"My birds come to me in my sleep, Mom."
"What?" asked the mother, startled.
"My birds, you know, the penguins." The child sat up and pointed to a zoo poster over her bed on which appeared a long line of penguins sitting on an ice floe, the bright pink and purple winter sky behind them.
"Your birds come to you in your sleep?" By now the mother was fully awake and listening intently.
"Yes. That one, and that one, and that one, and especially the baby one." She chose three black and white individuals, recognizing something special in their appearance, and concluded with the furry gray immature penguin at the end of the line.
"What do they do, when they come to you in your sleep?" The woman watched her daughter curiously.
"They bring me good gifts." She smiled shyly and lay back down. "They take me outside to show me the sky. And sometimes they fold their wings over my eyes like this to bring me beautiful thoughts." She folded her arms over her face. Her demonstration done, the child turned over. "Good night, Mom."
"I love you. Good night, sweetheart." The mother concluded the ritual with a kiss, stood up, and left the room amazed and delighted.
Months earlier, during a trip to the local zoo, she had given the child a choice of several posters. All but one showed a bright colorful menagerie of various animals in beautiful environments. The girl had refused the more colorful posters and chose the line-up of penguins. How dull, the mother had thought. How unimaginative compared to white tigers, alligators, or toucans. She had reluctantly agreed to the girl's choice, concluding that she must not have encouraged her daughter to be daring or adventurous if the girl chose a bunch of black and white penguins over a jungle scene or a fluorescent coral reef.
Later that evening, the mother took a deep breath as she did the dishes. She realized she was the one who lacked imagination. Focused on her own ideas about color and design, she had missed the beauty and magic in the penguin poster and in her own daughter's mind. The penguins had brought her a "good gift." It was a reminder to be humble in the presence of the mystery of each human heart.