both sides. I could fully relate to Elizabeth’s yearning to nurse the little creature back to health, and I could fully empathize with Sarah having to break the sad news of the bunny’s demise while not stifling her daughter’s heart, which was welling up with devotion towards the poor critter in her hands. Of course, then I saw the side of cleaning up the mess, which was something I never had to do as a kid. (Ahem… thanks, Dad).
So tonight I’m going to bed, praying that a mommy bunny will come back to take care of the last healthy baby in the burrow, that the bunny Elizabeth is tending gets better, and that they move to a safer yard! Are there more important prayer requests out there? Yes. But just because I’m a grownup now doesn’t mean that Little Carrie no longer exists, and it’s moments like these that I have to admit I like the way the Lord made me care about helpless creatures. So here’s to being a grownup with a little kid’s heart.