I was on my porch a couple of days ago, watering plants. My neighbor’s ten-year-old son started screaming “Mom! Mom!” He was holding his hand out, and I thought that he had hurt himself or maybe even had been bitten by a snake. I asked him what was wrong, if he was all right. He held out his hand. He was holding a white egg just slightly larger and rounder than a robin’s egg.
He likes to climb trees, so I was afraid he had gone up a tree and taken an egg out of a nest. When I asked him where he got the egg, he said that the storm had blown the nest out of a tree. There was another egg, he said, but it had cracked, and the shell was empty.
The storm was the day after the 4th of July. It was actually a small tornado. My other neighbor also found a birds’ nest in her yard, a robin’s nest, but the blue eggshells were cracked and dried, and it was clear that the babies had hatched and left the nest some time ago. I knew that if Shaun’s* egg had been on the ground in the nest that long, it wasn’t going to hatch.
But Shaun was was afraid to relinquish his egg even for a moment, because he thought that the warmth of his hands would substitute for one of the parent birds sitting on the egg. He said he had to take it inside and keep it warm so that it would hatch. I told him that if he took it inside and it hatched, the baby bird wouldn’t have its parents to feed it. “If it was me,” I said, “I would put it back in the nest, and put the nest under the tree so the parents can see it.”
Apparently he did, because later in the day I heard him frantically yelling at his sister to leave the egg in the nest or it wouldn’t hatch.
I don’t know if the egg is still in the nest. I haven’t had the heart to look. In a way I hope that it disappears, and he thinks that it hatched. Or maybe his mother has told him that it won’t hatch. There’s no tidy ending to this story. There’s nothing tidy in childhood. Adults lied to us about things like Santa Claus, and they didn’t come right out and tell us about things like the egg. Well, not all adults lied or lied by omission, but many of them did because it’s just too hard to tell a little boy that no matter what he does, that little egg isn’t going to hatch.
*Not his real name, of course.