A SLENDER deer, standing in the driveway, surprised me when I drove home for lunch. A variety of wildlife frequents our small ranch, so the doe's appearance was not unusual. At the sound of the car, she retreated to the edge of the yard. She did not, as would have been normal, flee into the early, high spring grass and the camouflage of the tall oak trees.
A few days later, this time with the kids loaded in the car, my son, Matt, pleaded with me from the back seat. ``Mom, why can't I have a Nintendo? All the other kids have them.''
As a child, I had quickly learned not to use that logic with my father. The fact that all the other kids had something was reason enough for my independent dad to decide I didn't need it.
``Matt, you spend enough time in front of the television as it is.''
``But Mom, they're only $89.95. I saw them advertised.''
Only $89.95. That would pay the electric bill, or buy one new snow tire for the truck, or....
``Look, kids, over there in the grass. The doe is back, the same one I saw at lunch the other day.'' The Nintendo discussion ended abruptly. The deer watched our car as I slowed and turned into the driveway. As before, she did not run but meandered further into the tall grass.
Sarah is not as full of ``I wants'' as Matt. Still a preschooler, she has no peer pressure yet with which to deal. The television exerts a more sophisticated pressure, but pressure we at least have some control over. Matt, an average grade-school kid, has already succumbed to the ``everyone else has one'' ailment. Mark and I are sympathetic, but we have very little patience with his demands.
``When am I gonna get a new bike?''
This question, like the Nintendo plea, was also asked in the car on the way home from work, often the only place where the children have my undivided attention. Matt's first bike lasted him three years, and now Sarah rides it. The training wheels, reattached for half a day, came off quickly as Sarah mastered the art of riding the old bike. Matt was left, however, with no bike at all.
``Mom, Nate has a five-speed but he's gonna sell it and get a 10-speed for his birthday.''
``A five-speed, huh?'' I remembered the three-speed bike I had as a teenager. I was pretty hot stuff, sailing down the paved road toward home, doing at least 60 m.p.h., perfecting a smooth handlebar shift from second to third. Here, though, in the country, the driveway was part gravel, part dirt. What Matt really needed was an all-terrain vehicle.
``Maybe we could buy Nate's old bike when he gets a new one?'' he asked.
I patiently explained why a five-speed bike would not only be an extravagance but would also be impractical on our dirt roads.
``Besides that, Matt, you've already got a five-speed horse. He walks, trots, lopes, runs, and sometimes bucks.''
``Come on, Mom, I'm serious.''
``So am I, honey.''
``Mom,'' Sarah interrupted, ``look at that hawk! He's got babies flying with him!''
A red-tailed hawk rose from the pasture, quickly gaining altitude. He cut a straight, purposeful path toward the pine-dotted hills. Two smaller birds flew above him, frantically beating the air. Their wings pumped much faster and harder than the larger, smoother bird of prey. We watched as the first one, then the other, divebombed the hawk's back. The hawk flew on, unflinching, and then I noticed that he clutched something in his talons. These were not young hawks; it was too early for even the most precocious to have grown flight feathers. The small birds that dove frantically at the hawk were parents. And what he clutched in his talons was their fledging, perhaps a young killdeer snatched from its prairie nest.
I pulled the car off the road, and we continued to watch this drama unfold until the birds became mere specks that disappeared into the afternoon sky. How much farther did the killdeers pursue the hawk? When did they give up, realizing the futility of their chase? Or did the hawk finally, hassled beyond hunger, drop the fledging midair? Would the prairie nesters follow this downward death-spiral? Would they return to the empty nest?
The following weekend, we bought Matt that new bike - a one-speed, leg-powered, wide-wheeled, good old kids' bike. Matt loved it. He loved the bright ``hot'' green color; he loved the newness of it; and he crashed and burned on it just as well as he would have on any high-geared racing bike.
``Wow, Dad, my new bike goes as fast as any five-speed can go!''
We were proud of him. He set aside his temporary disappointment and fell head-over-heels in love with his new bike. He and Sarah spent the entire day racing up and down the dirt driveway, and I only had to race outside once.
``No, Matt, you can not play chicken!''
That night, sitting at the supper table, we saw the doe again.
``She's got a fawn with her!''
We scooted our chairs back, as quietly as we could, for the deer who venture near are able to hear the vibrations from within the house. Matt grabbed the always-handy binoculars.
``She does, Mom! There's a little baby deer with her. Dad, the fawn's nursing.''
We spent the next 45 minutes standing at the picture window, passing the binoculars back and forth. We watched the mother deer lick and clean the fawn, stopping occasionally to browse, while the fawn sucked and nuzzled, and stared, wide-eyed, at the world around him.
This was entertainment - better, even, than Nintendo. True, the price of a home in the country is more than $89.95, but then, good things don't come cheaply. They don't come easily, either. It takes a lot of saying ``no'' - not just to fancy bikes and mesmerizing Nintendos, but to our own new trucks, new cars, and late nights out. But this is a way of protecting our children.
The killdeers tried bravely, but in vain, to save their fledgling. The thieves who rob our human children are not so blatant. Sometimes they come disguised as expensive toys whose real costs are not measured in dollars and cents, but in the time we must take to earn the money - time away from our spouses, time away from our children.
I am glad we have a picture window - big and wide. Sometimes, when the light is just right, we see our own reflections in the glass: a foursome standing shoulder to almost-shoulder, facing the outside world. When the light shifts, and a cloud floats beyond the sun, the brief image is gone. Once again, the oak trees fill the picture window with green wildness and we peer, as wide-eyed as the fawn, into a world full of surprises.