Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Story of Jake

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Two years ago, my then 11 year old son was participating in a science unit at school where they were going to hatch 12 baby chicks. They got the eggs, the incubator, and the notebooks to keep track of the progress of each baby bird in hatching out of their egg. My son was thrilled and came home every day to give me the blow by blow account of each little egg and how close it was to being hatched. He looked forward to school each morning so he could rush in and see if any of the chicks had started to peck their way out yet. The teacher even held the eggs up to the light so the children could get a good look at the tiny bird inside. Then he told the students that if they wrote him a letter, explaining what a good caretaker they would be for a tiny chick, that they could have it and take it home after it had hatched. My son was ecstatic. He came home that day and spent half an hour writing and revising a letter to his teacher, telling him what a great "dad" he’d make to this baby bird. It was a sweet letter and when he showed it to me, the words, "No, you can’t have a chicken!" died in my throat. I smiled and told him I was sure his teacher would choose him to be a "daddy" to this little bird. He got out of the car that next morning, so excited to give his teacher the letter that he could hardly stand still long enough for me to say goodbye.

Then it happened.

My son got into the car that afternoon after school with tears pouring down his face. He couldn’t even speak he was so upset. I was a little alarmed, but waited until he had calmed down enough that he could tell me what happened. In a broken-hearted voice he explained that the power had gone out at the school that day and the incubator was without heat for several hours. The teacher didn’t seem overly concerned about the birds, however, when the power was back on, he went over to the eggs and announced to the children that the chicks were dead because they’d been without heat for so long. Holding up an egg to the special light, he showed them the outline of the baby bird that was no longer moving. That in itself was pretty awful, but what happened next was horrifying.

The teacher took their twelve eggs and walked with the students outside to the dumpster. He broke the eggs open, smashing them as he did so. Unfortunately, not all of the little birds were quite dead and some even chirped before they took their last breaths, with an entire class of fifth graders as witnesses to this appalling and gruesome act by the teacher. I was sickened and disgusted at the entire incident, (yes I did talk to school officials about it) but my main concern was trying to figure out the best way to handle my traumatized young son who had so desperately wanted a baby bird.

You guessed it.

We took a trip to the pet store. Even though we already owned two cats and a dog. But, I figured, it’s probably easier to do a pet store bird than a chicken. My son picked out a beautiful baby parakeet and we brought him home. He was named Jake and he ended up being one of the best birds we’ve ever owned. He had a beautiful voice, (he could even do a wolf whistle!), he would sit on your shoulder while you did dishes, and taunted the cats high on his perch and out of reach.

Last Sunday, we had a wonderful Easter, reflecting on the death and resurrection of our Savior, and talked a lot about where our spirits go after we die and what the resurrection will be like. Unfortunately, when we came down the stairs early Monday morning, we had a firsthand glimpse of what we had been taught on Sunday. Our little bird Jake was near death. We had suspected it was coming. He was already two years old and had been slowing down lately, but it was still hard. My son carefully held him in his hands and stroked his feathers, whispering and murmuring how much he loved him and Jake died with those loving hands and whispers of a tender-hearted boy surrounding him.

As we dug his grave, my little four year old kept asking me questions. This was his first experience with death up close and personal and he had a lot of things he wanted a confirmation on. "Where is Jake now? Did his mommy and daddy meet him in heaven? Does Heavenly Father know Jake’s name? Will Jake wait for us to get to heaven?" all spilled out of his mouth. I answered him as best I could, but as we continued digging, he got quiet and stared off at the mountains behind our home. Finally he said, "Mommy, why can’t we just drive Jake to heaven?"

I explained that heaven was very far away and he shook his head and pointed to the mountain. "We could just drive Jake up the mountain, because the mountains touch heaven. Then we could give Jake to Heavenly Father ourselves. You already put him in a box like a present. Then Heavenly Father can unwrap him and be happy to see him."

I could barely speak because I was so touched by his sweet innocence of wanting Heavenly Father to be happy to see our pet bird and to make sure He knew Jake’s name. I knelt down beside him as we buried Jake and was so grateful to be able to assure all of my children that our Heavenly Father is very aware of Jake as much as he is aware of each of us and he loves us, and someday, when we return to him, he is going to be so happy to see us, just as a loving Father would. And I do think Jake is happy where he is now, flying free and trying out his wolf whistle in heaven.

Goodbye Jake. We love you and you will be missed.


At 4/12/2007 4:15 PM, Anonymous Jennie said...

Once I found a pheasant that had been hit by the haymower and killed. Near by was her nest. Daddy gathered the eggs in his hat and carried them to the chickencoop where he placed them under a broody hen. Only two of the eggs hatched, the chicks were weak and sickly and didn't live long, but I learned something from that. All life has value and is worth trying to save. What a rotten teacher your son had.
I'm sorry about Jake, but you seem to have handled it well

At 4/13/2007 4:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, Rip my heart out. Your story reminded me of the day we buried our family dog. My father offered a prayer and asked God if we could be with Peggy (the dog) again. I haven't thought of that in years. thank you.

Keith Fisher

At 4/13/2007 9:36 AM, Anonymous kerry said...

Lovely post, Julie!

Through the years we've had enough animals to qualify for our own ark. It's always so sad when one dies -- be it bird, fish, dog, cat, bunny, hamster, or turtle. Especially the turtle. My son (the current Marine) loved Goldspot with all his little heart. He stayed home from school the day that turtle died to cradle its shell and provide proper internment. (He considered exhuming the carapice when we moved, but didn't. I never told the people who bought the house that they're living over a veritable Pet Cemetery. Hope they don't do much digging . . .

At 4/13/2007 1:29 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

Did they do anything to reprimand the teacher?


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