The two young ducks were a gift from my son, the last two that the feed store had left from Easter. They were no longer babies, but they were far too small to be on their own on our pond. Besides, the nights were still cold, and they had no mother's wing to huddle under.
So it was that they spent their first two weeks in my bathroom, alternating between a box and the tub. I was their surrogate mother, feeding them, deciding when they should swim, when they should nap.
I could almost see them growing, and they soon graduated to a daytime cage my husband and I hauled into the pond each morning. They loved this bigger world and spent hours dabbling in the water and taking baths, but at night we brought them inside to their box.
The routine grew tiresome.
"I think they can stay in their cage overnight," I told my husband as we hauled the cage out of the water one evening. He agreed.
But as we turned to leave, they peeped pitifully, very pitifully. I'm sure they just wanted some of that good chick starter I'd been feeding them, but it felt more personal. "One last time," I said.
Gradually, we gave them more freedom, but they stayed near the pen, sensing that the world was still a little too big for them. For their safety, we lured them into the cage each night with a little feed.
Then one evening, they wouldn't come into their pen for the best chick starter in the world. "They act as if they've forgotten how to get into the cage," I said. It was their declaration of independence.
That night, I worried about the fledglings on the pond as I listened to the bullfrogs and the owls, but the next morning, there were the youngsters, fit and fine.
Still, they seemed vulnerable, so we decided to find some companions for them. A flock would offer some protection, we reasoned.
"Wanted: Easter ducks who need a bigger pond," my ad read.
"I have some ducks I'd like to get rid of," a woman advised me over the phone. "Fifty-four of them."
We settled on one drake and three hens. These ducks had been caged, and when they were released onto the pond for the first time, their joie de vivre was apparent. They bathed and frolicked, almost doing flips in their excitement. It made us feel good just to see them. But they stayed apart from the little ducks. Each group lived in its own little area.
Then one day, the little ducks waddled over into the big ducks' area and plopped down for a nap within spitting distance. Later, I noticed they were all out swimming, the little ducks trailing the larger ones.
I was reminded of when I was 4 and moved to a new neighborhood. Through the Venetian blinds, I watched the little girls next door playing, but I was much too shy to go over and get acquainted.
Finally, my mother had my brother take me over. He had to lead me because I kept my hands over my eyes. Somehow if I couldn't see them, I was safe. Still, I kept peeking through my fingers.
The girls quickly ascertained that I was younger than they, so they gave me the ignominious role of "baby" in their game of playing house. Just like the little ducks, I had to follow along behind. But it didn't take long before I was a full-fledged member of the neighborhood flock.
The little ducks and the new ones are getting used to their new home, exploring, expanding their horizons, learning to accept one another. It's so nice to have friends.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society