“Boys and Birds,” column for June 11, 2013

It happened in only seconds. One minute we were laughing, and the next, we were in a panic, looking under beds, between cushions, behind doors.

Life changes just that fast.

The boy, my eldest child, drove five hours from his home in Los Angeles, to ours in Las Vegas, to spend a few days with my husband and me.

When our children take the time and make the effort to visit us, we consider it a compliment and a gift. So we try our best to treat them well in the hope that they’ll come back.

Sometimes I actually cook. Or my husband grills. Or we go out.

In any case, we spend a lot of time eating. We do other things, too. Float in the pool, watch a game on TV or sit out late at night talking just above a whisper, listening for coyotes and watching for shooting stars.

We did all that and more while the boy was here. In three days, we ate a week’s worth of food.

There is something precious and healing about being in the presence of someone you love, sharing the same sights and sounds and stories and laughter, breathing the same sweet air.

I don’t have a word for it. Do you? The closest I can think of is “home.” For me, no matter where I am, to be with someone I love is to be home.

I went “home” with the boy this weekend. It was good.

Next thing I knew, it was time for him to go. He was out in the driveway packing up his car. My husband and I were inside looking for shirts, shoes, things he might want to take with him.

I was checking for stuff on the patio when my husband yelled for help. I ran inside and found him looking the way I saw my granddad look once, after he had lifted a skillet of cornbread out of the oven and forgotten somehow to use an oven mitt.

“What’s wrong?” I said.

“Quail chick!” gasped my husband. “In the house! I nearly tripped over it!”

Apparently, the boy had left the front door open just a crack, and the bird had run inside.

I don’t often swear. When I do, I rely on my Southern roots.

“Hepmejeezes! Where is it?”

He pointed to the bedrooms.

And so it began. For the next hour we went quail-hunting. The boy helped, as well he should.

We found loose change, a lost shoe and a whole lot of dust bunnies, but no quail chicks.

It was getting late. The boy needed to get on the road.

“Go,” I said. “Don’t worry about the bird. He’s probably living in the park with your sister’s hamster.”

That’s a story I made up once to comfort my daughter when her hamster disappeared. It didn’t work then, either.

After the boy left, I stood on the walk by the bushes where days before I’d seen a mother quail and eight chicks. Was she in there now desperately trying to count eight and coming up time and again with only seven?

I lost the boy once. He was 5. We were Christmas-shopping. I looked down to write a check, looked up and he was gone.

It happened just that fast. I spent the longest hour of my life searching the mall with security guards and store clerks and any strangers I could enlist, before we found him at the fountain where he’d gone to get a drink.

I will never forget how it felt to think I had lost him, and then, grace of God, to get him back.

Being a mother is a hard and never-ending lesson in humility and gratitude and faith.

Minutes later, my husband, God bless him, found the quail chick quivering under a toy truck in the guest room.

We ever so carefully shooed him into a net, returned him to the bushes and reunited him, we hope, with his family.

As he ran for cover, I told him the same thing I told the boy the day I found him at the fountain.

“Stay close to your mother, you little toad! She needs to be able to see you!”

And she always will.


  1. Susan Kohari says

    As your articles almost always do, this one brought me to tears thinking about how special it is when my grown children come home to visit. It also made me laugh remembering the time we drove away from Disney World leaving my daughter. She opened the back car door and shut it without getting in as she decided to get in the other side. Thinking we were all in, my husband drove off, and I fell asleep after a long day at the park. It took 15 minutes for us to miss her, and a long 30 minutes to find her. It happened more than 20 years ago, but it always makes us laugh.

  2. Mike Phipps says

    Your “home” description is perhaps one of the best I’ve ever read. “Home” is most certainly that special place for all of us and after I read your article, I’ve thought back many times to being with my folks long ago and the love of my life (my wife) presently. It doesn’t matter where one is, nor what the activity is-it’s who you’re with that takes precedent above all else. Thanks for reminding all of us where “home” is.

  3. Deborah Jones says

    Has any parent ever made it past the early years of parenting without losing a child? We carpooled with a neighbor for preschool. It was her day to pick up the children and our daughter had been dropped off at home at the usual time. My husband came home for lunch and we couldn’t find her. We called the neighbor and started searching the neighborhood.
    After a few minutes she walked out of our house! She never did tell us where she was hiding.
    Another time she was at the mall with a couple of teenagers who were babysitting for me. She disappeared and they found her in Sears behind the candy counter eating candy out of the bins, with an amused sales clerk watching her.

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