“When I got home, I crashed on the couch and started thinking. I thought about the way the bird had looked at me.”
A Day in my Life
While brushing my teeth, I realized this would be the last week of school. Then it would be summertime. Because my younger brother, Jackson, would be at sleepaway camp the whole summer, it would feel like I’d have the house to myself. The absence of him definitely makes the NYC apartment a lot more bearable. Since his school got out before mine, Jackson was already at camp, meaning I could get to school on time for once without having to drop him off first. I stuck my head outside my bedroom window five stories up to test the temperature. It was a sunny day so I grabbed a tank top and shorts from my drawer, put them on and ran out to get some breakfast. My name is Georgia Meriwether and this is about the best summer I’ve ever had.
On the way to school I watched the pigeon man, as I do everyday. He sits on a bench in Central Park covered with bird seed and awaits attention from his frumpy grey friends, as well as tourists and other onlookers who might give a tip. Walking by today, I saw him with his scruffy grey-brown hair spreading the brightly colored seed mixture across his shoulders, while some unusually albino pigeons were pecking aimlessly at his ankles. With his small earnings from tips, he could only afford to buy a pack of trail mix, a small coffee and some more bird seed. I tipped him a dime, as I did everyday and keep on walking.
I arrived at school at 8:00 a.m., right on time, and my teacher, Mr. Pipington, greeted me with a smile.
“Get all the work done that you need to get done,” he said, “Then read right away when you’re done.” Since I hadn’t yet finished my science homework, I sat down and started reading my weekly science book, “Why Can’t Penguins Fly And Other Bird Mysteries.” Sitting there reading, I learned that, according to researchers, the reason for why penguins can’t fly is that penguins are such good swimmers and no bird can excel at both. Then I started wondering why kiwis, emus and ostriches couldn’t fly. I would have to ask Mr.Guarski, our science teacher, later. You see, Mr. Guarski was an ornithologist (bird scientist) before he became a teacher so he’s basically a birdy dictionary.
The bell rang at 8:30, when I had just finished my report. Because I loved 6th grade science class, I hurriedly got up, unlike some of the others, who were intentionally getting up slowly and dropping their books. I hurried down the stairs and stepped into the science lab, breathing in the acrid smell of lizard feces in the process. I sat down at my desk at the front of the room and waited for the rest of the class and Mr. Guarski to enter.
Today Mr. Guarski had brought in Rori, his pet cockatoo, for us to watch. He wanted us to take notes on how it behaved as a bird in captivity, then compare it to the birds we saw outside. His cockatoo looked different than the usual white body with yellow crest. It was slightly pinkish and its crest looked like a sunset. There were bright orange and yellow rings of color, spreading outward to the very tips of the bird’s plumage.
“I’m going to let her out so you can see how she acts,” Mr. Guarski said. “You ready Rori?”
Everyone except for Mr. Guarski jumped when the intelligent cockatoo let out a soft caw, as if replying to Mr. Guarski’s question.
“Kids, that’s something to take note of. Please write in your notebooks, ‘Responds to owner’s command,’ ok?”
I scribbled that down and then looked up to see Mr. Guarski opening up the cage. Rori opened up her wings and swooped up and out. She flew around the hanging light then landed back down lightly on the table to peck up the seeds Mr. Guarski had just lain down, then went back up again. Next Mr. Guarski showed us another one of Rori’s tricks. He threw a treat up into the air and Rori swooped up and grabbed it. A piece of my dirty blond hair blew into my face in the rush of wind left behind.
“Now we’re going to let her explore the classroom,” Mr. Guarski said. “Tirana!” he called to my best friend, “Can you and Georgia go around and close any open windows?”
Once we had closed all the windows, we went back to our seats. I watched as the beautiful bird strutted around the classroom, pecking at different chairs, books, rugs and even Ari Lorenza’s head. The whole class, even Ari, cracked up when that happened. We watched the bird in amazement for another fifteen minutes, then I had an idea that would affect the rest of my life. ‘If bats can fly, and they are mammals with solid bones, why can’t humans fly, too? Why hasn’t somebody invented that before?’ I thought about this more at home after school. I was suddenly shaken out of my thoughts by the silence of the kids around me. I looked up and found that I was face to face with Rori. She gave me a questioning look which turned into surprise and then finally settled on a look of peace. I would’ve never thought a bird with such beady black eyes could give a look of peace. The thing that surprised me the most though was that I wasn’t the least bit surprised that the bird was on my desk. Then just as soon as the moment had begun, it ended and class continued as usual.
My only barrier
When I got home, I crashed on the couch and started thinking. I thought about the way the bird had looked at me. With such unnatural peace but at the same time, natural peace. I thought about the idea I had had earlier. Then I thought, I could be the inventor of human wings. My summer is completely free and I have the time. Maybe I could do it with Tirana. Then I remembered that she would be in Ecuador, visiting her family. My mind was turning into a tornado of thoughts, swirling and swirling and swirling and swir —
“Stop,” I said to myself, accidentally out loud. Then in my head I said, I need to write this down.
I started making a diagram of how I would create the wings. Since bats are the only true flying mammals (not gliding mammals), I used them for inspiration. On my computer, I found thousands of bat pictures; bats hunting, bats hanging, bats eating and even bats pooping in tiny bunny rabbit costumes while nibbling cheese puffs. The only pictures I really needed were the pictures of bats flying. In the pictures of bats flying, I noticed that all of the bats have their bellies down to the ground. I start drawing a horizontal person on my paper. I looked back up at the pictures and studied the wings. A bat’s wings have three bonelike supports embedded within, that prevent the wings from being limp, useless flaps of skin. I drew arms out of my person and then drew a harness connected to wings, big pieces of undecided fabric cut into semi-rectangular shapes. The wings would have fastened sleeves that would go over your arms. Then I drew a few channels of lightweight wood, like the bones in a bat’s wings.
Next I looked up birds. The birds I saw had the same position flying, belly down, but instead of three thick supports, there are many thin supports overlapping, the feathers. I wondered what the difference was because I knew both systems work. I thought “Birds and bats must fly differently because they’re different species.” I looked up some videos of bats in flight and compared them to videos of birds in flight. I found that the birds could soar without much flapping whereas the bats had to flap more often to keep aloft. I went back to my paper and drew the same person but this time I drew them with feathery wings instead of boney and leathery. I decided that I would make the wings this way because: 1. It wouldn’t tire the wearer out as much and 2. Gliding sounded fun.
“I’m home!” my mom called as the door slammed.
“Mom! Mom!” I said. “Look at the drawing I made.” I heard her take off her shoes as she walked over to the couch. She sat down and I started telling her about my idea. After I told her everything I planned and showed her my drawing, she opened her mouth to say something.
“Georgia honey, I don’t think we’re going to be able to do this. It seems impossible. People have tried over many years and still haven’t succeeded. You can do it on your own time, but I’m not going to give you materials to build it. You’re going to have to get them yourself.”
I was about to say, “But it’ll work! I know it will!”
But she cut me off and said, “I’m not going to help you.” And walked off to change out of work clothes.
It was the last day of school and Ari brought in doughnuts. I was eating my Boston Cream doughnut with sprinkles and getting chocolate all over my face. Today was basically just a day of gathering things to take home at the end of the day. Since today was a half day, I would have time at home to think about what I would do over the summer and how I would put my idea into action without my parents helping me.
At home, I went to my room and thought about how I would get the money to make my wings. Maybe I could do what other average kids would do — have a lemonade stand or sell cookies? But that seemed boring. Maybe I could volunteer? I went to my computer and looked up “jobs for kids in NYC.” I found websites like, “Dog-Walking! A Perfect Job For Kids” or “Help Clean Up NYC — Kids Welcome!” I wanted to know if there was anything involved with birds, because they were my favorite animal and I might be able to learn something new for my project. So I looked up, “Bird sitting jobs” and found a lady who lived in a building across the street from mine. She had an African Grey parrot for a pet and was going on vacation for a month. Therefore, she needed somebody to take care of her pet. Perfect!
I dialed up the phone number and called the lady.
“Hello?” I said. “I’m calling about the bird sitting job.”
“Oh!” a friendly voice replied. “Would you like to come over now? I’m home.”
I agreed, hung up, and walked over. I knocked on the door and a friendly voice answered.
“Wow, I didn’t know you would come so soon.” A nice lady with puffy brown hair remarked, “My name’s Maggie Waterbury, but you can just call me Maggie.”
I told her that I lived just across the street, loved birds, and would love to take care of hers while she was gone. She told me that the pay was $300 for the month, $10 a day. I was amazed because I expected it to be much less and asked her when her trip would start.
“Well, I’m leaving on May 31st, so you can start taking care of her on June 1st.”
That was in two days and a great time to start my project. “How much food do I give her?” I asked.
“You can give Fluffernut one cup of bird seed a day,” Maggie replied.
“Thank you so much!” I said, assuming Fluffernut was the African Grey Parrot.
“No, thank you,” she replied.
At home, excited about the conversation I just had, and how soon I would be able to start my project, I rewarded myself with some chocolate chip cookies from Barney’s, our neighborhood bakery.
It was a hot day when I walked over to Maggie’s apartment. I could tell summer was truly starting because beads of sweat were falling into my eyes and I was still getting a sunburn, even with SPF 100 sunscreen slathered all over my body. I walked through the door and heard an excited squawk from Fluffernut. I wandered through the house, looking for the parrot and finally found her spacious cage next to the living room couch. Though dull in color, Fluffernut was beautiful. Being completely gray with exceptions of white feathers around the eye and a couple of red ones in the tail, it’s hard to be a beautiful bird. Fluffernut still pulled it off. Her feathers weren’t scruffy. Instead, they were smoothed down in amazing fashion. I stared in awe for a while, then remembered the job at hand: feeding Fluffernut. I walked into the kitchen, which I found when looking for Fluffernut, and pulled a list from Maggie out of my pocket:
I went into the kitchen and find a measuring cup sitting on the counter. I filled it with seed and then poured it into the bowl labeled ‘food’. Then I filled the measuring cup up once again, this time with water, and poured it into the bowl labeled ‘water’. I went into the living room, set the food and water bowls down, then closed all the windows and the door. I bent down to open Fluffernut’s cage, opened it, and let her fly around the living room. I set a timer on my watch for five minutes. Once that five minutes had passed, I went to catch Fluffernut and found that she was already coming down toward me. She must have an inner timer I thought. I caught her and gently put her back in the cage.
“I’ll see you tomorrow!” I called to Fluffernut, even though I knew she wouldn’t reply.
Putting my Project to Action
On Friday I received an email from Maggie saying that a $70 check should arrive soon, hopefully on Sunday afternoon. I received the check on Saturday but that was fine with me. Actually better for me, now I could start making my wings sooner than later.
“I’m going to out!” I called to my mom who, at the moment, was making sausages for dinner.
“Out to where?!” she called back.
“The store!” I replied.
“That’s fine with me just as long as you come back before 7:15!” Perfect. It was 6:45 so I would have a whole half an hour to gather my materials.
At John and Susan’s, the hardware store, the first thing I saw was the burnt out light. It was surprising because one of the prominent things they sold was light bulbs. Then Susan came up to me and greeted me.
“Hello, are you looking for anything in particular?” she asked “We have metal, wood, plastic and even fabric.”
“That’s perfect,” I replied “What’s the most lightweight wood you have?”
“Ummm…” She hesitated “Ah! We have balsa wood. It’s only 7.5 pounds per cubic foot. Would you like me to lead you to where it is?”
“That would be great, thank you!” I said as she led me to an aisle labeled ‘Wood.’ Since there were so many shapes, sizes and types of wood, the wood aisle was a very wide, long aisle. Standing at the entrance of the aisle, I could see sections like ‘boards,’ ‘planks’ and ‘posts.’
“What shape of wood are you looking for?” Susan asked “As you can see, our store has lots of variety.”
“I’m looking for some sort of thin stick…” I trailed off, not knowing what I was looking for was called.
“Right this way,” she said, leading me to the section with a sign labeled ‘Rods’.
I mind slapped myself. Mind slapping was something my mom and I made up a couple of years ago. It meant to mentally slap yourself in the face instead of physically to avoid the pain and embarrassment.
“Thank you!” I counted out 30 balsa wood rods, 15 per wing, and continued, “I’m also looking for some fabric. What’s the strongest you have?”
“Well we have kevlar, it’s strong and light,” she replied, “Would you like me to lead you there?”
“That’s great!” I said, “And yeah, could you take me there, I really don’t know my way around this place.” I checked my watch and saw that I had only spent ten minutes of my time. 20 minutes before I had to go home.
The checkout was really easy and John was a really nice guy. I was surprised to find that the total cost was only $40. That meant I would still have money for more materials and even more money after the month was up. Then I remembered I only had seven minutes left to get home so I hurried back.
I got home at 7:10, giving me just enough time to find a place for my load before dinner. I ran upstairs to my bedroom and put my bags on my desk. I realized I’d forgotten to take off my shoes, and ran back down to return them to the mudroom.
After a dinner of potatoes and sausages, I went upstairs to start my project. I wondered if I should cover the wings with feathers, like a bird. I decided not to because it would make the wings heavier and create drag. The first thing I did was design a harness. The harness was going to be a waist loop and an under-leg strap with straps up the sides of the body that attached to the wings. I cut out a loop for my waist and measured out one strap of kevlar to go under my legs. Then I measured up my arms to make the straps that would go under them.
Once I had finished cutting everything out and sewing it together, I tried my harness on. The underarm straps were too long so I shortened them to a perfect length. Now that the harness was done, I continued on to the wings. I split my basla rods into two groups of fifteen. I arranged the rods in a pattern that made them from the armpit outward. Next I cut out a piece of kevlar in a squarish shape. I put the rods on top and then cut out another piece identical to the previous one. Then I sewed the two pieces together with the rods inside and then sewed around the rods to keep them in place. The first wing was done. I repeated this process on the next wing and then made sleeves for my arms. I wrapped a piece of fabric around my arm and then did it again for my other arm. Then I attached everything together. Sewing the arm pieces to the underarm straps and the wings and then sewing the wings to the underarm straps. Now that everything was together, I tried it on. It felt surprisingly light, like I could flap my wings now and be flying.
“Georgia!” my mom suddenly called, “The ice cream’s out and it’ll melt if you don’t come and get it!”
I hurried downstairs and found a bowl of chocolate ice cream waiting for me.
I sat up in my bed, ready for the day. The day I would prove humans could fly with wings if they’re created right. I jumped up, changed out of my pajamas and went out to have a quick breakfast of cornflakes. After, I went straight back to my room.
I slowly slipped my legs into the harness. I slowly slipped my arms into the sleeves. I wanted to try it fast but I also wanted to be careful. I decided I would start by jumping off the bed. I climbed up onto the bed and jumped. Time slowed down. I flapped my wings but that, too, happened in slow motion. I started to go down but I flapped harder and went up, up, up. I could now touch the ceiling. My wings were working! Now that I had gotten the hang of it, flying was easy. I was figuring out how to turn already. I wondered if I could go up straight from the ground. I flapped less and less until my toes touched the ground. Then I started flapping again and I went up! I decided to go downstairs to prove my mom wrong. Humans flying with wings is possible!
When my mom saw me, she jumped. She obviously didn’t think I would actually make wings. My dad, not even knowing about my plan, was even more surprised to see me like this.
“How did….” my mom sputtered.
“I’ll tell you,” I say, “Just after I show you this.”
I swooped off the ground like it was no big deal. But inside I felt super proud. My parents stared in awe as I flew around the living room.
I landed and then told them the whole story. From the beginning of the day that I had the idea to when I first flew.
Later that day I went outside to test it.
“You’re gonna be famous!” many people said to me.
I just nodded in acknowledgement and flew back up into the sky. It was an amazing feeling to be soaring over NYC and I realized that birds are very lucky animals.