My son tells me I’m making too much of this. But he’s 15 and wildly allergic to teachable moments. Also, he knows I find teachable moments in every lost sock and spilled Coke.
But this one leaped out at me. Literally.
The four robin chicks had hatched by the time I noticed activity in the nest built atop the light on the outside wall of our garage. By then the chicks were squirming pods of transparent, orangey skin ending in gaping beaks that rose up out of the nest bowl whenever they sensed a presence above them—including the 15-year-old or me peering in from the top of a stepladder. They looked like something dropped in from the age of dinosaurs.
Within a few days they had clearly elected to be birds. Juvenile feathers emerged, their bulging eyes opened, and they filled out, jostling each other for nest space. One in particular, when we looked in, pushed his biggest self to the top of the sibling heap and threw open his beak.
Ten mornings after I first noticed the chicks, I found the big guy looking wobbly on a bonfire log left on the ground. He didn’t move. Above him three heads bobbed in the nest. Nearby an adult robin skittered here and there. It didn’t take me long to deduce that this first-to-fledge couldn’t fly.
To my dog I said, “Do I pick it up and put it back?” The dog sat still. I took it as her signal to wait.
Long minutes passed. Every maternal bone in my body urged, Pick it up, put it back. But there was another mother to take into account. (Though both robin parents care for their young, I decided the one nearby was, of course, the mother.) What would she do with her over-eager offspring?
Finally the fledgling hopped off the log, into the grass, and then, tentatively, in the mother’s general direction. Rather than rushing maternally toward it, the mother ran about, keeping some distance between them. It seemed so undirected a dance that now, in retrospect, I can’t recreate how it happened, but eventually the chick was at the edge of and then into our small woods. The mother, in time, followed.
Immediately I perceived the parable played out before me: Impatient with the pace of healthy development, the overconfident one leaps into danger-fraught situations ill-prepared, becoming easy prey for the likes of Liam, the stalking neighborhood tom.
Cue my son, who here tells me that I’m making too much of this.
I was sure I wasn’t. Beginning to write this parable, I researched robin development:
“Even before they fly, [robins] must learn to walk and hop, to balance on branches . . . and to recognize danger. Some baby robins do die during this dangerous time, but many live long lives especially because they had the chance to . . . experiment while their parents are still looking out for them.”
This teachable moment I haven’t yet told my son.
You want to protect your child from pain, but what you get instead is life, and grace.