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Angelique Tung

        My boys, eight and 10, notice a bird’s nest perched on a cornice outside our garage. I warn them not to get too close. From several feet away, three tiny beaks pop up from the rim of the nest, waiting for their mother to return with food. Their piercing chirps welcome the first signs of spring after a harsh winter—snow melts on our lawn, and purple croci burst through the brown grass. Tiny buds on our maple tree signal a new season—all a welcome respite from the darkness.

        My optimism is subdued when I find a hatchling the next morning, its ethereal feathers and translucent body lying on the driveway next to the blue recycling bins. Two remaining chicks bob up from the nest, their bodies squirming like hairless newborns. Does she notice one is missing? Did she try to rescue it? I am too afraid to pick up the bird for fear that the mother has rejected it. I’d read somewhere that if an animal is abandoned by its mother, there is a good reason. Maybe something is wrong with the bird. Maybe it was broken. 

        How could I care for this creature when I so often questioned my mothering skills? Do I allow my children to watch too much television? Am I teaching them the skills they need most in life? My parenting style reflects the opposite of how I was raised. My children know I will never abandon them. 

        Thinking I should leave well enough alone, the bird remains in the driveway. 

        After the kids are in bed, I search the internet for indigenous Massachusetts bird species. I narrow the bird family down to starlings or sparrows but wish they were White-breasted Nuthatch—a name my boys would find funny. I learned that not all birds are maternal. Some abandon their babies in search of food, while others simply leave the weak ones to die. The fate of this barely breathing living thing in my driveway is in my hands. I don’t know what to do. Mother Nature is brutal.

        The small hatchling is still on the ground the next morning as we head to school. I open my car door and glance up at the nest. The mother bird is gone but two small heads crane above the twig structure, their beaks open wide waiting for her to return with worms and grubs. I’m hopeful that the mother will attempt to carry her injured baby back to the nest or, at the very least, offer food. 

        The bird is still on the driveway in the afternoon, struggling, its chest expanding more slowly than the day before. How much longer can it survive without food or water? Before I leave to pick the boys up from school, I pour water around the bird hoping to cool it off as the afternoon temperature rises. As the sun warms my back, I realize I’m irrationally angry at the mother for abandoning her baby.

        When we arrive home, the boys jump out of the car and squat down to get a close-up of the bird, curious to see the delicate bones, internal organs, and fully formed beak. After I shoo them away, I catch sight of the mother bird in her nest and implore her with my eyes to care for her baby. For a moment, I wonder if something is wrong with her. I’m convinced that the longer her baby remains in my driveway, the less likely she’ll come to get it or that it will survive. And if it does live, what then? Will it learn the skills it needs to survive? Will it learn how to search for food or build a nest? My heart aches for the bird who must survive on its own.



        The bird’s nest reminds me of my nesting habits when I was pregnant with my first child. At 20 weeks, I threw out old clothes, cleaned the junk drawers, and donated unused kitchen appliances. At 28 weeks, I organized diapers, onesies, and receiving blankets into matching bins. At 30 weeks, I had a sudden urge to redecorate our third bedroom. One weekend, dressed in my favorite Gap overalls—the sides of which I had to leave unbuttoned to accommodate my expansive midsection—I pulled out the previous owner’s built-in shelving to make room for a queen-size bed. I painted the dingy green walls a soothing Benjamin Moore cream color – White Dove. I purchased a comforter, new pillows, and a duvet cover. Within a few weeks of my due date, I had created a tranquil guest room, hoping Mom would visit for a few weeks to help me after the baby came. My son was born at 5:30 a.m. on May 9th. The guest room went unused. 


When we get home from school, the boys run into the house. I tag behind carrying backpacks, completed homework, and emptied lunch bags. They sit at the counter as I prepare a snack of carrots and homemade hummus. Milk is poured, napkins are crumpled, and schedules are discussed. As I clean up, I realize that I haven’t taken anything out of the freezer for dinner. After my husband gets home from work, I run out to the grocery store to pick up some chicken and vegetables to grill. By the time I return home, the sun is low in the west. The automatic driveway light illuminates as I pull up. Tomorrow is trash pickup day, so I drag the blue bins out to the street. 

        The next morning, we’re late for school. The boys run ahead of me as I slip on a pair of sneakers. Just as I’m about to close the back door, I hear their screams. When I step outside, they’re standing next to the front of my car, their small hands covering their mouths. I must have forgotten about the bird when I parked my car the night before. When I get closer, I see that it’s lodged between my tire and the concrete. I remain calm and tell them to get into the car but, inside, my heart sinks and I worry about the damage this may do to their little hearts.

        We drive to school in silence.


        When I was 11, my dad moved out. My mother became my world. She never left me home alone, never went to Safeway, or walked to town to pay a bill without me. The cashier at the grocery store asked if we were sisters. We looked at each other and giggled.

        At home, we bonded over clothing and makeup. After breakfast of toast and butter, we’d head off to our separate rooms to get dressed for school and work. Minutes later, as we stood in the living room, we laughed at our matching outfits: blue pants and a white top. The next day, black pants and a gray sweater. We never planned this. We possessed special powers that connected us in a way only meant for each other.

        On Friday nights, we’d walk to La Comida holding hands and talking about sixth grade or her job at the health club. We’d share an enchilada or a chicken burrito and eat at least two baskets of tortilla chips with salsa. In the dark restaurant, I’d watch Mom as she closed her eyes and chewed slowly, enjoying each mouthful as if she’d just acquired taste buds. For dessert, we’d order a crispy tortilla shell dipped in butter and topped with cinnamon sugar. If we were flush, she’d let me order a second one. She didn’t mind when butter dripped down my chin onto my T-shirt.

        I thought we would always be like this. 

        Then summer came. Mom worked long hours. On Friday nights, instead of walking to La Comida, she’d go out dancing after work with her friends. On Saturday mornings, she slept in instead of going on our usual walks and errands. When she woke up, her blue eyeshadow had faded and flakes of mascara collected under her eyes. 

        One Saturday, I asked Mom if we could go to the movie theater to see Where the Red Fern Grows. She told me she couldn’t. She was going on a date. That night, I sat quietly on the toilet lid, watching her apply blue eyeshadow in delicate strokes across her lids. Next, she painted her lips a frosty pink. She stuck her index finger in her mouth to prevent the excess from smudging her recently capped teeth and wiped it on a small square of toilet paper. She left the bathroom to change out of her bathrobe. Soon, she sauntered into the living room wearing a sheer dress I had never seen before. Her cleavage was exposed in a way that made me uncomfortable. It was the first time I saw this version of my mother. But it wasn’t the last. 

        By the time sixth grade started that September, I was eating dinner in front of the television, alone.



        Once I get home after school drop-off, I park on the street and walk the length of my driveway. The sun peeks above the elm trees. The remaining baby birds squawk loudly in their nest. I bend down to see the damage. The bird’s wispy feathers are matted down and its flattened heart is contained in a lifeless body. I am sad for the bird. I am sad for the mother. I worry about what my children think. Do they think me careless? Unloving? When my children were born, I breastfed them. When they were ready for solid food, I bought organic sweet potatoes, English peas, and baby carrots to make their baby food myself. I worried that I hadn’t started reading to them early enough or that we didn’t listen to enough classical music. I made sure they were on a regimented schedule with tummy time, naps, and daily walks through the wooded trail next to our house. I hid my feelings of inadequacy by leaning into motherhood. Did all mothers obsess about how they’re raising their children?


        A month after my first son was born, my mom came to visit. My heart melted as she took my baby into her arms. Maybe she’ll be an amazing grandmother, I thought. I was certain she’d stay for a couple of weeks and help me cook meals, get up with the baby in the middle of the night to allow my body to rest. I imagined her sharing helpful tips to get my son to stop crying, and pointing out signs that he was tired or colicky.  She’d take my son for walks in the mornings and accompany me to doctor appointments. 

        But, as she sat on the edge of our white sofa holding my baby at arm’s length, I knew that she wouldn’t. When I asked her to stay, she told me she had to get back to work, the garden, and her life.

        She spent exactly one night in the guest room I’d redecorated just for her. When she left the next morning, I didn’t watch as she backed down the driveway and drove out of sight.


        In my kitchen, I slide on a pair of pink dishwashing gloves and grab a section of the New York Times. The bird is small enough to fit into an empty soup can. I whisper a little prayer as I gently fold the newspaper around the bird. I place it in the garbage bin next to where the bird’s body was and hope the boys don’t notice the empty outline on the concrete.

        Within a few weeks, the birds leave the nest and fly away to live their bird lives. I wonder if the mother bird had waited to flee until after I removed her fledgling from my driveway. I feel ridiculous thinking about a bird having maternal feelings. But then I remember that birds often return to the same spot to build their nests. Maybe she’ll come back. Maybe. 



Before I had children of my own, I learned that my mother had once abandoned a family I didn’t know about. She waited until her eight-, 10-, and 12-year-old children left for school, then packed a bag and listened to the lock close behind her one final time. She got in the car of a man she’d just met and drove with him to Northern California. Within six months, she was pregnant. Nine months later, I was born. 

        When I found out about this, I felt like I never really knew my mother. What kind of person leaves her children? How could she be the same woman who took me to the library twice a week, who made rose petal cupcakes, who wiped butter from my chin? 

        Over the years, these questions nagged me. But it wasn’t until I had children of my own that I got up the courage to ask her what made her leave. It was Christmas Eve and we’d all had a few glasses of wine. She glared at me as if I ran over her dog, insulted her haircut, and said her mother wore combat boots. 

        “No point in living in the past.” 

        That’s all she said.

        And I never asked again.


Days before the kids start their summer vacation, the empty bird’s nest falls onto the driveway, blown over, I’m certain, by a strong wind. I pick it up. The intertwined twigs feel fragile yet resilient, like the life they once held. I bring it inside and set it on the bookshelf. It looks like a piece of art. 

        I don’t remember when I learned the truth; Mother birds don’t reject their babies if humans touch them. I could have placed the baby bird back in the nest and the mother bird would have continued to feed it, to care for it. 


        The following spring, after the snow had melted, new buds appeared on the maple tree. The piles of fragmented leaves from last winter add nutrients to the growing grass. The croci, their purple buds like open mouths waiting to be fed, pop up near the pudding rock in our front yard. My boys and I stand on the brick walkway and observe a bird collecting twigs and leaves. She’s building a nest in the same spot in the eaves of the garage. Perhaps it’s the same one. 

        I watch their curious eyes follow her as she swoops onto the driveway and secures a small stick between her beak. Their bodies are still as she gathers twigs and leaves in preparation for her hatchlings. She uses her saliva to construct their home where she will remain until the baby birds are strong enough to be on their own. My older son shields his eyes from the sun with his hand. The bird flies away out of sight. They don’t mention the dead bird that I ran over last year with my car. I don’t remind them. Sometimes I dream of the tiny creature’s translucent body, its matted white feathers, and its beating heart.  

        In the early daylight, the garage casts a silhouette on our driveway. As I step out of the shadow, the sun washes over me. A butterfly spreads its wings on the verdant grass. The bird flies to her nest in the eaves. A small gray squirrel stands on its hind legs and wriggles its nose. My boys chase after it, their squeals of laughter filling the air.

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