My adult life seems to be divided into discrete parts of ‘before’ and ‘after’ — before marriage; before and after we lived in Germany; before and after kids; and the before and after my parents were killed in a car accident in Alaska. The immediate “after”-math of the latter is largely a blur with only the occasional lucid memory mixed in. I do, however, remember pasting on a happy face and taking the kids to the zoo during that summer.
The four of us made our circuit around with my littlest jumping in and out of the stroller, and both kids very excited about every animal. Before long, we were all dirty, sweaty, tired and hungry. I noticed the snack bar with ice-cream
cones right by the bald eagle exhibit. Wanting a few minutes on my own with these regal birds seen so often in the area my parents were killed, I suggested that my husband get the kids ice-cream. While they were gone, I was drawn to the eagles, looking to somehow connect to my parents through them.
I’m not sure why. Maybe I thought as I contemplated these regal animals, I could relate to my parents flying free in heaven, loosed from the beauty of the Alaskan wilderness. Looking at the eagles, it dawned on me that referring to the pair as “regal” would be a stretch. The information sign indicated that both of them had been rescued from unfortunate circumstances and it showed. One was missing a good part of one wing. On close inspection they looked hot, tired, bored and bedraggled.
Meanwhile, the kids had returned with their ice-creams. I absently watched my four-year old son, thinking he was starting to look as bedraggled as the eagles. It took me a few seconds to notice that he was trying to consume his ice cream without eating any of the cone, ramming his face down into the cone as far it would go. A couple of other zoo-goers had stopped admiring the eagles and were also watching his eating antics. I asked him, “Honey, you know you can eat the cone, don’t you?” He looked up at me with what my father would have called a “Snoopy-grin”, his face laurelled by a ring of chocolate from upper forehead to lower chin and crowned with a nice gooey dollop on his nose, and announced wickedly, “Yeah… but I want to do it this way.”
There was laughter all around and he was embarrassed into taking a small bite of the cone as his dad tried to clean him up. I continued to watch him, feeling warm with humor and love for the little imp. While watching him, I realized that I did achieve the connection to my parents that I was searching for at the bald eagles exhibit. It did not come through beholding the majesty of nature. It came through loving a tired, dirty, stubborn and sticky little boy.
© Laura Hedgecock 2009