Six Little Ducks I (Never) Knew – A Lesson in Vulnerability

“Six Little Ducks I {Never} Knew” (A Lesson in Vulnerability)

Maggie May noticed them first.  As we left the house on our morning walk, she pulled the leash to the shrub outside our front door.  As she wriggled her nose into the hedge, out flapped a duck, squawking and honking. It took me a moment to realize what was happening. “Oh no.” I thought, “She wouldn’t. Not here.”

Working hard to separate the dense foliage, I held Maggie back and peered inside.  There they were – six pearly white eggs. How had she wedged herself in there?

For weeks I’d watched a pair of mallards, waddling about the neighborhood, Mrs. Mallard obviously heavy with eggs.  I assumed she was looking for a nesting site. It never occurred to me she would choose my yard. When we returned, I checked the shrub again.  Out she flapped.

When I texted my friends with the photo of the eggs, one replied, “She knows you love birds.  You can be a godmother.” Really?  Okay, so I like birds. I find them interesting.  I’ve written books about them; however, I know nothing about ducks.  Zilch, nil, zeeeero,  but even a birdbrain knows that laying a clutch of eggs,  by someone’s front door, is not a good choice.  In plain English, Mrs. Mallard, you are vulnerable!

In Brene’ Brown’s book, “The Gifts of Imperfection,” she notes that vulnerability involves risk, uncertainty, and emotional exposure and requires showing up and being seen.  Listening, Mrs. Mallard?

The idea of being a godmother was intriguing. I’m a godmother to a niece, so I know we’re chosen by parents to take an interest in their child’s upbringing and personal development; to take care of them should anything happen to the parents. Being a godmother to ducklings seemed crazy, yet, it was obvious Mrs. Mallard needed help. Even if her eggs survived the snakes, raccoons, deer, chipmunks, foxes, and bears (I’m kidding about the bears), the distance from the nest to the water, the constant activity in and out of the house, and Maggie’s wriggling nose, how would she have the uninterrupted time (a month), necessary to incubate and hatch her eggs?

I remember lyrics to a song I once sang to my children:  “Six little ducks that I once knew; fat ones, skinny ones, pretty ones too…”

My interest growing, I put McCloskey’s book, “Make Way for Ducklings,” on hold at the library, and began researching ducks.  Here’s some of what I learned:  Ducks close one eye in order to put half their brain to sleep, while keeping the other eye and half of their brain awake and alert.  Ducks have a remarkable degree of abstract intelligence.  The female sits very tightly on her nest, her brown plumage blending in perfectly with the surroundings. Amazing, but would any of this help Mrs. Mallard?

A couple days went by.  Stealthy like thieves, we came and went. Except for walks, I kept Maggie inside.

One morning we sneak out for our walk.   I glance at the shrub, envisioning Mrs. Mallard tucked tightly inside, ever the faithful mom sitting on her eggs.  But, alas! There beside the shrub, a scattering of eggshells.  Not wanting to disturb the crime scene, I carefully peer inside. Shells everywhere. Not one egg is intact.   I notice a couple of cigarette butts nearby and I know the raccoons are the villians.

Six little ducks I’ll never know.  I recalled my miscarriage and wondered if Mrs. Mallard felt the same excruciating sadness and loss.

I’d learned ducks feel loneliness, isolation and grief much like humans and since the male’s role is over once the clutch is laid (he remains sexually potent for a while in case a replacement clutch is needed, but gradually loses interest and joins other males to molt), Mrs. Mallard would bear her loss alone.

Later that week, I saw her across the driveway.  I went inside so she could inspect her nest; grieve her loss. Hours later, when I peeked inside, she flew off for the last time. She’d been sitting for hours on a pile of egg shells. It broke

my heart. .

Brown notes that one’s inability to lean in to the discomfort of vulnerability limits the fullness of important experiences, such as uncertainly, love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity – but Mrs. Mallard knows this. She’ll rise strong,* I know.

This fall a hunter will raise a rifle and take aim at a flock of ducks.  Mrs. Mallard could be among them, because she’s my hero – she shows up and is seen. She’s vulnerable. Whether she’s brought down by a bullet or lives to lay another clutch, she’ll always have a place in my heart.

*Rising Strong  by Brene’ Brown

Janet Hasselbring is a retired educator and musician.  She resides in Spring Lake, MI with her husband and Welsh terrier, Maggie May. They winter in FL, where she is inspired to write her children’s book series, Tales from Pelican Cove, featuring the wild/shorebirds of FL and beyond. She has also written a series about her family farm, Country Dairy, including a memoir of her mother, In the Garden, a testament to her mother’s life of faith on the farm, now, Country Dairy. For additional musings on faith, surrender, vulnerability and wild/shorebirds, or to schedule a presentation, visit, or



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