for release Friday August 13, 2004
by Melodie Davis
A young blue jay was getting flying lessons in our front yard. He had hopped up onto our porch and was flitting around near some flowerpots. But I hadn’t noticed any of that when I took our dog, Fable, briefly outside before I went to work.
Suddenly there was a flurry of squawking and feathers as Fable noticed the young bird before I did. Then, just as quickly, two adult blue jays, I assume male and female, came swooping down out of the nearby maple trees. I mean they were on that dog, dive-bombing down to frighten her and protect their young jay (called a “chick”).
Now, most of us are not big fans of jays just because they’re so prolific and can be just this feisty and nasty to other birds, eating the eggs and young babies. But I didn’t really want to see our dog maul a young blue jay before he had a fighting chance. I also knew our youngest daughter would be mad at the dog (and me) for a week if I let the dog kill the bird.
So I quickly called the dog back, and to her credit (or maybe it is because she is so much of a pussycat), she backed off the chick. But I was struck by the parenting style of those birds, and how much it reminded me of our role as human parents: to nudge, push, and cheer for our offspring as they take their first flights into independence, and then to rush in like worried jays to the rescue when they get in trouble.
One of the surprising things about parenting is it seems we need to be available for our children for many years beyond the magic age of 18. Even for the simple things, like learning to be assertive around adults in authority, especially doctors, principals, registrars. Too often they accept things professionals say at face value, not asking questions, or not stating their own needs or expectations. Perhaps I have swooped in too often and fought their fights for them, such as calling or e-mailing teachers they were too timid to talk to. Our youngest, Doreen, was especially that way, who, in spite of being 18, is small, blond and very young looking. As anyone else who fits that description knows, people tend to write you off when you are small, blond and young looking.
Doreen needed to go back to a clinic on a Monday morning to get a TB test interpreted by the staff for a college physical. She also wanted to leave town by 10 a.m. that day to go on a post-graduation camping trip with her friends. The clinic assured us there would be a doctor available by 8 a.m. But nothing medical is ever simple. The receptionist read the test, but the form required a doctor’s signature. The doctor was busy. Could Doreen come back at noon?
Travel another 12 miles round trip just to get a signature? Doreen’s ecological consciousness and desire to leave with her friends on their long planned camping trip kicked in. “No, I’m going out of town at 10 a.m. and I need it now,” she told the clerk, who somehow dug up the busy doctor for a quick and unreadable flourish of his pen.
On August 18 we take this youngest daughter to college. Since we’ve had two older daughters who’ve made the trip before her, I know that there will be moments when the urge to swoop in and protect is strong. There may even be emergencies when we will have to be there. But I also know, just as surely as my bird lover daughter is fond of even the lowly blue jay, that swooping in too soon is not good for her or us, either.
One woman told how her kids called from their honeymoon with a broken down car. She and her husband felt that the bridal couple could cope without them driving hundreds of miles to rescue them. She knew the kids could cope on their own—like she had many years earlier with her own broken down car. In turn, that gives parents more confidence when their kids are out flying on their own.
I remember my own near-panic one weekend when I drove alone about 200 miles for a wedding of friends. On Monday I would begin my very first real job out of college. It was a holiday weekend, and I was returning on a Sunday evening. My aging 1966 Chevrolet dropped a wheel. It completely broke off at the axle, leaving me stranded on an exit of U.S. Interstate 81 about two hours from my apartment. Everything was closed. I thought, what if I couldn’t go to work my very first day on the job? They would think I was a slacker. Would they believe my car broke down?
This was in 1975, many years prior to cell phones of course, so I walked to the nearest station (fortunately not very far). Somehow I called the station owner, who came in and opened up his closed shop on a Sunday evening of a holiday weekend. He fixed my car, put me back on the road, and I made it to work the next day. I learned I could do my own problem-solving, and that’s really what we want for our kids, isn’t it?
So, when you’re tempted to swoop in, ask yourself, can they solve this problem on their own? If so, let them. You’ll both be stronger for it.
Do parents today swoop in too soon? Post your comments at http://www.thirdway.com/aw/conversation.asp or send to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 954 words; end material = 105 words
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