Sometimes Parenting Is For the Birds

My dog and I were enjoying our daily walk this morning when we chanced upon an interesting sight. As we passed a mowed field, our attention was diverted to a songbird making sounds of distress and flopping about with what appeared to be an injured wing. Poor little thing, I thought, wishing there was something I could do for it. The bird hopped along in the direction we had just traveled from, and Gertrude was straining at the leash to follow. I gave her a firm tug and we continued on our path.

It was then that I saw them. Three fledglings, not much taller than my thumb, were running about in circles several yards down the road from us. Miniature versions of their momma, they were still flightless, their tiny wings not quite up to the task of slipping the constraints of earth. They scuttled about, chirping in high-pitched peeps, oblivious to the tall human accompanied by 75 pounds of slobbering canine heading their direction.

Momma Bird sprang into action. Abandoning her hurt wing ruse, she flew to her offspring, chirping an alarm, and shooing them away from danger. The babies appeared reluctant to follow her directions, but after some scolding they began to move a small distance away. Gertie was captivated by the scene and wanted to investigate in a more thorough fashion, but I pulled her along, not wanting to cause any more stress for Momma Bird. Her loud chirps could be heard even after we traveled far down the road, as she no doubt lectured her offspring on the necessity of vigilance in this wide, wonderful, and dangerous world.

I have a fledgling of my own, a soon-to-graduate high school senior. We’ve done our part, his father and I, to bring him up and keep him safe these past 18 years. Now it’s almost time for him to “fly.”

It’s an exciting time to be sure, watching our son transition from child to adult, save for one little fly in the ointment of my pride and happiness: I’m a teeny bit terrified.

I bet Momma Bird understands how I feel. She knows what it’s like to spend all your time watching over your children, keenly attuned to the dangers of the world while those self-same children glide blithely through life, completely unaware of even the possibility of harm. Human or bird, parenting is no cake walk.

This has been a hard time for me, emotionally, as I struggle let go of my child, even as I realize he isn’t quite ready to do it all on his own. As it happens, though, it’s necessary. You see, the only way to learn to fly is to get out of the nest and give it a go.

If you are a songbird, this entails a few scary days of running about on the ground, possibly getting chased by large animals with sharp teeth, until your wings become strong enough to enable flight

If you are human, I think this means you can’t grow up until you leave home and realize you still have some growing up to do. Some may even need to experience the extensive curriculum offered at the “School of Hard Knocks.” No matter what, mistakes will made before any real life knowledge is accrued.

It’s almost time to nudge another one of my kids out of the nest, but that doesn’t mean my job is over yet. Like Momma Bird, I’ll still be there, off in the background, no longer calling the shots, but ready to give guidance or a helping hand if need be.

I can only hope I won’t have to fake a broken limb to save him from the jaws of an overly inquisitive canine – but I will if I have to!