Gift of Flight

Jul 6, 2011

Several weeks ago, a mother and father bird made a nest in the camellia bush just outside our back door. I’m no birdwatcher, so I have no idea what sort of birds these are, but that male is gorgeous with a black body, yellow bill and red crest. Who knows what drew the birds to this spot—maybe the comforting sounds of the dryer vent or the thick, protective branches of the decades-old bush.  My theory is that the abundance of shedding dog hair made for a plush nest. But they picked a busy spot along our driveway, with dogs, boys, cars and  garbage cans constantly going in and out.  The nest was a short distance from the demolition and construction happening at our place, too. Still the birds made it their home, singing in the morning on a branch not six feet from where I feed the dog, watching every minute until the babies were born, then guarding more diligently. The tiny chirps grew louder and stronger with every delivery of red berries from mother and father. The parents  communicated constantly, as they shared a branch a short distance from their children across the driveway in the guava tree. Our whole family was entranced watching this beautiful drama unfold; even the dog seemed to enjoy the presence of new friends.

Perhaps I grew so attached to the little family because they represented the most basic tenets of being a good parent: providing shelter, food and safety, with such a singular purpose. And  because over the last few weeks, I’ve seen the helplessness of friends as they struggle with incredibly difficult situations with their own children. For these human parents, even the simplest tasks are now out of their control. In one case, a couple who tried for years to have children stand guard over their babies born way too soon. As new parents, they’ve stepped into a foreign country, learning the language and rhythm of the NICU. Another family discovered that the many questions they have about their son can now be answered with a single phrase: Asperger’s Syndrome. In the most devastating turn of events, one parent faces the unthinkable, a change of course for his son from hopeful recovery to palliative care after the cancer returned. When I watch the birds, I’m reminded of how unforgiving a parent’s job is. And fragile.

Several days ago, my husband reported that he’d seen the birds take the little ones on a test flight to a maple in our front yard and back again. What a task, I thought, to teach a kid to fly. And yet, how wonderful that they’re literally teaching their babies something we can only speak of metaphorically. Fittingly, on Independence Day, the entire family left their nest in my camellia bush for good. When I discovered their departure, I admit, I broke down. It hadn’t occurred to me that once the babies learn to fly, they would leave. But, of course, that’s what happens in the best of circumstances. If, as a parent, you are lucky, your children grow up and leave.

Then I thought of my friends, their children and their overwhelming challenges, and I realized that teaching our children to fly isn’t a task. It’s a gift.

This morning, I discovered that the mother, father and babies hadn’t left, they’d just relocated to our lush, purple plum tree in the back yard. I spotted the father, gleaming black and red,  gathering breakfast in the sage bushes.

Lian Dolan is the blogger and podcaster at the Chaos Chronicles, where this essay first appeared, and is the author of the best-selling novel Helen of Pasadena.

6 Responses for “Gift of Flight”

  1. Adam says:

    A very touching post. Having watched friends go through the loss of a child last year, this post really hits home. We really do take the most precious things for granted. Thanks for the reminder. It’s such a difficult topic to talk about but such an important one for us to consider and understand.

  2. Ruth says:

    A beautiful piece of writing. I agree with Adam on two counts. Our children flying away often makes us sad and brings us to tears, but they should be tears of joy and relief because it is indeed a gift. It’s so hard when parents we know are faced with such tragedy. Our reluctance to talk of it because it is such a taboo makes it harder on everybody because we have no idea how to act or what to say and certainly what to do.

  3. Anne says:

    I loved this post. Such a wonderful message to all of us parents too tied up in the small stuff to fully appreciate what a gift parenting really is and how taking it for granted is an insult. I pray for the families you wrote about in the post. May they find strength and courage. It’s true that it is so very hard to talk to parents in distress…we often feel like we are intruding or we have nothing to offer. I think mostly it just scares us and in retrospect, I am quite sure that our fear is quite clear to the suffering parents. A thoughtful way to start my Friday.

  4. Rita says:

    Tear-jerking food for thought. Thanks for sharing. Really made me thInk.

  5. Karen says:

    Thanks for the thought-provoking article. Good parenting lies in the consistently simple, as you are pointing out here. Speaking as someone who has both lost a child to illness and was honored enough to see another fly, I take nothing for granted and cherish every little simple moment of parenting. My heart and prayers go out to your friends. I hope they have a wealth of support during these impossible times.

  6. Patty says:

    A wonderful story used to touch on the dreaded and terrifying part of parenting. This really made me think, too, about what really matters…family first and cherish every moment. It is so precious.



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