My daughter and I had the pleasure of being introduced by a friend to a small wetland on the outskirts of our city last night. It was a lovely, unexpected treasure. Out of the desert springs a prickly blanket of green, and the smell of beach and grass soothed our homesick hearts. Our friend prepared hot chocolate over a tiny camp stove, and H slogged through the muddy reeds near the water, getting inevitably filthy. The wetland is an harbor for a variety of protected birds, and they were present in abundance. A white crane, so thin she looked like the narrow edge of a mirage, and funny rayadores, walking elegantly across the sand with their enormous beaks. On sand, they conjure dignified old comedians, their enormous orange beaks like stretched out dunce caps slung on sideways. It’s easy to imagine they are hiding a smaller, subtler one beneath. On water, they look like enormous hummingbirds. Dipping elegantly low, their beaks slice through the water like butter knives. In the air, a cloud of miniature seagulls swoop and swirl like world class dancers, until they split a moment into 2 groups, spinning toward each other with the faux bravado of Leonard Bernstein’s Sharks and Jets. When they flip their wings north, their underbellies shimmer like silver.
My daughter chases enormous birds against the falling sun, nothing more than a shadow, and I know that one day, when she has children of her own, this negative will still be burned into my memory. In spite of sugared treats, I have to insist that she come, that she settle. It only lasts until our friend’s tiny dog discovers her magnifying glass, and they become a circus duo, one standing and leaping, the other laughing and waving.
As the sun disappeared and we packed up to go, a tiny kitten discovered H, and mewled and purred for passage. It was a ginger colored kitty, with a round enough tummy that we can assume the wetland also hosts rodents. As I always do, I demanded that H leave the animal, not touch it or pick it up, as she always does. But animal affection of any kind is a siren call she will not ignore. I pushed her into the car, separating her from the cat she already loved, and she began to sob. And then scream. “Please mommy, PLEASE mommy, don’t leave it.” I tried soothing her, rubbing a hand on her shoulder, repeating like a mantra “breathe baby, breath.”
But she could not. She worked herself into a snotty, tear stained hysteria. “Mommy, but mommy, mommy PuhlEEEEZ mommy. She’s going to die without me. She needs me. Go back, please, go BACK.”
And I had my doubts. Because I was a little girl once. Because I cried myself sick about a dead puppy a year ago. But we already brought one kitten home. And that one looks healthy. I tried to tell her-it’s okay honey. It won’t die without you. Look how big she is already. She didn’t die-she is well fed. She is in kitty heaven, pouncing on all the mice she wants, sleeping under the stars on a warm beach.
She would not be consoled. “But she’s too little to be alone mommy. Look how she purred and kneaded on me. She needs me to love her. Someone threw her away. Mommy, mommy please. You can take my skateboard and my bike and my helmet. Anything, anything you want. Just go back. Let me have her. Don’t leave her there alone.”
But we live in a city with animals thrown away on every corner. If we brought home every dog that look at us with sad eyes, and every cat that purred when she pet it, we would be running a humane society.
She thinks I don’t understand. “Mommy, I was MADE for animals,” she declares sincerely, wiping her face on our friend’s dog, hugging him with all her heartbreak. “Some day, I will bring them all home. People throw them away mommy. I will take care of them. You can’t stop me.” And I don’t doubt it. She was made for animals. I was not. I was made for her. And I worry about her heart.
“Baby, your little heart is going to break if you cry over every animal we ever see on the streets.”
“It does mommy,” she affirms. “Every time I see one. Like when I saw kitty, and she was sick and little. My heart broke. It broke,” she tells me. It was the only time I said yes. And saved just one stitch on her heart.
I read an article today about a city in China that is applying to provide a baby box for parents with babies they don’t want, or can’t keep, because of China’s draconian 1 child policy. The move originates from the epidemic of babies being abandoned. Treated as no more valuable than the kitten breaking H’s heart. And I am reminded of other conversations we have had.
In a unit about culture we reviewed a few months ago, H and I talked about abortion as an example of a belief system that varies by culture. Abortion is still illegal in Chile. This segued into a conversation about gendercide, human rights, and a worldwide preference for boys. I explained to her about the 1 child rule in China, and how sometimes, couples will give up their girls so they can have a boy. H decided that when she grows up, she will “go to China, and adopt 100 baby girls, and bring them back with her.” She has informed me I can help. When I try to be practical, or point out logistical problems, she will have none of it. She has remembered this conversation, because more recently, when we discussed the “someday” when she has children, she informed me, “but I’m not having babies of my own mom. I’m going to China for them, remember?”
And more comically, we were watching the news one day when some little boys were featured. H made a face and said “ug. I’m NEVER having boys.”
“Well, you might,” I corrected her. “And you will treasure and adore them, I’m sure.”
“No, I won’t,” she corrected me. “I’ll give them to China, for the people who want boys. And they can give me their girls.”
All this to say, perhaps we should all have our hearts broken a whole lot more by the world around us. We should be more like a child, who lets the world break her heart, and doesn’t grow a second skin. I worry about H, that the world will be too much for her. But I also trust what she knows. God made her that way. He made her to be a blessing, and to be a blessing, you have to let your heart bleed.
In my family, that was always a derogatory term. “That (insert neg. word here) bleeding heart wants to (insert social justice here).” But if H grows up to be one of “those” people, God bless her. And her 100 babies, and her cats and dogs. Jesus was a bleeding heart. I cringe when my little Lionheart picks up dirty, matted animals. All I can think is “ew.” But, to be honest, pretty sure we would have thought the same if we had been there when Jesus healed the lepper, the woman with an eternal period, and the dead guy.
I have thought a lot lately about the kind of special H is. She doesn’t always (or even usually) get the social cues of her peers, or read adults when they’re irritated with her. But she gets animals, and other special kids. One of her favorite people is a boy in her tennis class with downs syndrome. She gets him. He is easy. You give affection, you get affection. No ingredients added. God made him special too, and I don’t mean that ironically. People like my Lionheart need other people they can love without complication. Sometimes H withdraws from kids her age. As she gets older, they get more complicated. But not Victor. Not cats, and not dogs. She is at risk of more pain. But pain can be a force for good. This was another lesson, on a different day. Pain tells us to get our hand off the fire, and pain tells us to fix the world.
I hope that when my little Lionheart is grown, she will be as fierce and committed to justice for cats and babies as she is now. Because one thing is for sure, God made her this way, and we like it that way.