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Fledge

This spring and early summer, Simon and I kept track of a few birds’ nests via the web. There was a red-tailed hawk family in NYC, another red-tailed hawk family in Philadelphia, and a bald eagle nest in rural Minnesota.

You wouldn’t believe the drama these three nests provided. In Philadelphia, the male hawk got hit by a car and died just days after three eggs hatched. In Minnesota, the eaglet somehow got stuck in a divet in his nest, couldn’t get out, and was literally flapping himself to death while his parents and birders the world over looked on helplessly. Thankfully, everyone got happy endings. In Philly, a new male appeared, took over hunting duties, and became the world’s first documented hawk step-dad. And in Minnesota, raptor rescuers captured baby Harmon, treated him, and returned him to his nest before the parents abandoned it.

This all happened in May. Then, in June and July, something every bit as dramatic but much more predicable happened: The babies all fledged. First the nest in NYC, then Philadelphia, and then Minnesota all emptied out as the young raptors took flight for the first time. For the next few months, their parents will follow them around and show them how to hunt to prepare them for the independence that arrives this fall.

Over here on Cowling Avenue, I can’t help but feel that Simon is peering over the precipice of his own nest. Simon’s fledge period will last 13 years instead of three months, but come Tuesday things are going to change around here. He’ll be gone until after 4:00 each day, and his peer group will become much more central to his life as the march to independence ramps up. It’s a bitter-sweet time. The impulse to regret, to delay, and to protect is strong. Thankfully for Simon’s sake, his desire to fly and my impulse to let him are even stronger.

This Wednesday, we had two trial runs at quasi-independence. First was his kindergarten kick-off at Brandeis. Parents and kids assembled in the school gym at the beginning, then the principal called for each kindergarten class to leave the bleachers and their parents behind, line up before their teacher’s table, and walk out of the gym for their morning’s activity. The principal was pretty funny about it.

“All right parents, she said with a smile. This is it. Consider it practice for the big day. You can do it. It’s time to let your babies go!”

Some kids left the bleachers with reluctance, heads turned back towards mom and dad with hesitation. A few kids clung to their parents and sobbed. And others marched down the bleacher steps without any visible hesitation at all. I wouldn’t have predicted it when he was 2 or 3, but Simon was in that latter group. An hour and a half later, he emerged all smiles. He toured the building, had a snack in the cafeteria, met the librarian, played on the playground, and had his first circle time with his teacher, Mr. Sowder, whom he immediately liked.

Three hours later, we crossed another threshold: I let Simon mostly walk home from his hair-cut unsupervised. We go to a neighborhood joint three long blocks from our house. Walking from Cowling to Bardstown¬† Rd. keeps us on residential streets, but they don’t all have sidewalks, and they are all intersected by various alleys and cross-streets. Once we reach Bardstown Rd., the busy commercial street, it’s a matter of staying on the sidewalk and watching out for blind driveways.

After the stylist gave him his just-in-time-for-family-pictures trim on Wednesday, we walked out the door together, at which point Simon gave me an impish grin and took off down the street, around the corner, and out of sight before I could catch up with him. My first instinct was to yell, sprint, and admonish him to “never leave my sight” like that. But then I considered it. He’s almost 6 now, and he’s got a decent head on his shoulders. What good is it to admire his quest for independence if I squelch it at every turn?

So I didn’t. I jogged around the corner, called for him to slow down, and then laid down the ground rules. He had to stop at every alley and look before crossing, and he had to stop and wait for me at Chichester so I could show him how to cross when there is on-street parking obscuring the view of traffic. He did well. Then I told him he could proceed the rest of the way home, but that if I saw anything I didn’t like, I’d yell and he’d have to stop. As I hung back and observed, he stopped at the corner of Murray and Cowling, looked carefully both ways, and turned up our sidewalk-less street. Every time he saw a car, he stepped off the road up into a yard to wait for it to pass.

He did great, and he loved being in charge. My baby bird is ready to fledge, which is making it easier for me to at least think about letting go. He is nagging me to have sleep-overs with friends and family, and he wants to do everything on his own. I know where this ends. This ends with him demanding “away camp” at 10 or 11, finding a way to spend at least one high-school summer out of town,¬† insisting on going out-of-state for college, studying abroad for a year, and then moving several time zones away from us after he graduates. At least, that’s how things ended with me, and we didn’t even have Skype or flat-rate long-distance back then!

So I of all people should understand, welcome, and encourage these yearnings for independence. And I intend to, starting this Tuesday when the school year officially begins.

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