Wow, they're good parents: That has been my thinking over and over this late spring and summer, watching the two house wren couples and one Eastern bluebird couple who have built nests and raised little birdlings in the birdhouses we have on some of our sheds. In all the families, both parents have been incredibly industrious, attentive, and protective. It's been inspiring.
As a mom of two sons aged 18 and 20, I can't help but identify with the others around me--whether they have feathers or fur or family minivans--who are also trying to do their parental best. In mid-June, we watched a fierce snapping turtle mama lay her eggs in the newly-turned soil of our garden. In mid-July, I laughed out loud, watching the three goofy white-tailed deer youngsters frolicking in the rain in the field by the vineyard. I also watched their strong and beautiful doe mom watching them protectively. Particularly in this mad time around the COVID-19 pandemic, I connect with others who are trying to protect those they love, especially to protect those who are most vulnerable.
This year, I know I am paying more attention to the outside world than I ever have before. While I have always been a nature-watcher, ever since I was a little kid, and while I have gone to great lengths as an adult to put myself in places in the world where I might be able to observe all kinds of wildlife, I have never before spent so much time looking out the windows of my own house, or looking around when I am out in the yard or the garden or the vineyards. I know that part of it is because it can be hard for me to focus on tasks at hand when the world is going through so much turmoil. I find myself looking out the windows when I'm not able to read or write a full sentence without getting distracted. And the life beyond those windows is certainly distracting enough, with all of the squirrel antics and bird dramas and groundhog sibling rivalries.
Something which I have never before watched and never even expected to see has been the family life of bluebirds once the little ones leave the nest/house. Wonderfully, this year has given me the gift of this experience.
The second week of July, I knew that the bluebirds had abandoned their wooden house. When I started seeing dots of blue on the wires of the deer fence around the vineyard, I knew they were bluebirds, but at first I didn't make the connection. One day, as I walked by the vineyard, I got to see them a bit more closely, and I realized that I was seeing bluebird fledglings for the first time ever. They definitely were adorned with blue, but also with spangled chests and wings. Once I had identified them, I started seeing the family of five (two parents, three little ones) just about any time I went to walk outside.
I noticed how much the young ones still asked of their parents. Any time their mom or dad were in the area, the fledglings would hang out on nearby branches. When the parent would successfully get an insect, the three would bustle over and line up noisily, each begging for attention.
I guess I can relate, though it seems like a lifetime ago that my boys were little. In my experience, it is certainly true that grown-up kids still ask things of their parents, and that as a parent I am still doing my best to meet their needs, even as they become ever more self-sufficient, but it's not anything like it was back in the day. While I don't miss that neediness, maybe sometimes I do miss knowing that I could pretty much provide them with everything.
These days, we all seem to have new vulnerabilities which need care. It's good that we stay attuned to that.
Today our older son headed out to begin his junior year of college. We packed his car full of masks, hand sanitizer, and a semester's worth of snacks. It's hard to balance the letting go with all of the unknowns.
I am so grateful that we had our full "nest" here again for these past four and a half months, as strange as the circumstances may be. I trust him to make decisions on his own behalf, and it certainly is time for him to be leading his life.
My dad reminded me today of the saying that it's good to give kids "roots and wings." It made me remember the time many years ago when my son and I drove past a church sign that said exactly that: "Give your children roots and wings." I was surprised when he burst into laughter. I asked him what was funny, and he said that a kid with roots and wings would be in kind of an absurd situation. I could picture it. He was right. Rooted to the ground, how could they fly?
So, like every other thing in family life, it's a balance. Roots and wings: They grow at different times, in different measure. We've had bonus months of family suppers and movie nights. Now: Bring your mask, don't forget to text, and test those wings. We'll be here.