Today we said goodbye to our ducklings and I cried, hard.
Jasmine tried her best to console me, but it was no use.
When we first brought home the fertilized eggs and incubator, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
It was just a science project.
Besides, I'm not really what you would call an animal lover, at least not anymore, too much poop.
Of course when I was a little girl, I adored all things wild. We had several dogs and cats, chickens and pigs, bunnies and parakeets...but no one stole my heart more than Chocolette...my goat.
My goat was better than your dog any day of the week. And her poops were just tiny little pea size balls, hardly noticeable at all.
Chocolette and I won first place in showmanship at the county fair. They gave me a shiny blue ribbon and I paraded her around in front of a popcorn-eating crowd of applause.
You know, it's not true that goats are stubborn, they're as sweet as cherry pie. And it's a flat out lie that they can eat anything. Later that year, Chocolette chewed up some avocado leaves, that tore up her belly and she died in my arms.
I looked into her mud brown eyes and whispered I loved her, as she moaned and panted through her last breaths.
Same year, my brother John won first place with his prize pig, Dolly and sold her for five-thousand dollars at auction. John respects the animal world more than anyone I know, but he also says that if God didn't want us to eat them, then He wouldn't of made them out of meat.
Although when Mama fried up Dolly with some eggs, John said he wasn't feeling so good and he slipped out the back door, but not before I saw his eyes wellin up. He knows I saw, but we don't talk about it much.
My kids have a fish and a frog. I've pretty much been there, done that when it comes to animals.
So a month ago, when we got these six duck eggs, I figured we'd see the project through and if any of the birds survived, we'd just drop them off straight back to the pet store as was the plan. A simple science project.
So for 28 days we monitored the incubator, keeping it at a steady 99.5 degrees, we rotated the eggs each morning and evening and dipped them in warm water to raise their humidity. And then we said a short, respectful prayer for the tiny life growing within.
First to be born was Ruby. She rattled around for a good half hour before she poked her tiny beak through the surface of the shell with a faint chirp. She was born to a crowd of shouts and cheers and a video camera, as so many of us are.
And then came King Julian, quickly spilling out with all the ooze and smell of musty new life.
Soon to follow was Malika , spirited and eager to try out her floppy new feet.
And then Kadijah was born, at four am with only me to witness. I had gotten up to get a glass of water just as she began to poke through. And in the quiet of early morning, in the corner of my dining room, a new life began. As my own babies slept, I sat and watched in wonder.
The next day we moved the four ducklings to a plastic box and attached a heat lamp. They cleaned and primped and fluffed up like tiny yellow cotton balls.
We said, "Hello babies, welcome to the world!" As they stumbled clumsily over their little webbed toes.
They slurped up water and filled their bellies...snuggled together under the lamp and drifted off to sleep.
One of the two remaining eggs turned black and started leaking smelly green stuff, so we wrapped it up in a plastic bag and Jon took it out to the trash. Again, it's only a science project.
And then later that day, while we were out, Fluffy Daniel Grayson, the last to arrive, entered the world, all on his own.
Fluffy was much smaller than the others and he didn't seem to be feeling so well. He sat hunched in a corner, his head drooping low, with no interest in the mash or the watering dish.
Summer tried earnestly to get him to eat, holding a small spoonful of food up to his beak.
"Sweetie," I said gently, "I don't think this one is gonna make it through the night." I tried to close off my heart, be the farm girl who knows that sometimes in nature, these things just happen.
But just in case I was wrong, I made a few phone calls and googled just one or two things. And by nearly 11pm , I found a vet about an hour away, that was open 24hrs and would see Fluffy for $50.
I cradled him to my chest and he nuzzled his beak into the palm of my hand.
How much money is a duck life worth?
When our kids were little, Jon and I tended to hang with the "attachment parenting" crowd, otherwise known as the hippies who breastfed too long and let their babies sleep in their beds with them.
Somewhere between just-a-science-project and Fluffy's tummy ache, my attachment parenting set in.
I had not anticipated such love.
We decided to wait it out through the night, taking turns cradling and praying for our Fluff. The next day we drove her to the pet store. Jasmine held her close to her heart as Fluffy chirped a soft and frightened song, her dark eyes flitting about as we bumped along on the road.
The lady at the pet store was warm and kind and hopeful. She said Fluffy seemed strong spirited and that sometimes ducklings just take a couple days to get used to life. She said she'd keep her overnight and we should give her a call later to check her progress.
Jazi kissed the top her head and said, "Hope you feel better soon Fluffy."
And with that we drove away, tears pooling in both our eyes.
Later that afternoon we phoned the pet store. Fluffy was doing great, had been eating and drinking...and pooping...and had even made some friends with a couple of chickens.
Now let me say this again, I am not really an animal lover. I don't forward email pictures of kittens and I don't think your dog is cute.
But we watched these five little lives enter the world, in our home...and with them...Duck Love was born.
When we brought Fluffy home from the store, the other ducks cheered and gathered around him.
We pretended Fluffy told them a long tale of how he was ab-Duck-ted.
And we laughed out loud and rejoiced in Fluffy's life.
Friends came from far and wide to see our babies, "Hurry," we'd say," they get bigger everyday!"
Each morning we were awakened by their singing. When we came to greet them they wiggled their tails and stuck their beaks towards us so we could rub their necks and kiss the tops of their heads.
King Julian grew the biggest and he ruled his little plastic kingdom by being the fastest to slurp up all the water in the dish.
Ruby was the true singer of the bunch, and she whistled happily her sweet songs.
Malika and Kadijah we called the twins, because they were both solid yellow with no unique identifying marks and we could hardly even tell them apart.
But Baby Fluff, or Daniel, depending on who you ask, held an absolutely deeply loved place in all our hearts. He had survived in spite of his rocky start and although he was still quite a bit smaller than his brothers and sisters, he was mighty and thriving, continuing to eat and drink and poop. What more could you ask from a baby duck?
Bath time was the best. At first they panicked and squawked a bit, not having a mama around to follow. But then Fluff sailed through the tub and showed them the way, he may have been small but a fighter from the start, born to fully live. Soon they were all diving and happily splashing about.
But as the babies grew, my mama radar began to worry. How long is it really best for these little-almost big- guys to live in our tiny kitchen?
But now we loved our babies, like you love your dog. And the idea of just dumping them back at the pet store in some tiny box with no bath tub for their swim lessons and to most likely be separated from their siblings, just broke our hearts.
So the search began, to find 5 lovely ducklings a home. We dreamed of a pond with duckweed and a tree and waterlilies. I called zoos and parks and rescues. And then after talking to a myriad of duck people, I realized some disturbing news...we weren't the only ones.
Schools all over the county had been hatching ducklings for months and our sweet babies were just five out of thousands of homeless domesticated ducks, unequipped to survive in natural life...and this happens every year.
So with blistered hearts and streaming tears we returned Ruby, King Julian, Malika, Kadijah and even our sweetie pie, Fluffy Daniel Greyson to the pet store, where they promised to find them good homes.
So love happens and love is lost...for both human and duck.
You may think it sounds pretty silly to be going on and on about some ducks, especially from someone who really is not an animal lover, but if you ever get a chance to love a duck, like someone dies and leaves you a house with a pond, you may also find that love is love... and that caring for the sick or the weak is imperative...and that new life, all new life, is always...magical.