Early in the novel, Riley's mom, Yara, is explaining to Riley why he can never bring an "outsider" like the pigeon Hilton into their colony to care for him when he is wounded. She uses some faulty reasoning quite typical amongst parents who have slipped into a "that's just how it is" mentality. Yara says he could be diseased. Riley says he doesn't look diseased. Yara says, Well, even if he's not, he won't leave after we've helped him. He'll stay and be a nuisance. Creatures like him are simply "no good." Riley asks how she knows this. She says, "Because that is the way it has always been" (Kiefer 15). Well, who told her that? And how did whomever told her that know for sure that pigeons are no good?
An important question about judgment is risen here. Who is to judge and how are their judgments made valid? Riley is pure hope, pure love. He is like God, looking at a sick person, seeing the person already well. He knows what it's like to have a disadvantage since he has been so small his life and has had to work extra hard at learning how to fly and keep up physically. He has compassion and faith in the power of caring.
Finally Riley's mother abandons the topic by offering that rote reply so many of us receive from elders as children: "You will understand when you are older" (Kiefer 16). Except instead of being like, "Okay. I guess you're right" Riley admirably mumbles, "I hope I never understand something like that" (Kiefer 16). Brilliant! He is recognizing a calloused heart and rejecting it as an option for himself in the future. There are many things children DO understand and benefit from understanding when they are older--why patience is important, why there are safety precautions. But there are other things children may never and should never understand, such as rejecting someone "just because."