Honesty is a trait that I generally encourage in our home, even if it means suffering uncomfortable consequences because of it. “Tell it like it is” is one of our family mottos. But today I found myself faced with an interesting choice: “Tell the kids the truth and break their hearts,” or “lie to the kids and let them believe that dreams really do come true.” Today, I chose the lie. And truth be told… I’m feeling pretty good about it.
Yesterday afternoon, my girls came bolting up the stairs with pounding hearts and shrieking voices. In a word, they were excited. My oldest daughter had a pigeon cradled in her sweet, little, sweaty arms. The voices came thundering in: “Can we keep it?” “I think her wing is broken, she can’t fly.” “I think she’s pregnant, she’s going to give birth soon… Mommy, we need a towel.”
The pigeon looked healthy enough, although suspiciously docile. And indeed, she could not fly. They quickly collected twigs, branches, flowers, and grass and made a little nest in our garden for the pigeon to rest, and to “give birth” if need be. When our cat surfaced an hour or two later, they rendered the garden the “un-safe zone,” and begged to bring her inside the house.
They carefully rigged up a box, lined with all things natural, and moved the feathered patient to a large window ledge outside of our living room. (You better believe they washed their hands).
That night the girls pleaded to sleep on the couch-bed in the living room in order to stand vigil lest an eagle swoop down from the sky and try to eat the poor pigeon. They would protect her. Their devotion and concern never wavered and they spent the entire afternoon and evening fussing over her. All three of them said a “mishaberach” (a prayer for the sick) for her. So, I felt I had no choice but to allow the stakeout.
Plus, I saw something that they didn’t see. The pigeon was dying.
I could imagine the defeat in their big eyes as they woke up to a heap of lifeless feathers in a Kenwood mixer box. They had invested their souls in this poor bird. They truly believed that their care, both physical and spiritual, would protect this little creation.
So, as I tucked them in the couch-bed that night, I paved the way for the tall tale. I asked them to imagine what a blessing it would be if in the morning they awoke and the bird had flown away… maybe all that bird needs are some heartfelt prayers and a good night sleep next to the sweetest little girls in the world and she would be free and flying by morning.
I waited until they were all sound asleep, collected the now deceased pigeon, and disposed of her.
Sure enough, at the crack of dawn I got tugged out of sleep with a heavy whisper at my cheek, “Mommy, Mommy, she flew away!”
After all the energy and devotion they put out, I couldn’t tell them what really happened. I couldn’t tell them that despite their best efforts and their deepest prayers that they had failed to protect her. I couldn’t tell them the truth. So I let them believe that she had flown away. I lied.
I chose to protect my children from heartache and disappointment. That is not the choice I always make, but today I knew it was the right thing for them. As a mother, I am doing my best to prepare my children to be good people who believe in their ability to make a positive and lasting effect on this world.
As their mother, I understand that my children live in the “real” world everyday. They get left out, they fall down, they have fickle friends, and sometimes their self-confidence takes a swift blow. I can’t protect them from all of that, nor do I want to. I know that all of those things will build their character and make them wiser and stronger (oh my gosh, I sound just like my mother).
But this pigeon was something else completely. They had invested in it, cared for it, prayed for it’s full recovery, and although they have been exposed to the reality that time does not necessarily heal all things – I felt that it would crush their spirits if they knew that the pigeon had died.
They get their fair share of reality checks by just being alive. I want their eyes to remain open to the possibility of wonder, the possibility of Divine intervention. I want to encourage them to believe that our prayers and our faith do alter reality. They need ample exposure to that lesson, too.
It would have been great if the bird really did fly away. That would have been the best scenario. Then I would have had proof that faith always pulls us through in the end. But, as a very human mother, I struggle with my faith from time to time. I forget that G‑d can do anything. I forget that G‑d is constantly creating this world and is not bound by the laws of nature… He creates nature. Every so often I need a faith-inoculation. And I found that booster with immeasurable potency in the purity and sincerity of my children’s prayers.
Maybe I needed to believe that that bird could fly away more than they did.
I’m not challenging G‑d’s will in the life of this pigeon. I saw it coming from the get-go. But I saw it coming because I know about this world, I am well acquainted with loss and heartbreak, and quite frankly, I’m a bit jaded.
Blessedly, my kids are not. They believe with a purity that is dizzying. I have a lot of learning to do from them. I am going to do my best to nurture that innate gift. If I can be wise enough to only trust what they intrinsically know, I may just learn to fly myself.