We have moved the mama American Black duck and her ten ducklings to our outdoor campus. I am trying not to think about foxes and other predators now that the family has been relocated. If the mother hadn’t made her nest in a courtyard before Easter; if we hadn’t watched her lay her eggs--two or three a day until she had a full clutch; if we hadn’t watched her sit on her eggs once all were laid for several weeks; if we hadn’t had a DuckCam that showed us the tiny ones breaking out of their shells on May 18th; if we hadn’t raced to school on Sunday night to see the ducklings emerging from underneath their mother like tiny dancers from underneath Mother Ginger’s skirts in The Nutcracker-- tiny blazons of yellow fluff blooming on each small damp duckling chest; if we hadn’t cooed and oohed facing the courtyard, behind the glass, so as not to disturb them, then we wouldn’t have been so enchanted by a this maladaptive mom, who landed in the Early Learners courtyard by accident. A cement enclosure full of toddler slides and trikes, it is fully enclosed—no way in except by air—no way out except through a door. But she came and built a nest and we kept all the children out of the courtyard while she sat on her eggs. The teachers made a calendar and we marked off the days--about four weeks. Once the babies arrived, we were all besotted--the whole school--from toddlers to faculty and parents. On our last day of English class, I took my ninth graders to see the ducklings--a field trip, I explained, to the Pre-Primary wing. We stood and gazed, transfixed as the two day old ducklings bobbled around near their mother, already bigger it seemed to me, more confident, their dark feathers glossier. And then, by Tuesday morning, they were gone, mother netted by a naturalist, babies rounded up, transported to our outdoor campus. The naturalist deposited them near a pond, where their arrival was heralded with delight by more pre-schoolers who go to school on that campus. The children stayed back to offer privacy, as the mother leapt into the pond and the ducklings swam behind her, like the chunky beads toddlers first learn to string at uncertain intervals. And all those reasons are why I am trying not to think about predators and feel reproached when my son scoffs, “Mom, I know all about the circle of life. I’ve seen The Lion King.” I am grateful when he turns up Beyonce’s Halo too loud on the radio to chase away my worry..
This circle of life happens each spring in my house and in my school. The cats, it seems, kill chipmunks almost every day, small limbs strewn on the driveway or left at the back door, or, worst of all, carried inside by one of our dogs. It is a gruesome habit. I understand that cats kill. I have explained to the cats that I value their love and do not need their gifts. Still, they kill. I avert my eyes, call my son or husband to removed the mangled bits. Though I am brave, I do not feel equal to chipmunk guts every morning. There are no cats at our Butler campus, but there are coyotes and raccoons and maybe other creatures, who would cheerfully chomp a baby duck.
And then--quite unlike ducks in one way, there is sex trafficking—or, more specifically, the efforts the high school girls in the school I lead have taken to end human trafficking. Last week, I watched a theatre piece they created with our drama teacher, a brilliant woman I have known since she was not much older than the high school students she teaches. No Voice, No Choice was a piece of Testimony Theatre, devised by the group to give life to the words of a real person--in this case, a woman who was trafficked, who fought years of addiction and homelessness and assault, and who is a beacon of hope and practical support to others who face perilous cycles—circles again. The girls had met her through a parent in our school, had interviewed her and listened to her story and learned about all aspects of human trafficking as part of a class in Testimony Theatre that ran all year. I watched the show, absorbed by the commitment the girls showed. Around me, audience members wept. As the choir joined the ensemble to sing an arrangement of We Shall Overcome and Lean on Me, I felt my eyes well, but it was not until the show ended that I wept when I saw the woman who had inspired this piece embracing the girls who had breathed life into her story. She cried. They cried. I cried. I cried because the arts are transformative. I cried because this group of girls will have an awareness of the issue of human trafficking for the rest of their lives—with a face they recall of a woman whose dignity and presence and generosity moved them.
I cried because it is my privilege to lead a school where such work happens. I cried because not every adult and high school student in our school could see this production, and it is too close to the end of the school year to stage again. I cried for all the girls and boys, black, white, Latinx, Asian, straight, gay, wealthy, poor who could be vulnerable and preyed upon by unscrupulous, abusive, manipulative people—and I can not only not save them, but I might not even know who is a victim and who is a perpetrator. I cried because this is what I want for all of my girls—to be affected, to fight against injustice, to use their gifts for good. But it is not always easy to raise one’s voice, to know how to make a difference. Some of our efforts are clumsy or hurtful or ineffective.
So I cried, too, for those ducklings—vulnerable in the natural world—where they ought to be, but like the children in the theatre piece—so exposed to dangers. It is a time of year that is full of feeling, tears dropping like the fall of pale pink blossoms from our crabapple trees, a dusting of pink snow on the walk that will blow away in a few more days.
The girls have finished the school year. Fourth and eighth and twelfth graders moved up and on to another chapter. My own son has capped off his Middle School years and will be delivered, in the fall, to high school. Our exchange student returned home to Turkey a week ago, and my husband got a new knee last Monday.
Circles. This growing up and letting go and starting over journey feels so near in the spring. It is a waterwheel, circling, lifting the water, turning and letting the water spill. The unknown future that spools out, that cannot be known or reeled back in. Unlike my son, I’m not finished reflecting on this cycle, even when its complexities challenge me, frighten me. Simba and Nala are celluloid; their story ends and the credits roll, popcorn spilled across the movie theatre floor. I, stopped at a traffic light, look at my son, think about change and circles and what it means to be alive and vulnerable.