Flying the Coop

Tonight a little baby robin was perched on the drain spout outside my house. All week long a mama robin has been dive-bombing my cello students as they come up to my door; she had built a little nest in a wreath I hang every spring near the front door and I took a photo of the three little baby robins it housed.

Now there is only one. I wonder about the last one; will the mother keep feeding it? I hope the robins that have taken flight will make it through the night and that they won’t fall prey to a cat or owl. I feel strangely attached to creatures  whom I’ve known only one week.

3 baby robins in the nest

Given my rapid attachment to another being’s children (albeit a bird’s), it is easy to infer how hard it was for me to drop my son off in Kansas City this past weekend for a five week dance intensive with the Kansas City Ballet. He is thrilled to be working hard for six hours of dance a day, surrounded by ten other boys (well, men, as they apparently are all between 18-21 which leaves him the baby at 12). My nest feels empty and far too quiet, as my little guy brings song, dance and complete joy–as well as constant chaos–to my life.  I do know that letting go is essential to my son growing into an independent, strong man, as well as essential to my own well-being. A good parent needs to have balance and self-worth, both of which were slipping away as I became stressed out with end of the year projects and trying to make ends meet.

As a prelude to our summer separation, we took off to northern Minnesota to a family cabin for some rest and relaxation. Relaxation in our household means swimming, biking, playing lots of board games, hiking, playing with the dog and, last but not least, eating lots of pancakes. We almost managed to disconnect from the internet, or at least down-size our connectivity.

Being up at the cabin brought back memories of milestones from when I was little. My grandpa purchased the cabin when I was a baby, and although I grew up spending summer vacations there, I was always a little terrified of open water. One summer I refused to go in the Lake at all until my Aunt Helen, who had no children and low tolerance of drama,  got fed up and unceremoniously dumped me in. Between the murky darkness of the drop off and the big Muskies and Northern Pike that might be lurking along our reed bed, I was sure something would come and pull me under. I felt foolish and got over it that summer, but it wasn’t easy.

Although now I’ve lost most of my fear of deep water, I still feel a little chicken when I first jump in. I have tried not to share my irrational thoughts with my son. Instead I let him know that the more I swim, the less I worry about it, yet he shares some of the same trepidation. The first day we were at the Lake he felt very brave when he kayaked alone from one of our docks to the other, and he reported to me that it “was the scariest thing he had ever done.” And this is from a kid that has done an Ironkid triathlon, swimming in a muddy pond on the outskirts of Des Moines! The day after that big adventure he kayaked at my side as I completed my own milestone, swimming down the coast of the bay to a resort about a mile down the road and back to our property. Although I’ve done longer distances in the pool, that was the longest open water swim I’ve done to date and it felt like a big deal. It took me a while to trust the water and switch from a breast stroke to free-style.

We also did some cycling on a nearby paved trail that covers 30 miles through woods. The trail head is about 3 miles from our cabin, and I was pleased that my son didn’t bat an eye this year about riding there instead of taking our bikes on the car like two years ago. We rode 10 miles on the trail and all in all, it was his longest bike ride ever totaling 17 miles. He took a spill near the end trying to drink from his water bottle, but bravely got back on in spite of some wicked road rash. I went back the next day and rode a little further (30 total miles), enjoying the fact that I only saw one bunny and was alone most of the ride.

You can’t fly the coop if you don’t identify those scary things, confront them, and try to see how far you can push your own limits. And there are some beautiful things on the other end if you make the effort! I’m sure that little baby robin is enjoying exploring some new boundaries, just like my not so little one is off on his own for five weeks. When I feel lonely, I try to take myself back to the peace I felt on the bike trail or while taking a breath swimming I spotted the pine trees lining a stunning blue Minnesota sky. I remind myself that it’s all part of a natural cycle of life that makes us stronger, better, andmore in touch with a process bigger than our own little fears.



2 Replies to “Flying the Coop”

  1. It seems best not to be the last robin to stay behind, fearing what is out there. It also seems as dangerous as leaving, maybe even more since it can’t stay the cute baby forever and will eventually become the “adult child living in the basement.” Follow the Starship Enterprise baby robin, and boldly go.

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