We have several bird houses in our yard.
Every spring baby birds are pushed out of the nest by Mama and Papa Bird. Papa almost always takes a limb on a near-by tree, Mama on a patio chair. They chirp to each other, and encouragement to their off-spring, as they watch over the baby bird.
No matter what changes in the yard, this event takes place every year. For a couple years, an old stray cat hung around. Mama and Papa pushed the baby out, and more times than not, the cat ate it.
The cat went away, but the neighbor got a new dog who really had a taste for baby birds.
Last year, we cut two big trees down due to wind damage. I changed the furniture on the deck. Now Papa and Mama bird can’t be as close to the baby when it is pushed from the bird house.
You know what?
Despite the change in environment, despite the potential for almost certain death, they do it anyway.
They do it because a bird that can’t fly is worse than dead, it’s useless.
It can’t feed itself. It can’t escape attack. It simply can’t exist as intended.
Parenting humans can be just as daunting.
Pushing them from the nest when it’s much easier to just let them linger.
Probably the hardest thing today? Instilling in my boys a sense, a desire, a “soul-mandate” if you will, to be strong and self-sufficient.
It’s contrary to a growing ideology in this country that as Americans we’re “owed” something. Be it a good education, good grades, a nice house, healthcare.
I’ve blogged before about a tumultuous childhood and young adult life. Even as a child and immature adult, I recognized the difference between people who accepted life on its own terms and hustled to make it better; and those who saw the task, thought it too hard, and lay down.
Essentially, I saw successful flight and wing atrophy.
There were no role models for success in my life to emulate; not until I was well and grown in every way but the number.
When I was able, I carried a paper route for money. Then once I moved to Kentucky, started working fast food in high school.
No one ever told me I’d have to work for a living. As immature and socially inept as I may have been, I understood working was essential to any progress in life, to once-and-for-all autonomy. To flight.
I enlisted in the military at 17, right out of high school. Left for basic training carrying everything I owned in a single small duffel bag. Uncle Mike gave me $20 (which he made me pay back! lol), and that was all I had to my name.
I didn’t have money, possessions, maturity. I understood on an unconscious level this was my one shot out of poverty. Because let’s face it, once I left my Aunt’s house with nothing but $20, I didn’t exactly qualify as middle income. I had no skills, mediocre grades, no money (or grasp of how to get it) for college, and no family backing.
While Aunt Shelby and Uncle Mike graciously provided a place for me to live the last few years of high school. They were not my parents. I could not conceive of relying on them for anything after I turned 18. In my head, they sacrificed their way of life to take me in, and I was not an easy teenager. Not even close. Depending on them for anything was out of the question. I just couldn’t do it. And at the time, with all the personal emotional damage, wasn’t even sure they’d help me if I asked.
But I knew, in the observation of life and experience, it would take something sacrificial, a risk of jumping from the nest, to change the course. Sacrificial, and more than likely painful.
So I said good-bye to my friends, to my boy friend, to the only real home I’d ever known, and set out.
I was honored, even at 17, to serve my country. It was sacrificial to me personally in a couple ways. It was a totally foreign way of life. Never having learned to respect authority, or the most mundane, basic, unwritten “rules” in life, I was WAY behind the other women in just plain common sense. I didn’t have a mother to teach me by example, or instruction, how to be a girl. Now that may seem insignificant, but consider the games women play. I’d stumble into them, not knowing the protocol, make all kinds of enemies, and stumble out wondering what the heck happened. (Luckily for me, outside of basic training, my military experience was immersed in a mostly all male field, and later as a journalist, mostly male camera operators and producers.)
Last, it was sacrificial because for the first time in my life, I was solely responsible for the outcome. And wrong or bad decisions and behavior meant not only an end to my service, but automatic poverty. Period. Unlike most of my peers, I understood there was no where else for me to go. No family to catch me when I fell. I felt that responsibility like a weight around my neck. (Though it didn’t keep me from doing really stupid things and occasionally risking my career. Mostly due to that maturity thing I mentioned before.)
So why the background? All that, and I never once thought, “if I don’t make it I can get A,B, C from the government.” Not once. I knew there was no going back to the nest. And frankly, who’d want that?!
Even though my entire life up to that point was littered with people on the dole, playing the system, lying straight up to get a check…never occurred to me to do likewise. Probably because their lives sucked. All they could do is sit around, smoke cigarettes, and talk about things they’d never do, and how the gov. screws them over and OWES them.
No action or movement.
To my mind they were living in a kind of self-made jail, and living as good as they ever would.
Worse than dead, useless.
Most of the men I worked with in the military were go-getters. They didn’t say, "I can’t," they said, "HOW CAN I?" They didn’t say, "it’s too hard." They said, “It’s go time!”
It was in the military that my drive, the thing which differentiated me from my nuclear birth family, jelled. I realized the only limitations for me were personally set.
I had the feathers. I had the DNA. And I had life laid out before me like an endless topography of opportunity.
Lots of bad choices in there, don’t mistake. Maturity and I were tenuous friends at best.
But, now I’m a parent.
I want them to fly. I know they will never be fully satisfied with life without it.
But as I prepare them to leave the nest, to fly, they’re being bombarded with a contradictory message.
“Hey, flying is ok if you’re into that. But really, not everyone can do it. And we don’t want any of the other birds to feel bad, or actually die from their choices. So if you decide to fly, you really should bring food back to them. We’re all birds after all. We have the same needs and deserve the same outcomes. Everyone needs to eat and be taken care of….”
It becomes increasing difficult to teach personal accountability when the government steps in. Like a baby bird pushed from the nest, the gov. is that well-intending human who scoops it up (because it MUST have fallen out, because no parent would do such a thing!) and puts the baby bird in a shoebox.
Where 9 times out of 10, it dies.
I see it coming, but I dread the day when America’s birds no longer risk death to leave the nest.
When our children become prisoners of government shoebox expectations.
When they no longer fly.
When as a country we become simply, Useless.