It’s chick season at work, which means there’s a number of round-headed kids in the nursery with pencil-necks, wobbly and with after-thoughts of flippers at this point. They’re in varying degrees of smallness (90 grams, anyone?) reliant upon heat lamps. They topple over easily: clumsy toes, big heads.
Taking care of week-old penguins is both rewarding and terrifying: to dole out meals from syringes in 1cc increments, watching and hoping those wide-open mouths don’t well up, or that bellies don’t decide to be too full, or that sated chicks don’t decide suddenly their house is too hot after a big meal–it’s constant anxiety. You change towels, tip heat lamps just so, adjust the flow of a syringe because a chick may be a thrifty, else a lazy feeder.
You wish upon wish you don’t screw this up while the chicks all present differently, curling up into corners after meals, or maybe craning a post-gusto head (‘More?’). They sometimes sigh big as if their houses were too hot, or they may sigh simply because we all sigh big after a satisfying meal.
You write things down, double-guess yourself, read fecals like tea leaves (zoo keeping in a nutshell), and adjust that heat-lamp for the eleventh time. Near ten minutes after feeding time, the chicks stop their solicitous wobblings, their muted chirpings, and choose crash-out positions–like finding the perfect post-Bacchanal couch or piece of floor: ‘Hey–I’ll just sleep here, ok? Cool.’
And when you get ten or so kids down for the count with their ridiculous flippers out and their faces mashed into terry-cloth beds, you can breathe. Sortuv. You’ll wait forty-five minutes, and sometimes after you’ve clocked out (you gotta be sure). You may drive home feeling ok.
Then there’s always 2 a.m. when you jolt awake and worry; then 6 a.m. when you feed your anxiety with a disquieting amount of coffee.
Then: 9 a.m. when you arrive again at work and the kids are all right; still you’ll look ahead to 9 p.m. when—while driving home—you’ll worry again they’re not. It’ll cycle over and over until everyone’s full-grown and the nursery door gets locked for the season.
You’ll inherit a few gray hairs, if not–a new constellation of ulcers. You’ll also get those nights when—while turning the click signal that compasses toward your driveway—you still halfway smile while your brow suggests a frown.


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