Monday, January 23, 2012

When Compassion Goes Terribly Wrong, or How to Avoid Taking Goldfinches on Family Road Trips

I want to tell you about the Mother's Day weekend that my family traveled to the Durango Shootout Soccer Tournament.

News Flash:  Motherhood has reached such a debased level in our society that, in appreciation of their gift of life and subsequent unceasing nurture, mothers are in turn rewarded by spending Mother's Day Weekend sitting in uncomfortable camp chairs cheering for their sons at the sidelines of huge windy fields, holding bottles of Gatorade. There is no justice.

Devin loving soccer, 2006

My middle child, Devin has been playing soccer since kindergarten. It is his greatest passion. Playing competitive soccer where we live is an enormous commitment. It involves two to four road trips to  tournaments a year, with expenses. More onerous still is the commitment, for ten weeks each in spring and in fall to be in Bernalillo, an hour and half away from us, every Saturday morning for a game.

Saying no to a child who expresses such dedication to any endeavor seems somehow wrong to us, so here we found ourselves, taking an expensive road trip to Durango, just like we're some sort of upper middle class family that we are not, because we love this child.

At the time of this event, my son Devin was in fifth grade. It was three in the afternoon and Mike, my mom and I were waiting, minivan loaded, for Rowan and Devin to come back from school so that we could hop in the van and undertake the four hour drive to Durango.

Thirteen year-old Rowan arrived first, hanging up his backpack with the sound of his usual artillery of terse adolescent questions and total confusion as to what we were doing.

Ten more minutes passed. Then twenty. And still no Devin.

I began starting to really worry about where my soccer star was, when finally he arrived, thirty-five minutes after school had let out, on our front door step, holding a baby goldfinch.

Devin: "Can I keep him?"

Me: "What? We are going to Durango! We are going there right now for your soccer tournament! We cannot take a baby goldfinch with us!"

Devin now began weeping piteously and with utter sincerity.

Devin: "But he hopped up onto my pant leg! And all of my friends decided that I should the one to take care of him. Can I please just take care of him? Please??"

Me: "Devin, I need you to listen to reason here. We will be traveling in the car four hours and then staying in a hotel.  What are we going to do with a baby goldfinch? How would you take care of it?"

Tears now began rolling in spates down his reddened cheeks as he protectively clutched this tiny bird in his hands.

Devin: "Mom, my whole class is counting on me! They chose me to take care of this bird! Please let me take care of it!"

All reason aside, each deeply accented "please" was something of a pull on my own heart. He paused to catch his breath.

 "It's just that I've never had an animal to take care of all on my own."

At this point, I was struck speechless and had to walk away for a few moments.

You will not understand my reaction unless I explain that we had, at this time, five pet ducks, who were Devin's primary responsibility and which we got because he likes ducks. We also had three cats and a dog. It was, to put it mildly, very difficult to imagine a shortage of animals requiring his care.

These heated negotiations continued, well past the point when we should have already left, until finally he realized that he would not be able to keep this bird as a pet, and I finally realized that we were going to have to take this bird to a Wildlife Shelter on the way to Durango.

With an air of resignation on the part of everyone, we then loaded the three kids, my mother, and the tiny goldfinch into the car and drove to the Espanola Wildlife Center, an organization to which we have historically already been a major contributor–not of funds, but of fledgling birds, ineptly separated from their mothers.

After tearfully dropping the goldfinch off, and driving on toward Durango, I confided in my husband that perhaps I had no right to be so irritated with this particular incident, given the fact that as a full-grown adult of twenty-nine, I adopted a baby mouse and took it on a 1,000 mile road trip with two children under the age of seven, feeding it out of a dropper.

"Probably not," Mike said.

I suppose that when we strive to raise compassionate children, we don't have any right to be upset that they bring home baby birds, half-strangled rats or drug-addicted felons. This is what we raised them to do. Because we taught them that they should lend a helping hand, speak up for the downtrodden and restore justice through the provision of Friskies to all of the neighborhood feral cats.

Quite apart from winning soccer tournaments, they are making the world a better place.

Devin at the Durango Tournament, May 2011

P.S. I'll tell you later about the Tournament. That deserves it's own blog post.


  1. Note to self: Give thanks daily that the girls rescued horses, polywogs, birds and mice, but never a drug-addicted felon. Amen.

  2. Awwww that's so sweet! And frustrating for you. But sweet of him to care.


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Faith in Ambiguity by Tara Adams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License