Another Birthday: Gratitude

June 23, 2012

For a Five-Year-Old

by Fleur Adcock

A snail is climbing up the window-sill
into your room, after a night of rain.
You call me in to see, and I explain
that it would be unkind to leave it there:
it might crawl to the floor; we must take care
that no one squashes it. You understand,
and carry it outside, with careful hand,
to eat a daffodil.

I see, then, that a kind of faith prevails:
your gentleness is moulded still by words
from me, who have trapped mice and shot wild birds,
from me, who drowned your kittens, who betrayed
your closest relatives, and who purveyed
the harshest kind of truth to many another.
But that is how things are: I am your mother
and we are kind to snails.


Mama never drowned my kittens, of course. That’s unthinkable.  She did, however, have a mother who grew up on a farm, so she learned to be a realist when it came to animals.  For instance, Gramma Rhetta kept rabbits in a cage in the back yard, and sometimes those rabbits would…disappear…and then something rather suspicious ended up on the dinner table.  Mama would always pick at her dinner on those nights, unwilling to complete the food chain.

Mama spent childhood summers on that same farm, and watched Mammy (her grandmother) stoically walk out to the chicken coop, grab an unsuspecting victim, and with one harsh flick of the wrist, render it limp. Then Mama got the tedious job of picking out the pinfeathers for Sunday lunch, which she somehow managed to gag down.

Thus, Mama had no trouble disposing of some of our childhood pets. In her defense, my sister and I tended to drag any moth-eaten, abandoned critter back to the house, and many of them were unsuitable for suburban life.

There was Tiny, the crawdad, who lived in a bucket on the porch for three weeks before he got alarmingly big and stinky, so we all got herded into the car and watched Mama hurl that sucker into a local lake.  She threw him out of that bucket with such force that Tiny got the ride of his life. I wonder if he ever recovered.

There were the two baby chicks, found abandoned in a cardboard box, who Mama inadvertently killed by keeping them in our cold basement at night.  I ran down to see them the next morning and came upstairs, informing Mama that the chicks were “still sleeping.”  Mama stopped flipping pancakes and turned around slowly. “Still sleeping?” she said, a small flicker crossing her face.

“Yup,” I said cheerfully and ate my breakfast. By the time I came home from playing hopscotch, the sleeping chicks were history.

And then there was the legendary and rather gruesome demise of “Happy,” the African clawed frog.  My sister was in a high school biology class and raised him from egg stage, to tadpole, and then to frog.  Experiment completed, she toted Happy back in a plastic bag filled with water one afternoon, much to my mother’s dismay.  Resigned, she cleaned out an old fishbowl we owned and in went Happy, but my mother warned my sister sternly that the feeding and cleaning of the fishbowl was solely my sister’s responsibility.

Of course, my sister agreed, and of course, she failed to keep her end of the bargain. This presented a bit of a dilemma for Mama, because after a few weeks of tending to Happy, she’d had enough. Without Mama’s intervention, Happy’s bowl became disgustingly septic and yet, the dude didn’t die. Alas, Mama couldn’t throw Happy into Tiny’s lake, nor could she simply flush him down the loo, because my sister’s teacher had warned the students that African clawed frogs should never be flushed or put in a river or lake; apparently, African clawed frogs are Hell on sewage systems.

What to do? Poor Mama. Finally, at wit’s end, she just fished him out of his filthy habitat, placed him in a Ziploc bag and stomped on the sucker.

“Happy” ending, ja?

Ah, Mama. How did you survive us, naughty and disobedient things that we were?

And yet you taught us manners (even if we didn’t always use them), and how to be gracious and civil, and that compassion is never wasted, and that it’s good to make your bed first thing in the morning, because it sets the tone for the day.  You excoriated us when we were unkind, taught us that homemade bread always tastes better, and assured us–always–that we had good brains and to use them.

Happy Birthday, Mama. I know it’s been a Helluva year, and I’m so happy to celebrate the day with you. You taught me to love fiercely, without restraint or shame. And I do.

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Abby June 24, 2012 at 6:47 am

Oh my. I’m not sure what to say on the animal front, seeing as my mom is Dr. Doolittle and we’ve spent two hours trying to get a chipmunk out of a drainage pipe at her house in the 95 degree heat before. But my dad did clean my rabbit’s cage with toxic chemicals when I was little, meaning Bun was stiff as a board when I got home from preschool. We had to cut holes in the shoe box to bury him, just so his stiff legs could stick through the end.

Anyway, pets aside, Happy Birthday Mama TKW! I’m sure this year was one that you would like to block out for the most part, but that just means you’re stronger for the blessings that will happen this year. I wish you nothing but health and happiness!


BigLittleWolf June 24, 2012 at 7:22 am

“Loving fiercely, without restraint or shame.”

That’s quite a gift to pass along to a child. I’d say your mom did good. (Happy Birthday to her!)


Naptimewriting June 24, 2012 at 11:33 pm

Happiest of birthdays, Mama.


Wendi @ Bon Appetit Hon June 25, 2012 at 5:15 am

I love that your Mamma and I share a birthday. Please let her know that her birthday twin sends her wishes for a better year.


jessica June 25, 2012 at 5:16 am

The second to last paragraph says it all – what an amazing woman! Happiest of Birthdays to her!


Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes June 25, 2012 at 5:21 am

Well at least none of them got eaten by your dog…
A happy birthday to your mama!


TKW June 25, 2012 at 10:18 am


No dog, although my hamster, Laverne, was almost eaten by the family cat once :)


suzicate June 25, 2012 at 7:46 am

“You taught me to love fiercely, without restraint or shame.” – The most wonderful gift a mother can give!
Happy Birthday to your wonderful mother!


Jennifer June 25, 2012 at 8:47 am

I’ve heard the story many times of how my mother didn’t eat bacon for a year after the family pig, Porkers, went missing. Which is odd because while my mom loves bacon, she isn’t so fond of animals.

Happy birthday to Mama!


TKW June 25, 2012 at 10:19 am


Your mom had a family pig? Now *that* is an interesting pet.


Erica@PLRH June 25, 2012 at 10:32 am

Best wishes to your Mama for many more birthdays!

Even though the frog story kinda creeps me out.


TKW June 25, 2012 at 3:11 pm


I felt so bad for Mama. What do you do? I guess in the age of Google, I’d know to freeze him or pith him, but how was she to know? It is a bad story!


pamela June 25, 2012 at 10:58 am

Happy Birthday to your Mama!! She is so beautiful. And I am so jealous of that avocado oven!!! And of your feathered hair. Mine never flipped back right. Wah.

Such a beautiful poem too. In a painful sort of way. Love your writing, natch.


TKW June 25, 2012 at 3:12 pm


That picture is a TOTAL fluke. My hair never did the feather-thingy right. I have too much natural curl so it just looked like I had two rolls hanging there. Damn Farrah Fawcett and her perfect feather–she made us all look like fools!


Arnebya June 25, 2012 at 11:53 am

Happy belated birthday to your mama. I hope she enjoyed her day. I grew up with cats and dogs and an occasional frog and then there was the snake to which my mother said, “Bring it in here and I’ll snap that bitch into the wall headfirst by its tail.” Ah, sweet memories. She also drove my cats into Maryland and put them out, in their crate, in an alley.


TKW June 25, 2012 at 3:13 pm


I think I’d get along with your Mama just fine.


Biz June 25, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Lovely written post KW! It reminded me of when Hannah begged to get her friends hamster because it and all the accessories were free. I finally caved, and Hannah went to town making a “bed” for the hamster with scraps of fabric. Until one morning, I heard Hannah scream – some of the thread from the fabric got horribly wrapped around one of the hamsters paws – it was swollen about 10 times the normal size!

We took it to the vet – I checked the box NO that we did not consider this a member of our family – it was a hamster for gosh sakes. We left it in there care – and since this was before I had a cell phone, we missed the call that said “your hamster was in worse shape than we though, so we had to amputate.” WTF?

We go retrieve the hamster – and the vet hands me a bottle of strawberry margarita mix – I thought it was so I could make cocktails that night to get over the $85 vet bill, but no, the margarita mix was to mix with the antibiotic that I had to hand syringe feed the thing.

But it lived another three years! (p.s. aren’t you glad that I type fast?!)


TKW June 25, 2012 at 3:15 pm


I think your story totally smokes “Happy, the doomed African clawed frog.” Laughing about the margarita mix–WTF?


Paula June 25, 2012 at 4:57 pm

I can relate to the chicken thing. I’ve seen it so many times. The reward for all that gruesomeness was the best corn-fed chicken EVER.

Happy Birthday to your mom! Hope she’s feeling OK.


Patty June 25, 2012 at 11:28 pm

I can see in the first pic that your mama had a Revere-ware pot (plastic handle/copper bottom). In inherited mine from my mother, and my husband has been slowly trying to get me to switch piece by piece to all-clad. Sure all-clad is better, blah blah blah, but there’s nothing like a dinner that I cooked in all my mother’s old Revere-ware. Just tastes better. Sorry to be off topic, but your pic jogged my memory. And also I don’t know how to dispose of the dead hampster hidden in the back corner of the laundry room, and really don’t want to think about it!


TKW June 26, 2012 at 6:02 am


I know Mama still has that pot–she hangs on to everything.

ps: Get husband to remove the dead hamster. That’s why God made them, to do tasks like that.


Kate June 26, 2012 at 10:14 pm

Happy birthday to your wonderful Mama!

You brought up all the glorious pet endings of my childhood – the bird I forgot to feed, the hampster (gerbil, rat, mouse, yes at least one of each) that our cat killed and left politely as a gift under the corner of the carpet, the litter of rabbits that just didn’t make it, the fish. No wait, the mouse just ran for it and was never found. Lucky bastard.

But that Happy story – wow!

My husband recently took back Christmas fish because someone (the only male in our family) wasn’t keeping them clean as promised. The store took them.


Faemom June 27, 2012 at 12:00 am

This was an amazing you post. You have an amazing mama, which I knew because you’re an amazing woman. I love the frog story.


Liz June 27, 2012 at 5:20 am

I love how you wrote this. Love.
Happy Birthday to your mama…may her next one be less of a “helluva” kind.

P.S. That super civilized looking woman in the first picture stomped on the frog?!?


TKW June 28, 2012 at 7:15 am


I know! She doesn’t look like a frog murderer, does she?


Maria July 1, 2012 at 8:57 am

Happy belated birthday to Mama! “Helluva” years make us all the more grateful for those years that are a little less trying on the heart.

Thinking of you with all those wildfires and praying that the minxes are trying to develop your animal control skills that you surely must of inherited from Mama.



Maria July 1, 2012 at 8:58 am

*smacking forehead
I meant NOT developing animal control skills. Geez, I need some coffee!


Cathy July 1, 2012 at 10:34 pm

Happy birthday to Mama.


Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri July 2, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Happiest birthday to Mama. Gem of a story. And that loving fiercely part? Best thing a mama can teach her child.


Justine July 2, 2012 at 9:40 pm

“Loving fiercely, without restraint or shame.” Yes! What an amazing gift. You and your family are so lucky.

May my girls know the same…


Justine July 2, 2012 at 9:41 pm

Oops! Meant to add this too: Happy belated birthday to Mama!


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silver account July 15, 2012 at 10:40 pm

When I bake bread with my children, this is what happens. Maybe I am a bad mom, but I just can’t tell them “no” when it comes to playing with flour. It’s just so much fun. They write in it with their fingers, dig in it, sift it, they roll in it, and as you can see, Jeffrey really gets into the rolling part. There were actually two very nice loaves of bread that came out of this debacle. The flour is no big deal to clean up, as long as you don’t spill any water- then it becomes a gluey nightmare!


Zebra Zoologist July 16, 2012 at 5:34 pm

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