How Can I Help You Best, Little Ones?

7 minute read)

There is a bird that built her nest right in the middle of our gravel driveway. She could not have chosen a more highly traveled spot. In order to avoid smashing the four small speckled eggs one needs to drive straight over so the tires flank the nest instead of flattening the nest. Meanwhile, the killdeer mother bird flutters off to the side in the grass faking injury to draw danger away from her nest. She puts on quite the act of distress, flailing on her back and waving her wings, while calling out. Even on dog walks she goes through the same dramatic distraction to draw the dogs away from her precious unhatched babies. It sure is a lot of work for that mama bird, if only she had chosen to build her nest in a safer spot. “Crazy bird!” We keep saying. After several weeks, a couple of the eggs have hatched. Now comes the real challenge for the mama bird. She provided them with warmth (from her hours of sitting atop) and safety (by her looney lame antics to draw away danger), but now their protective shells are broken open. The baby killdeer birds are exposed and vulnerable. How will they fare? Are they strong enough yet to survive? What direction should they take? What is next?

It is this transitional phase that plagues every one of us mother birds to witness. I use the word “witness” because that is almost all we can do at this point. We cared for our children. Fed them. Nurtured them. Taught them rights and wrongs. Kept them safe and protected as they grew older. Prepared them, as much as we could, for the dangers of the outside world.  At some point though, we mothers have to let them go. It is precisely this transitional space that is on my mind this morning. Even as I write this I can hear loud tweeting of birds outside my window. Building nests, laying eggs, the eggs hatching, the mother birds returning with worms and bugs for the open-mouthed babes, and then when the time is right, off they will go. Off they will go…

Many families are making a transition at this moment. Letters of acceptance to colleges are arriving in the mail. Or in the case of today’s high tech world, students are nervously logging onto college websites and learning the fate of their futures through portals. I came across an odd phenomenon the other day. Numerous similar scenes were posted on social media: the 18 year old sits in front of the computer screen, with an audience of family members behind him or her. As each college acceptance or denial is learned, the reaction is captured and a list typed out over the top of the video, “Yale: denied. Princeton: waitlisted. Cornell: Accepted. Dartmouth: denied.” The hashtag at the base of the video clip is something like “Ivy Day.” As I watched video after video of these high school students, who had obviously worked hard for many years to even be in the sphere of such highly regarded institutions, I felt worried for them. My concern was how much pressure they were under and how their rejections would be taken. I also watched the expressions on the faces of the parents in the videos. Excitement, pride, disappointment, and hopefully: encouragement, love and support no matter what university accepted their child. It is about the right fit anyway. I hope the teenagers on these Ivy Day videos and the teenagers awaiting news from non-ivy schools can all be loved and supported by their parents. Our children need that from us. 

There are many times in life when we need the supportive “witnessing” of our moms and dads. Whether it is when we are ushered into our first kindergarten classroom, or dropped off at our college dorm room, our parents have to leave us to it. While I do not remember my drop off at college, I do remember my mother being in the hospital when I was in labor with our first child. She was there. She couldn’t take away the pain of my contractions or the fears I had about the unfamiliar world of motherhood. But she was right there to support me. My mother-in-law came and stayed with us those early days at home from the hospital, showing us newborn care like bathing our son in the sink, and swaddling him up like a burrito. Then they left. It was up to us to navigate the early stage of parenthood. I can think of times throughout my life when I leaned on my parents again for support from the sidelines. Moving, health scares and challenges faced with my children come to my mind. In any event, my mother and father have been there with encouraging words, sympathy and understanding. 

This is not easy. Just as the mother killdeer bird can only resort to measures of injury feigning broken wing display, she is limited in how much she can do to protect her babies. One of her baby birds did not make it. Who knows why or how, but when I looked into the nest I saw a lifeless fuzzy shape. The internet informed me that 53% of the killdeer baby birds survive. I read that the father killdeers stick around and also help with the brooding, and the raising of the young chicks. These little ones need all the support they can get (especially when their mama decides to lay right in the middle of a gravel driveway). How heart-wrenching to discover your little chick that did not make it out to the safety of the grassy field. 

Life on the farm does what it does, always casts a reflection of what I am experiencing in my days. My son is approaching a big transition. He graduates from college at the end of May. The time has raced by; I remember blogging about his upcoming high school graduation and quickly approaching departure for college. Here we are, four years gone by in a flash, and he is wrestling with post college plans. In fact, that is typically the first question someone at his point is asked, “So what are you doing next? Do you have a job yet? Where are you going to live?” There is an undercurrent of expectation that everything should be figured out by now. Really? It is about finding the right fit. In the meantime, what I know to be true from past experience with three older children passing through this seemingly monumental transition, things will work out. It may take time, that is ok. It may take doing a little of one thing until the next thing, until the right fit it found. I have learned that what is most helpful to my children to be thriving in the world outside of our nest is for me and my husband to simply be here loving and supporting them. Not applying pressure or casting judgement, but encouraging them through the sharing of our own experiences and our understanding of those challenges. Honestly, this is easier said than done for me as a mama-bear. I want to fix things, but that is not what I am called to do. Perhaps, what I can do best, like the killdeer bird, is to just be here. Or off to the side drawing away danger. I am here, over here, right over here.

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