Sometimes you can see trouble coming.

You’ve got seconds to make a decision that will haunt you forever, no matter which way it goes.

It happened to me last spring.

I was taking Maggie to a friend’s house in Woodbury, and we had to travel I-94 across St. Paul in Friday rush-hour traffic. Ahead of me a mother duck and her babies were crossing the road.

A bumper-to-bumper line of cars raced to my left. Braking suddenly would surely create a crash behind me. If I veered right, I’d hit the gravel shoulder and likely fly down the embankment into a ditch. I began to cry. Maggie grabbed my arm, whispering, “Mom, you don’t have a choice.”

People could have been critically injured if I dodged the ducks. People could have died. So I didn’t swerve.

I’m forever sorry for what happened to those ducks.

When I told the story to a therapist friend, she said sometimes a bad thing had to happen to avoid something even worse from happening. She reminded me that animals died every spring in Minnesota as they crossed roads from one pond to the next.

With all my heart, I’ve tried to make amends. If you’ve read my posts about the snowy owl who visited our property once we moved to Ohio, you’ll understand that I imagined he was my sign from the natural world that I’d been forgiven. The spirits of all creatures great and small recognized my plight that day on I-94 and accepted my apology.

As Maggie would say, “There always has to be a story with you, Mom, even if there is none.”

As Cliff would say, “Karen, random stuff just happens. It doesn’t mean anything.” 

I have never accepted this.

That’s why I got excited this spring when our next-door neighbor Kathy told me a duck had built a nest under her patio evergreen. Believing it was another chance for my redemption, I avoided that side of the house when I walked Maria. I made Cliff whisper when we were in the driveway. I checked periodically with Kathy, who stopped using the door near the nest, to see if she was a grandmother yet.

I imagined I’d soon see a line of ducklings waddling down the street to the creek. I guess I thought I’d be their crossing guard. I must have envisioned a rainbow cresting over our houses with unicorns circling Kathy and me in appreciation for our goodness and mercy.

Instead, the ducks vanished one night.

Kathy told me that, by the looks of it, seven eggs had hatched according to plan. Crestfallen, I asked questions, wanting an easy answer, skirting the reality that had probably occurred.

I didn’t get the cute parade I’d wanted. They didn’t pose for me, all sweet feet and fuzz. I didn’t get to post their photo on Facebook and write a storybook final chapter on my blog to eradicate last spring’s duckling tragedy.

That mother duck next door made peace with what she got and marched her offspring to the water. Seven babies were good odds. She needed to get on with raising them. And if something harder had occurred, she cut her losses and moved away until next spring–without dwelling on what she couldn’t control.

Unfortunate things happen. Even in fairy tales, giants kill, princesses lie, children vanish.

No matter how much I might want it to be true, ducks do not wear blue bonnets and toddle around for my amusement.

They do not, in fact, consider me at all.

Good for them.

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2 thoughts on “Seven out of Ten

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