Childhood is a wild bird

The first time I took my kids out to hand feed wild birds, it didn’t go well.

I had hit upon the activity out of desperation at the beginning of spring vacation. The kids were so bored, but I had COVID and was much too tired and contagious for outings. We had long since exhausted the charms of reading books via FaceTime, with and without silly filters, and even the kids were tired of TV.

But maybe we could feed the birds together! We could sit in chairs, safely distanced, enjoying nature, being quiet, doing something wholesome and memorable, and did I mention being quiet?

It didn’t go so well. But that was okay. It was pleasant enough just being outside, and I’m a firm believer in the value of unstructured, unplugged time for kids. We thought we might get a nibble or two, but you really do have to be quiet to attract birds, and my youngest is made out of monkeys. The first few times she squirmed or chattered, I fondly and gently shushed her; but I recalled that our goal was to have a nice time together, so before long, I released her, and we dispersed without having fed or even seen a single bird.

We agreed it was fun, though, or at least potentially fun. Apparently you really can train birds to get to know you. I talked about our attempt on social media, and people shared photos and videos of their kids’ success in making friends with these wild creatures.

The idea began to take hold. I started to see hand feeding wild birds as the ideal summer activity. By the end of vacation, I thought, this is how we would greet every morning: We would step into the backyard with a handful of seed, and our feathered friends, who knew our gentle ways, would flock to us like a gang of modern day St. Francises.

A eager twittering grew in my heart. It was everything I wanted for my kids: A break from screen time, a memorable bonding experience, and a naturally contemplative pastime that would sweetly, easily open the gates for all kinds of other goods of the spirit.

The idea took flight. This could be about so much more than birds, I thought…

Read the rest of my essay for Catholic San Francisco here

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3 thoughts on “Childhood is a wild bird”

  1. ❤️
    That was so good for me (whose current traits include high expectations & a tendency to overmanage) to hear!

    Yes! Just be open, wait on the Lord, and trust that He does have a wonderful plan for my life. Yes.

    This was a beautiful piece.

  2. It’s much easier to feed wild birds that someone else has already taught to eat from human hands. If you still want to try this I would suggest that you set up a bird feeder first, a regular bird feeder not old clothes. Set it up as close to where you will be comfortable sitting as you can. Once the birds get used to eating from the bird feeder go sit outside (very still and quiet) not too close at first. Don’t get closer until the day you see that they are ignoring you at that distance. Then next time set up a little closer. Always go out to sit with them right after you have filled the feeders.

  3. What a great essay! I’m a great-grandmother now but I remember trying to orchestrate meaningful time with my children when in reality, spur of the moment experiences were what really mattered. Thanks for the smiles!

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