I saw the brake lights on the car in front of me and I slowed. The car swerved and then came to a complete stop before moving on. That’s when I saw what had stopped the car: A dozen – maybe more – fluffy, newly-hatched quail chicks running across two busy lanes of traffic; so tiny they were all but invisible to the drivers of the cars rushing around them.
An adult bird was frantically sweeping behind the babies, pushing them toward the median where the other parent waited. As soon as the babies found mama, they clustered under her quivering wings while papa stood watch.
The family was trapped. Continuing across the opposite lanes was just as dangerous as going back to where they’d been; back into traffic.
“Silly, stupid birds,” I muttered as traffic began to move again. “Look what you’ve done.”
It was anthropomorphic of me to scold. Quail really are silly, stupid birds. But that didn’t change the fact that because the parents had chosen, inexplicably, to cross one of the busiest streets in the city, at one of the busiest times of the day, they’d put their offspring – the same little hatchlings they were trying so hard to protect now – in harm’s way. And there was no good way out of the situation.
I had no idea if the family had arrived at the middle intact, I couldn’t see any dead or injured chicks, but I wouldn’t put any money on the rest of the journey. I circled the block twice, but each time the birds were still huddled in the grassy median. Finally, I drove away shaking my head.
I’ve been thinking about those birds. More and more I find myself feeling a little more sympathetic toward them. And I’ve decided I don’t have much right to be critical.
From the moment they were born, my intention was to lead my children through the dark places and bring them safely out into the world as adults. But there have been times that even though I was sure I knew the right way, I got lost. I made us all nervous.
I’m not alone. Over the years I’ve listened to friends cry over mistakes made: disastrous marriages, contentious divorces, financial trouble, career changes, cross-country moves that shook everyone up and didn’t pan out. And there were occasionally more serious lapses: Substance abuse, infidelity, gambling or out of control spending. Bad, or just difficult, choices made by good people that left their children frightened and confused.
While they circled and looked for a way out of danger, their children clustered around them, clinging to them, seeking shelter from uncertainty. Even good parents can take a wrong turn.
Fortunately, most human parents – and I count myself as one of the lucky ones – are smarter than the average quail. But that doesn’t mean we don’t get it wrong now and then. We do.
But at least I can say I never took them out to play in traffic.
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