"Mom, something happened, and it's really bad."
This is never how you want your 9-year-old to begin a conversation, especially if her eyes are pooled with tears and her voice is shaking with panic.
"What?" I say, eyeing her up and down for fresh blood or signs of severe swelling.
Her answer tumbles out between sobs and gulps for air.
"There was a nest (gasp) and I wanted to look inside it (gasp) and I accidentally hit it (gasp) and it fell off the thingy it was on (gasp) and the eggs fell out and they broke on the cement and now (gasp, gasp) I've killed a living thing, and it's all my fault."
With this horrific conclusion, she throws herself on the bleacher in front of me and heaves tears of guilt and remorse.
Until then, it had been just another of Jimmy's soccer games. I hadn't been paying much attention to the action on the field because I still don't really understand much about soccer (especially the ambiguous "off sides" call).
Instead, I had been using my required attendance to catch up with a friend in the cheap seats — the bleachers set back a few feet from the sidelines (where the real soccer fans sit).
Once the "baby bird incident" occurs, however, I find myself in the midst of a teachable moment that can't be postponed.
"Show me where you were," I say in the most soothing voice I can produce.
Amy takes me to the adjacent soccer field, where she and the rest of the "little siblings" from her brother's soccer team had been playing. More accurately, she takes me to the awning that covers a bench where she and her pals had discovered the ill-fated robin's nest.
(In baseball this would be a dugout. See — I'm not a total sports ignoramus. I just don't know soccer.)
I approach the awning where the group of children still is assessing the damage. Amy's buddy Joe hands me the nest, in which sits a lovely — but cracked — blue robin's egg. The second one is scattered on the cement, the remains of a tiny new bird clearly evident among the broken eggshell.
All I can say is, "Oh, my."
I take the nest with the damaged egg in it and rest it back on the rafters of the awning where it had been meticulously built. Then I urge the rest of the children to leave the broken egg alone.
Then Amy and I take a walk.
"Tell me how this happened," I say.
Amy explains that they all had noticed the nest, and they all had expressed curiosity about what the inside might look like. Perched as it was just about seven feet from the ground, its proximity to my daughter and her group of nature explorers was just too convenient.
"But I was the one who climbed up to look at it," Amy says. "I was the one who touched it. I was the one who knocked it down and killed those baby birds."
Her face is streaked with tears and dirt and pain, and there is nothing I can do but hug her.
"Listen," I finally say. "Did you know there were eggs in the nest when you climbed up to look inside?"
"No," she says.
"If you had known there were eggs in the nest, would you have touched it?"
"No," she says insistently.
"Did you intend to hurt the eggs or knock down the nest?"
"No." Her voice drops to a whisper.
We sit for a moment or two, absorbed in our own thoughts about what has occurred.
"Well, here's what I think," I say at last. "I think you wanted to show the kids that you were brave and you were willing to do something daring, and that's why you climbed up the pole of that awning. I know you would never intentionally hurt a baby bird's egg or any living thing, and I believe it was just a very sad accident. But it was certainly an accident that could have been avoided, wasn't it?"
She whimpers and nods in agreement.
"There's nothing you can do to fix this situation, but you can certainly learn from it," I say, as if her tender heart hasn't already been forever informed by her own regret.
We head back to Jimmy's soccer game, which by now has come to a disappointing finish.
Later, on our way out to eat, my teenagers try to cheer up their little sister by telling tales of unintended impact on the natural world.
"Mom once ran over a bunny," Katie says, "and she was leading a whole caravan of cars. And remember when I ran over a chipmunk?"
"Yeah, and after that it seemed like there were chipmunks stalking Katie wherever she went." Betsy adds.
For some reason, the "nature disaster" tactic only makes Amy feel worse.
"How does it help me to know that you killed other woodland creatures?"
There are no histrionics like a preteen's.
Eventually we manage to change the subject, putting the "baby bird incident" behind us for the moment.
Finally, her difficult day comes to an end, and I tuck Amy into bed. Once again she tells me how sorry she is about the baby birds. "I know you are," I say, "and that's the important thing. It's just a day to live and learn."
Which makes it just another day, I guess.