I was already thinking about Motherhood with a capital M when I came upon the messy and public Squirrel Family drama. I was walking through Oak Park at a time of day when I usually preside over the much ore predictable drama called The Kids Don’t Like What Mom Cooked for Dinner.
But on this day, I had spent the afternoon downtown in meetings, while Epu listened to the kids not eat their dinner. So here I was, freely walking the avenues as the shadows of trees stretched long. I saw another mom returning home a few blocks down from mine. She parked her Volvo, bolted up the front steps and began issuing homework-related directives before the screen door slammed behind her.
I was thinking about some sort-of-recently published research about the effects of working mothers on child development and how studies like that piss some women off. And about how to be friends with other mothers while resisting the temptation to judge or interfere with their parenting. Your typical mom-on-a-walk musings.
Then, just as I approached my own porch, my kids ran up to inform me about the Squirrel Family drama unfolding in real time, below the neighbors’ maple tree.
“Baby squirrels fell out of the tree!” the 3-year-old told me breathlessly as she jumped into my arms.
For some reason three baby squirrels had fallen from the nest onto the sidewalk. One was dead, one had been carried back up the tree in Mama Squirrel’s mouth, and one was lying in the corner of a shoebox on its side, clearly breathing.
I had never seen an infant squirrel. Its tail had no plume, and like a human baby its head made up at least a third of its body.
Then I noticed the Mama Squirrel frozen, halfway down the tree. My presence was obviously inhibiting her effort to collect her remaining child, so I backed off and went inside.
That night, we heard strange squeaks outside our front window that indicated probable continued disruption in the Squirrel Family.
But the next morning, as I collected my Tribune from the front steps, I was lucky enough to see Mama Squirrel bounding up the tree with her long, lanky baby dangling from her mouth. The shoebox was nowhere in sight. I shook my head at the lucky timing, then again at the thought that the poor baby had been lying on the ground all night
What took Mama S. so long? Maybe the box had been impeding her rescue, and now some person had removed it? Or maybe Mama Squirrel had dropped him a few times trying to get him back up?
As I enjoyed my morning coffee amid the chaos of my own family’s getting ready for the day, I tried to shape the little drama to my own purposes. This experience, I thought, is telling me that all mothers love their children more than outsiders could ever see. And that we are all doing our best, even when our best doesn’t look all that hot to outsiders. I thought about a family I read about recently who gave up and placed their violent, depressed adopted daughter with another family.
As the storylines formed in my mind, I congratulated my inner writer for teasing out threads of meaning from the chaos nature throws our way. I considered our own chaotic beginning of a new school year, a new work situation and many other new beginnings this month, and thought that all this madness might be settling into satisfying story lines as well.
Then, this afternoon, the 3-year-old and I walked past the tree again, on our way to her gymnastics class. Two baby squirrels lay on the sidewalk, crawling with flies.
I hauled Pebbles onto the grass and around them, but it was too late. She has been full of questions and speculation about death ever since we read “Charlotte’s Web,” and I wasn’t sure if this incident would spark a whole new round of wails that she “doesn’t want to die!!!” or what.
Pebbles took it well. Too well, really.
“I’m glad they’re dead,” she said. “Because I hate squirrels.”
I walked along, thinking grimly of the tongs I use to empty successful mousetraps in our house, and now having to use it to transport these babies on one last journey – to the trash can. I wondered what happened this time – was the nest just too damaged to hold them anymore? I’m not too crazy about squirrels either — they thwart nearly every attempt I make at gardening — but still, this was sad.
And what of my tidy narrative? I guess the lesson here was meant for my inner writer all along, not as fodder but as a direct message: Life’s chaos is a thread that keeps on unwinding, whether we are ready to weave or not. It doesn’t play out in stories. Things just happen, including bad things.
Or rather, there was no lesson. Only another mother in circumstances less lucky than mine, doing the best that she can.
Photo by audreyjm529, used via Creative Commons license.
Category: Mom Challenges