I want my kids to grow up believing they have the power to help others. Be it plant, animal, the self, or human.
It’s easy to wax poetic about how we live in a self-absorbed society here in the USA. And even easier to roll one’s eyes and then merely go about one’s business of washing dishes and shuttling kids to activities and going to work and planning your vacation.
So when we arrived on the beach two days ago and saw the pelican, I knew I had to do something.
My older son and his friend dove into the water, oblivious that it was strange to see this type of bird on the sand. A jogger approached the seabird. The pelican stretched one enormous wing and tried to hop away. The woman and I exchanged glances. She looked closer and explained that its wing was wrapped in a fishing wire.
We both fumbled with our phones, not sure who to call. She said the pelican had been there for at least an hour and since she was heading the other direction, I said I’d go ask the rangers at Seacliff State Beach visitor center who to call.
It was easy to round the kids up. Kai and his friend bounced out of the water, eager to help. As we raced across the sand, shoeless, taking turns carting or racing little Nikko, the kids seemed joyous at the opportunity to assist the bird. “We have to save it,” they cried.
Kai arrived at the ranger first, reporting our find like a grown up. The ranger nodded morosely, saying he knew, that he had called the bird rescue, and maybe someone would come help. “There’s a dead sea lion out there too,” he added, “Can’t do nothing about that.”
The kids seemed horrified to face such a dejected person wearing an official costume. They looked at me, “What do we do?”
“We wait.” Over an hour passed as we stood guard over the pelican, urging dogs and beachcombers to move along. A couple of people inquired if we’d called animal control, some took photos, but most just went about their business.
My kids filtered in and out of the pelican’s drama, building a sandcastle, pointing out the dead sea lion, snacking. But when the bird continued trying to extract himself from the fishing line, I started to feel like there was a greater lesson to give my kids about the power to help.
On my phone, I found directions for how to untangle fishing wire from seabird (a common occurrence, it seems) on Native Animal Rescue’s website. Flanked by the three kids, I debated how to safely help the bird without hurting myself or these kiddos.
I scouted the beach for a volunteer, someone unafraid of tackling a bird, gripping its beak shut, and holding its wings close so I could then untangle the wire. My kids, of course wanted to help, but I didn’t feel confident enough in my ability to contain the bird, so I made them stand back.
Soon I secured the help of a woman and her Spanish-speaking father. The plan was for me to get the bird and she would untangle the wire. Seeing my hesitation–tackling has never been my forte–the man captured the bird and gently laid it on its side.
Turned out there were four hooks in the pelican’s foot and wing. I tried to gently extract the hook in its foot, and could see every movement was hurting the bird. I felt myself get queasy as my kids cheered behind me, both scared and excited.
The man, with the beak in his hand, stopped being gentle and yanked the hook out of the bird’s foot, then quickly pulled two from its wing, tugging on the last, stuck deep inside the bird’s wing, until finally the wire detached from the hook. Knowing that was all he could do, we collectively retreated.
Shaken, the bird stood and walked towards the water. It waddled into the waves, got plummeted by a couple doozies, and then bobbed out to sea, past the dead sea lion.
The kids high-fived us with glee. And we thanked our helpers, the real saviors of this bird. The kids and I watched the pelican bob in the distance, hoping that it would stretch its wings and fly.
Kai took sideways glances at me; I couldn’t tell if he was proud, astonished, or annoyed that he wasn’t the one to tackle the bird.
When finally, after what seemed like another hour, the bird took flight, my day felt complete. I taught my kids the power we have to help those in need–big or small, animal or human. My roadschooling lesson of the day. Check.