How Toddlers Are Like Pelicans

pelican

My kids are like pelicans. This realization struck me yesterday when I went with my sister to see the movie Pelican Dreams at the Regent Square Theater. I love birds, and pelicans hold a special place for me, having grown up watching them on the California coast.

I love everything about pelicans: The way they glide in threes over the water like cargo planes, the way they bob on the surf like ducks, the way they throw their impossibly long necks back to swallow a fish whole, and the way, gliding through the air, they suddenly twist and rocket down into a school of herring with a splash. Pelicans, with their long, prehistoric faces, clicking bills, waddling feet, and small, sensitive eyes are the exact shape they need to be. They are beautiful.

Of course, all birds are beautiful. That must be part of the appeal of bird-watching: seeing a soul so at home in a body, so unconscious in its pecking or hopping or singing that it makes us feel more alive just to see it.

In one part of the movie the filmmaker followed juvenile pelicans learning how to fly. A group of two-and-a-half month old pelicans heads to the top of hill. One climbs onto a low stump and starts vigorously flapping its wings as if it might take off straight up. Another just balances awkwardly on a rock. But then a third gets a clumsy, running start and jumps off the side of a hill, and suddenly it’s just floating out into the air, graceful.

I was reminded of my twins, now eighteen months. M no longer walks anywhere, she runs. She runs runs runs runs runs, and it is such a joy. Now she is trying to learn how to jump. She lifts one foot and then the other, she bends her knees and then straightens them, then reaches up to the sky as if it might pull her up. She is like that bird on the stump flapping its wings. She is learning what it is to be human, what this body of ours can do.

Watching the twins is like watching birds. E squatting down to look at some books on the bottom shelf, or working to fit a puzzle piece into a puzzle, or lifting a sippy cup to her mouth with her two chubby hands. This is what we are made to do. Our bodies are evolved for this. What a joy, a body, what a joy to be in the world, to be creatures here, like pelicans.

Last weekend we took a family trip to the National Aviary. M and E loved seeing all the birds. E stood for a long time at a window where you could see the penguins swim by underwater. Each time one flapped past it was like a small miracle, she was so thrilled. And now, when anyone talks about birds, M looks up in the air waving her arms as if pointing to them flying around up there. “Bee! Bee!” they say in high little voices, with wonder.

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18 thoughts on “How Toddlers Are Like Pelicans

  1. I’m delighted to see there are two more potential bird-watchers in the family. Go, twins! Start with big birds like penguins and pelicans, move on to robins, graduate (much later) to chickadees and hummingbirds.

  2. So Space Monkey Pelicans?? Or Space Pelican Twins??? Wait a second…I’m getting confused…

    All kidding aside, great post. At first I questioned how a human could be compared as a pelican, but you made me see it!

  3. Having problems posting… what I had said prior was how beautifully you evoked the wonder of both the pelicans and your two sweeties.

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