When I was a little girl, I remember finding a baby bird under the tree in our back yard. I was so worried about it, because it couldn’t fly yet. My dad wouldn’t let me keep it…told me we needed to leave it alone. It seemed so tiny and defenseless, out in the yard, exposed to numerous predators. My dad explained that when the babies get bigger, it’s hard for them to stay in the nest, so they often just flop out and land on the ground. He grabbed a kitchen towel, and very gently picked up the baby and put it into the shrubs next to our house.
The mama bird must have been watching, because she immediately swooped in and started bringing food to the baby in its new home. As it got stronger, we caught a glimpse or two of a parent with the baby out in the yard, drinking out of the birdbath, or poking around for food. A few weeks later, they were gone, and we assumed the baby had learned to find its own food and flew away to live on its own.
I was reminded of that experience yesterday, as we dropped our 17-year-old daughter off at the airport at 5 a.m. to catch a flight to New York. She’s a junior at a high school that has a wonderful three-week program in January called “Winterim”. Juniors and seniors spend those three weeks off campus at internships or service projects. My daughter, along with 17 other girls, is spending her winterim in NYC, staying at a hotel in midtown, and taking the subway (by herself) to her internship, where she will work from 9-5 at a talent agency. The girls have internships all over the city, and it’s an incredible experience for them.
She’s been away from home before, but always in controlled situations such as summer camp, where her meals were provided, her laundry was done, and her activities were planned. When we attended the meeting for parents of the girls doing travel internships, we had all sorts of questions. Where will they do laundry? Where will they get their meals? What if they oversleep? Basically, the answers were…they’ll figure it out.
Yesterday, the girls were taught the intricacies of the subway system, did a little shopping, unpacked, and by dinner were taking the subway downtown to have dinner at a restaurant near NYU that someone had told them about. They didn’t get lost, mugged, or any of the other things that parents worry about…they were back in time for curfew. This morning my daughter got up on time, worked out in the gym, caught her train and made it to work with time to spare.
It’s like when the baby birds fall out of the nest. Whether they fell, or flopped out on their own, they became “fledglings” and had to start learning to do things for themselves. They had grown wings and were almost capable of surviving outside the nest, and that is what they were learning. The parents were still there, prodding them to try new things, but they were always watching.
My daughter and her classmates are like fledglings. It’s important for them to learn how to survive on their own. It seems like yesterday she was here, with me, in her little “nest”. I was responsible for all the things she couldn’t do herself…nurturing, feeding, bathing, educating, chauffeuring, comforting, and protecting. We’ve had a lot of little moments of her finding her independence, but something tells me this is a huge turning point.
She still has a lot of learning to do. But unless she falls (or jumps!) out of the nest, she won’t have the opportunity to really learn it. It won’t be long until she flies off on her own, and it will be an incredible, exciting, heart wrenching moment. It truly is bittersweet, as a parent, to watch your child take these steps. I am so very proud of her, and as it has always been since she was a little girl, my heart sings when she’s happy. But it is hard to let go.
I know I will miss doing the things I’ve done for her for the last 17 years. I know I still have a little time, but when the time comes, I will cheer her on. But I will always be watching.