For years, when asked, Son #2 would say that he wanted to be a veterinarian when he grew up.
Each year his pediatrician would ask him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He would tell her a vet. She would flip back to see what he had said the previous year. A vet. It went on for many years.
But soon he grew old enough to understand what was entailed in that endeavor from an educational perspective. I haven’t heard him say that he wanted to be a veterinarian since he turned 12.
For the past several physicals when she asks him if he knows what he is interested in studying or what he would like to be, he just shrugs his shoulders. She always reminds him what he used to say. But it rarely provokes a response.
He’s well over 15 now. Now he makes jokes that he is moving to Hawaii where he will sleep in the park at night and surf all day, not worrying about having a family or bills or a job of any significance. While that may seem funny, to be perfectly honest, if you knew Son #2 you would realize that could very well be what he does.
When he was about 8 years old, he and his brothers were out playing in the court. The next thing I knew Son #2 was knocking on the front door holding a squirrel. With his cheeks wide with smile and the look of brilliance in his eyes he said,
“Mom! Look! I caught a squirrel.”
I shouted at him. “Put that down! What are you doing? He could bite you!”
Son #1 ran to the door to report the story.
“We were playing. The baby squirrel was alone in the road. He ran up Son #2’s leg. He won’t leave now.”
In unison the boys ask, “Can we keep him?” (How they concluded it was a “him”, I am not clear. Nor would I dare ask.)
I demanded that Son #2 let the squirrel go immediately and that the kids come inside.
After all of the kids filed into the house, I closed the storm glass door.
The kids turned on the television and I went to work in the kitchen.
I walked past the front door to find the squirrel on the front step. His front paws were on the glass as if he was peeking in to look for my son.
When I told Son #2 that he was still out there, he went outside. We fed it some granola and it seemed to find it tasty.
The next thing I knew “Sammy” as the kids named him, was sitting atop Son #2’s head.
After several hours, it was clear to me that the baby squirrel was lost, alone and had unequivocally adopted my son as his caretaker.
I phoned the local Wildlife Sanctuary to tell them of our dilemma. They gave me step by step instructions and over the course of 9 weeks, Son #2 took care of Sammy until he was ready to make his reentry into the wild world.
Sammy slept in a dog crate for a number of weeks in our house while we cared for him. He drank from an eyedropper and we gave him various forms of food – though he had acquired a taste for granola.
Later it was time to introduce his crate to the outdoors. So we placed his crate onto our backyard patio during the day and he would listen to the sounds and watch the sights of what would eventually become his environment.
Next we would leave his crate on the patio overnight. This would enable him to get used to things at night. Finally, Sammy’s crate would be left overnight outside with the door open.
For many days, Sammy would go off to play but return to his crate. But one day, Sammy did not return. He had found his way. For years our family has talked of Sammy. We’ve watched the squirrels in the backyard leaping and scurrying and always associated them as Sammy’s children.
Sammy’s plight was brought to mind yesterday when we found a young Cardinal trapped on our screened porch. Even with the door propped open, he was unable to find his way. When Son #2 arrived home from school, Son #3 reported that there was a bird.
Son #2 immediately went to the porch. He placed my husband’s work gloves on his hands. He walked out onto the porch towards the bird. The bird jumped into his hand. I kid you not. There was Son #2 with his magic touch again. There is something gentle and kind about him that the animals clearly sense. Rather than flapping its wings in fear, this bird would continue to hop into my son’s palm after he would try to let it go. I was again amazed at my son, Dr. Doolittle. The quiet soothing voice with which he spoke to that bird and the way that bird would sit in his hand and “peep” at him.
I told my son to take him outside to the patio and see if he would fly. He was concerned that he was injured and unable to fly due to a broken wing or leg. But I thought that perhaps he was just so young that his skills were lacking. He seemed too fuzzy to be too old. (Again we all determined the bird to be a “him” – but not really knowing for sure.)
He placed the young bird on the top of our hot tub and we waited patiently to see what would happen next. But he just sat there. Peeping. Suddenly, I noticed two cardinals – a male and female – sitting in my lilac bush on the corner of the house 12 feet away. They were watching us. Watching my son, watch their son. They were not afraid of us. It seemed that being nearby to observe their baby was much more important than the fear they may have harbored. Son #2 quietly talked and tried to coerce the bird to find his family.
The mother and father cardinal flew another few feet away to a nearby Cyprus tree. Soon the young bird spotted them and though he struggled eventually flew into the lilac bush. His parents waited. We all watched. Son #2 was confident all would be fine again.
The baby flew into the Cyprus with his mother and father. The family was reunited. Another happy ending.
I’m not sure how, but animals seem to know that Son #2 will help them. He is not fearful of them. He is gentle, patient and kind. Watching him interact with those creatures always amazes me.
I hope that one day his love of animals overrides his dislike for school. When his macho adolescent attitude finally gives way, perhaps he will remember that boy who told us he wanted to be a “VETIRWINARIUM”.
I remember him well and yesterday I caught a glimpse of him again...
... I was relieved to know he is still in there.
"A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood." ~Rachel Carson