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A vision in Spiderman boxers and the marshmallow quads

July 10, 2008

Friday evening was supposed to have been routine — schlep home to make dinner followed by general chaos management and a (hopefully) smooth segue into an earlyish bedtime. I was overcome with fatigue that was gauze-in-the-eyeballs tangible.
Instead, I found myself perched on the edge of a lawnchair in a summer-themed grocery store display, cell phone glued to my ear, trying to find out what newborn wild quail chicks eat.
This is not particularly easy information to locate, especially when one is as ill-equipped and distracted as I was. Graysen, who insisted on accompanying me into the store to pick up quail-related provisions, kept threatening to abscond with a blister-packed plastic golf set before I had a chance to purchase it.
It’s worth mentioning here that my little klepto was sporting an outfit that would not have allowed him to blend in with a crowd should he try to make a break for it with his booty. Over his cargo shorts he wore Soren’s Spiderman boxers, which gave him a decidedly steatopygic appearance.
To top off this already stunning ensemble he had chosen his favorite Lightning McQueen T-shirt, now two sizes too small, finished off with his new favorite cowboy vest. This tiny faux-suede garment must be “buckled” (buttoned) at all times, which further enhances the curve of his balloon belly (the last vestige of his babyhood, sigh).
He was a vision.
Outside in the car, the older three kids sat with (and argued about who was sitting with) four marshmallow-sized quail chicks that Graysen’s daycare provider, Edna, had found in her yard. As the quail parents were nowhere in sight, and toddlers posed a serious threat, Edna scooped up the chicks and settled them into a toy animal cage. When I showed up, Gray was filled with excitement, and led me reverently to the chicks.
Having saved them from being stoned by the littles, Edna wasn’t quite sure what to do next. Maybe the parents are around … somewhere, we both mused.
Or maybe we’ll release them and they’ll totter right into the grip of some hungry beast before mom or dad can track them down, I thought. A cat walked across the road just as I contemplated this.
Seeing the cat, Mira looked at me with fear in her eyes.
“What are we going to do, Mom?” she asked.
Translation: what are you going to do, Mom?
Answer: add the babies to my own brood of four, who are almost as challenging to feed. When I told this to the kids Mira promptly named them: Benedict, Omelet, Midgey and Penny.
So, with quail chicks and kids in tow, we hit the grocery store. My education about orphaned wild birds dates back to the days when my beloved grandfather fostered so many “dropouts” that he was written up in the newspaper beneath a headline that described him as the bird man of southern California. He raised and repatriated many birds, including a clutch of hummingbird babies that had to be fed every 15 minutes, and thus went everywhere with him.
Of course, not all the orphans he fostered over the years survived. But he always tried his best, teaching me about life, and death, along the way.
As I sat in that lawnchair talking to my mom, who was Googling some combination of wild quail chick orphan rescue food keywords, I thought of Grandpa.
Back in his day, there were no wildlife rescue centers to call on a Friday evening when one is charged with the protection of tiny birds. So, he filled a niche. Now, things are a bit different and, despite my profound love for all creatures great and small, raising four kids while working more than full time and trying to maintain some sense of sanity is, well, challenging enough. The chicks needed mothering from someone who isn’t me.
Mealworms and soaked cockatiel seed proved to be the winning combination for the chicks, according to the wildlife center just outside of Española. After a trip to PetSmart for the mealworms, during which Graysen begged me to get him a (real) shark and almost tricked me into buying a race car rodent ball, we went home to coax the chicks into eating.
Then, the three older kids and I stared as the little creatures settled into a feathery bundle in their washcloth and Tupperware nest. We were fascinated, and concerned, each of us wondering if they would make it through the night.
I slept in fits, dreaming that they turned into DayGlo chickens. When I finally opened my eyes to dawn light I hesitated … I didn’t want to see them dead. Soren had the same concern. He got up seconds before I did, and when we saw each other in the hall his eyes were wide and smiling. “They’re okay, mom!” and we hugged each other.
A few hours later, we delivered them into the care of the wildlife center where we were cautioned that quail chicks are notoriously difficult to raise.
We left with the empty Tupperware nest, and the hope that the quads would make it. Stay tuned.

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