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Lessons Learned

Some of life's best lessons are learned from the mistakes we are told we made.

Sometimes, what our children do, horrifies us.

My eight year old and her neighbor friend have a new fascination with robin eggs. Last weekend, they found a lone egg in the neighbor’s yard. It was in the bushes, sans nest, just sitting there. It was a perfect specimen: small and oval, light turquoise colored.

The girls spent a good chunk of time that day creating a new nest for the lost egg.  They gathered sticks, grass, leaves, dog hair, scarves, and even two hot pads for warmth. They set up a detailed time schedule for checking on the egg with a column to note observations, changes to the status quo, etc.

The next morning, my little naturalist got up, dressed, grabbed her note-book, and dashed quickly out the door. She was eager to check on the egg. When she arrived at the makeshift nest, however, the little egg was missing. Where could it have gone, she wondered in bewilderment? Did the mama bird rescue her lost egg? Or was it eaten by a ... fill in the blank here ... squirrel? mouse? raccoon? coyote?

She waited for hours for her buddy to return from an afternoon trip, so she could tell her that the egg, their egg, was missing.

Not so, she was informed.

“I took it with me to Rhode Island,” her partner told her. “But somehow,” she went on, “it cracked. No baby bird inside, just egg yolk stuff.”

My daughter peered into the egg with wonder and sadness.

While that part of the tale had a sad ending (for the children, the egg, and, one supposes, the mama bird), the endeavor itself was well intentioned and sprinkled with lessons learned about science and nature from the famous first grade chrysalis butterfly unit.

But there were some lessons they had not learned yet.

The girls did not wait around for another robin’s egg to materialize miraculously before them. On this afternoon, they learned of a nest with eggs in a yard down the street. They made a beeline for it. But once there, they encountered the mama bird sitting on her eggs. Hmm. An obstacle to the advancement of science.

To overcome this hindrance, they found a stick and began to poke at the nest to scare the mama away. The effort succeeded: the mama bird fled the nest and the girls made off with two eggs. Their plan: to create a nest-like habitat and nurture the contraband eggs, and watch them become little hatchings. And then of course sell the baby birds on the black market to an infertile robin and buy candy with the profits.

Right about now, the adults caught on to what was happening.  The girls were told to immediately and carefully return the eggs to the nest, to apologize profusely to the mama bird, and to never disturb nature in this way again. Ever. A quick google search dispelled the myth that the mama bird would reject the eggs if touched by humans. (Birds in fact, have a lousy sense of smell but a strong maternal instinct and would, if given the chance, resume care for the returned eggs.)

The girls did as they were told. And in the end, what they seemed to feel most acutely was regret and empathy. Both of their “mama birds” suggested to them that life was often about learning from mistakes, as they had this day.

Meanwhile, we mama birds happily took back our baby birds, despite the wear and tear.

Lorri Brito June 01, 2011 at 11:56 PM
Great article! I love her regular contributions, keep 'em coming!!!
Kristen June 02, 2011 at 12:37 AM
Love the article, I think we all did something similar. Only my mother never caught on;)
Christina Nicolson June 02, 2011 at 03:10 PM
Mrs. Nic and her hundreds of students of informal science (Mrs. Nic's Sci-Mobile) thank you for this richly detailed story about the "truth" lessons that are still being learned by all of us, while caring for our environment with some anxieties. May I have a child read your story on our upcoming show on cable? It's called, Sci-TV: "Becoming Citizen Scientists." (by kids and for anyone who is open to biomimetics) ! --- Christina Nicolson of Belmont
Robin Cushman Phillips June 02, 2011 at 04:38 PM
Oh I just love reading your articles!
Lisa Gibalerio June 02, 2011 at 04:50 PM
Yes -- absolutely! It seems most people (kids and adults) have experienced something similar to this at some point - whether with bird eggs, periwinkles, baby toads, etc. I hope it's helpful and generates conversation. Let me know how it goes. Thanks, Lisa

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