Flying Pains

During our October camping trip, the adolescent loons were lingering. I always feel tender toward them when they are left behind this time of year. What do they think when the adults gather and ditch them? They made a lot of confused hoots, lonely. This year I had extra worries about them, wondering what will happen when they get to the Gulf Oil spill. Is that a problem? It doesn’t seem like a problem anymore, but I still would like to figure out how to call to them.…… “Go to Maine..Fly east… to Maine!” I don’t actually know what kind of instinct sets up which direction they go, because their parents have long since migrated.

We saw one or two of these young loons on almost every lake we visited. One evening, camped on Ester Lake, we set up our chairs in the front row of the show, while one guy tried and tried and tried to fly by our rocky point. He just wasn’t getting it, and truly, we could feel his panic. It’s October, buddy. If you don’t get it this month…..well, then it will be November. And then you are really in trouble. What happens to the immature loons who die at freeze up? Otters? Not a bad species to support, but still. We were bonding with this guy.

Every time he failed, he’d give a pathetic half-tremolo kind of whine. I know they’re mostly silent during their first season, but we heard a bunch of them working on the calling along with the flying. They sort of had half- calls, cries of disappointment. We looked at the full moon over the calm lake, and there he’d go again—slapping those wings on the water at the wrong angle. Awkward, ineffective.

Early in the morning, from the tent I awoke to hear him try again. I could almost feel him hold his breath and get up the gumption and then go slapping the surface like a maniac….. and then he was so very disappointed, and I realized I had been holding my breath and I was disappointed too. How could I help him? What could I do? If only I could coach him on how it should sound. I’ve heard it all summer long…..less whappy, more….light and choppy. What could I do for him?

Sometimes I feel like that when I’m trying to help my kids learn to fly. I want to share all of that knowledge that I have—I’ve spent so many years slapping my wings at the wrong angle, surely I could save them time? Maybe then they could fly farther than I have ever migrated. Seems like a great plan to me.

Wouldn’t it have been ridiculous if these gawky adolescent loons were still riding on their parents’ backs? From the time my kids were newborns, this motherly love has so blindsided me, that I can see myself liking that part, as a mother loon, and letting them stay on just a little longer. Maybe I’d decide that our situation was different—we might just buck the system, and ride our own way.

Through breakfast that morning, we continued to witness the pathetic attempts and the disappointed cries. And then, awhile later, the same loon gearing up to try it again, I kept thinking on the parenting parallels. Of course, Andy and I are not migrating any time soon…we’re still here to love our adolescents, to help make good decisions, to help them make sense of things, give them support, and hand out money….but sometimes I have to remind myself we are not here to make life easier, to prevent pain, to diminish their struggles.

Easy enough with sports—no pain=no gain. As a math educator I know they have to pound their heads against new concepts. The only good problem solvers are the ones who have confidence to figure out what to do when they don’t know what to do.

But somehow, watching the kids as they figure out who they are and where they fit in the world—are struggles harder for me to embrace. Friends, loyalties, betrayals, pettiness won’t crush them either….sometimes, I just want to shield them from all that. From the disappointments, from the inefficient slapping of the wings.

Even with the most loving intentions, isn’t it ironic that by shielding them from that kind of pain we would then be sabotaging their potential? It’s the last thing we want to do…to actually encourage them to become less than the people that they were born to be. It’s such a paradox.

Definitely, it’s a good thing that it is also within my kids’ instincts to break away and have ornery moments. So I can slap the side of my head and remind myself what I already know. It’s a good thing I have wise friends who gently slap my head into place once in awhile too.

It’s also a good thing when we get the golden moments, when the moon is coming up and the lake is calm, when we know they’ll eventually get there, and we can just lean back in the crazy creek chairs and watch.

(Check this guy out!—I didn’t take the video, nor did we see any such quick learners— but he amused me)