Review Feature

Hercules unchained

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Parents always expect the worst. When their child takes two minutes longer than usual to return from school, they automatically assume something horrible has happened.

When the kid develops a cough, they convince themselves that their offspring has contracted a fatal disease.

And when a youngster runs into the house hollering, "Mom! Dad! Look!," a thousand worst-case scenarios unfold in his parents' minds: "Her arm is hanging by a thread ... She's had her tongue pierced ... A Gila monster has followed her home and she wants to keep it ... She's shaved her head ... She's oh, no! found a sick baby bird and expects me to nurse it back to health!"

If that last morbid fear doesn't unravel your socks, future parents of America, just wait. It will. And when it does, remember these inescapable rules of nature:

Kids never find HEALTHY baby birds a fact which defies all human logic. You'd think the hale and hearty birdies would be most at risk of plummeting from the treetops as they show off to their sickly siblings: "Hey guys! Watch me hop out onto this limb! Look at me! Am I cool or what? Now I'm gonna jump to that limb over there and ... AAAHHHhhh!"

Children figure if Mom and Dad can fix a broken toy with one drop of Super Glue, jump-start a dead car and heal scraped knees with a kiss, they MUST possess some sort of magical fowl-mending powers, too.

You can call your local zookeeper for expert advice on the care and feeding of sick baby birds. You can follow his instructions to the letter. You can hope, you can wish, you can pray ... but if your luck is anything like mine, nothing will help.

When the bird expires, whether it takes 10 minutes or two weeks, everyone in your family will respond as if a favorite blood relative had died.

The fine, featherless critter my 10-year-old daughter found last week did not make me feel like my luck was going to change. The poor thing didn't have enough strength to do anything but blink and that seemed to exhaust him.

"What should we call him?'" she asked as we constructed a shoe box "nest."

"How about Hercules?" I suggested, hoping the name would somehow help him pull through if all else failed.

I then called our local zookeeper, followed his instructions to the letter, and proceeded to wish, hope and pray not just for Hercules, but for my kids, who don't yet understand that small miracles are just as hard to come by as the extra-large variety.

I was amazed to see that, after his first night in our care, Hercules was still blinking away. And when my daughter tried to feed him with an eyedropper, he actually lifted his head and mustered up enough lung power to emit one sweet, high-pitched "EEEP!"

By God, I thought, this bird might make it after all. Perhaps I'd underestimated the current market availability of small miracles.

Hercules' health continued to show signs of improvement throughout the day. At bedtime, all my daughter could talk about was his impending recovery and how, by morning, he'd probably be walking and flapping his wings and maybe even singing.

And I got so caught up in their hope that I forgot about the aforementioned Inescapable Rule of Nature No. 3. The next morning, Hercules wasn't walking, flapping, singing ... or blinking.

Naturally, we spent the rest of the day moping around the house as if a favorite blood relative had died.

But after the initial heartbreak wore off, my daughter said, "You know, Dad, at least Hercules got to chirp. If we hadn't found him and brought him home, he never would have chirped."

Kids, unlike their parents, always expect the best. And they're bright enough to know that miracles don't come in sizes.

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