If character is how we act when nobody is looking then how we act when our kids are looking is how we wish we could be.
Last week my kids came running in the house because they found a tiny, yellow-breasted bird floundering around with a broken wing in our front yard. "Mama, you gotta help it," they said.
I am 45 years old. My days of rescuing abandoned and injured animals are pretty much behind me. I can easily talk myself out of the trouble by arguing that nobody should try to alter the laws of nature. You know, the Circle of Life … Survival of the Fittest … Plus, dinner had yet to be made, homework hadn't happened and I was dead tired. I am a cold, hard cynic who knows that life will go on with one less bird in this world.
But, in this case, my kids were watching.
So I found a cardboard box, made holes in the lid, herded the gray bird into the box and drove the stunned animal and my two kids through Coconut Grove evening rush hour to the Miami Science Museum. Along the way, the girls named the bird "Abigail." They begged me to avoid potholes, at the same time urging me faster to the science museum, where there is a recovery center for injured birds. The center is meant for birds of prey, but it will take other birds in and try to help them, eventually sending those who make it to Pelican Harbor Seabird Station on Northeast 79th Street, where they are released.
At least this is the story the girl with the ripped black leggings and boots and feather in her hair told me as she gently inspected the bird. I'm inclined to believe her because it corroborates what another worker at the center told me last year, when my kids and I found another injured bird in Kennedy Park and brought it there in a lunch box.
As I registered the bird (a warbler, I learned) in a handwritten log at the science center, I couldn't help noticing the names of dozens of other people who had brought in birds – an orphaned blue jay, a baby screech owl, an injured tree swallow – and wondered if some of them were parents like me, trying to do right by their kids.
I think that having kids sometimes forces you to be a better person. Of course I'm generalizing. Some parents can be incredibly selfish and some people who aren't parents do amazingly altruistic things. But, when you become a parent, you have greater expectations to live up to. Your child's view of who you are – fearless, smart, infallible, honest – is so darn attractive that you want to fulfill it. You want to be the hero.
You want to look in that mirror they hold up to you and see a person who would save a bird with a broken wing.