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Baby Humming - A Tale of Life and Death

It was the first Christmas break that my daughter was too old to qualify for any of the day camp programs she had attended for so many previous years. But, due to the nature of my business, I was unable to take any vacation time. As a single parent, I was left with an all too common dilemma. Who will watch my child?

Rylee is adopted and she is a precious gift. She is amazing, smart, beautiful and as funny as any comedy club performer I’ve ever seen. I adore her and can’t imagine my life without her. I adopted her as a single woman and I am very grateful for that. However, it means that I am truly, in every sense of the phrase, a single parent.

I don’t have to fight over custody or constantly worry about sharing holidays with an ex, which is awesome. However, on the flip side, I don’t have a partner to call on if I need help with a quick trip to the doctor’s office or some help paying for summer camp.

So, not having a partner to co-parent with, I considered all of the options. I could take her to Arizona to stay with her foster grandparents who adored her. She was all in favor of being spoiled for a week, but logistically it would have been extremely hard. They were happy to meet me half-way, but even that would mean an 7-8 hour drive after a 10-hour work day, dealing with Friday traffic just to pick her up. She was not at all interested in taking a flight by herself and I wasn’t extremely comfortable with the idea either.

She could go stay with her grandparents out in the country, but they weren’t near any kids or activities and I knew she wouldn’t be excited to spend her entire vacation with adults.

I considered sending her to her aunt’s house. It was the most convenient and the closest. She could spend the week with her cousins and go camping and to the Children's Museum and whatever other fun activities they had planned. However, she informed me that she was not prepared to spend the entire week eating “hummus and mushrooms”. (This is clearly a comment from a kid who lives in a house with a never-ending stream of junk food.)

She then disclosed a disturbing fact that had apparently made a lasting impact during her previous visit. "Did you know Aunt Carin only allows five chocolate chips in each chocolate chip pancake?" she asked with her eyebrows raised. "What kind of insanity is that?" She made a compelling argument.

After considering all of the options, I hesitantly decided that she could stay home alone. Rylee was thrilled that she was finally old enough to be able to stay home and not have to get up at the crack of dawn to be dropped off when I left for work at 6:30. I was understandably nervous and took every precaution I could. We reviewed emergency scenarios, posted phone numbers and talked about all of the things that were forbidden when she was home alone. I even got an app that showed me where she was in real-time and sent notifications whenever she left the house.

Thankfully, Rylee’s best friend lived just three doors down and they spent nearly every waking moment together whether I was home or not. So after a chat with her best friend’s mom, I breathed a sigh of relief. They would be together most of the time at either Lizzy’s house or ours and Lizzy’s mom would be available for Rylee if necessary.

I also spoke with our neighbor next door so Rylee had a backup contact in case of an emergency. The first three days, I called her because I hadn’t heard anything by 11:00 am. I was relieved to find she was just busy with the neighborhood kids, doing neighborhood things. Each time I’d call she would assure me not to worry, that she’d call me if she needed anything.

By day four, we had found a comfortable pattern that seemed to work well. I would call her in the morning and she would call me in the afternoon just to check in. So when my phone started ringing at 10:00 am on Thursday morning and I saw it was her number, I started to panic.

Who had broken in and kidnapped her? What was on fire? Who was bleeding? I answered the phone, “Rylee, what’s wrong?”

Between sobs I could understand about every third word she wailed. “Mousey…hummingbird…wing…blood! What should I do?” she sobbed.

Once I got her calmed down I was able to determine that Mousey, the neighbor’s small, gray cat had caught a bird and hurt it badly, but didn’t kill it. Rylee saw the little bird clearly suffering and she was devastated. She’s never been afraid of death, but seeing anyone or anything endure pain breaks her heart. Apparently, the cat had some ties to the mafia because the flailing almost-carcass of a hummingbird was left on our doorstep like some sort of ominous warning. #Gangsta

Mousey belonged to our next door neighbor, Kathleen who was also a bird owner and an elementary school teacher. She had all the tools to handle the situation and I trusted that she would swoop in and do whatever was necessary. She was also the back up emergency contact that I had lined up for the week. So I knew she was prepared for a potential rescue operation of any type if she happened to be home.

“I’m so sorry that you have to see that honey! Now, calm down and listen to me carefully. Go over to Kathleen’s house and tell her what’s happened. She’ll know what to do and she’ll take care of it. Call me back in 5 minutes and let me know what’s going on!”

She started walking over to the house next door while I was still on the phone. I instructed her one last time to call me right back and then hung up. My heart raced. The thought of my child having to see such a horrific scene broke my heart. A series of thoughts ran through my head. What kind of mother was I? How could I have left her there without a full grown adult to handle situations like this? Would she be scarred for life? What would Kathleen do? Was she even home?

The minutes dragged by and she still hadn't called back. Five minutes…six…ten! What was happening? Maybe Kathleen found that the bird was fine and it would survive the feline ambush. How much blood was there?

What was Mousey doing? What if Kathleen wasn’t home? Why didn’t I tell her to go get Lizzy’s mom? Maybe the bird had died right in front of Rylee and Kathleen was comforting her. What if Mafia Mousey had finished off the bird in a gruesome display of carnage? Still, no call.

After about 12 minutes, I couldn’t wait any longer. I called Rylee’s phone. It rang three times and went to voicemail. I hung up and dialed again. A chipper voice at the other end said “Yes?”

I was immediately, completely perplexed. Had I just imagined the entire conversation? Where was the sobbing, devastated girl I had spoken to just minutes before? There was no trace of distress and I almost sensed a tinge of annoyance in her voice, as if my call were interrupting an important business meeting she was conducting.

“Hi mom, what do you want?” the voice chirped.

“What happened? Are you ok? What did Kathleen do? Was she home?” I didn’t even pause between questions so she could answer.

“She wasn’t home”, Rylee said. “But it’s ok. I found a brick.”

My heart stopped and a series of scenarios flashed before my eyes, each more unlikely than the last. I found a brick. I found a brick.

What does that mean? Was she walking next door when she came across a brick that distracted her and she was now doing an art project with it? I found a brick.

Had she abandoned the suffering bird and found a brick to start building a fort? Did she scare the cat by throwing a brick in its direction and the bird had flown off, clearly not as injured as she had suspected? I found a brick. I pictured my precious child picking up a brick and smashing the woeful creature.

“Rylee,” I asked slowly. “What do you mean, you found a brick?”

“Well, Kathleen wasn’t home. So I took care of it” she responded, anxious to get off of the phone. “Mom, I’ve got to go. We’re having a funeral.” She hung up.

I was still confused. I sat at my desk incapable of closing my gaping mouth. I called back and the call went to voicemail. I texted, “What happened?”

“I put him out of his misery. I’ve got to go.”

I knew there had to be more to the story. There wasn’t.

When I returned from work that afternoon and drove up to the house, there, in among the grass and roses, was a pair of upside down, kids stacking cups, with a bouquet of flowers covertly picked from the neighbors' gardens and a small sign that read “Baby Humming”.

To this day, if she sees someone or something suffering, she visibly grieves. But once she sees that they are no longer in pain, she feels peace in knowing that the person or animal is in a better place.

I see this as a good thing. My daughter is empathetic towards others. She hates to see suffering and pain. I think that makes her a kind, wonderful, caring human being. I only hope that when it’s my time to go, I leave this world quickly. And if not, I sure as hell hope there are no bricks around. #RIP

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