We've all heard the parenting analogy of the mama bird pushing her baby birds out of the nest. The baby birds won't leave on their own -- they don't even know they can fly -- which is why, at precisely the right moment, which the mama bird knows because of her amazing motherly intuition, she gives them a push.
I have just a few questions about this terrifying process.
What if your baby birds are overly confident and do think they can fly, but as the mama bird you know they aren't ready?
Or what if your motherly intuition isn't working properly and you push them out too soon? What goes through the poor birds' minds as their mother displaces them from the only home they've ever known, hurling them toward the ground? And who pushes the mama bird when she isn't ready to push her babies?
During our vacation to Mexico last August, my father- and mother-in-law generously invited our two oldest daughters, both teenagers, and their 15-year-old cousin to go on a European cruise. My father-in-law says it is to celebrate their quinceañeras (a Mexican tradition celebrating a daughter's 15th birthday, which Bernie's family traditionally has never celebrated.)
I think for my 15th birthday I got a sweater. Anyway, they will be visiting France, Italy, Turkey and Greece. They will be seeing some of the most beautiful places in the world, and eating some of the most delectable foods on the planet. Did I mention they are going on a cruise? This is the trip of a lifetime, a trip that I wish I could take in my lifetime. My first emotion was pure joy for them.
The second emotion I felt was anxiety. My father-in-law decided that returning from their trip to Europe, since they would already be in Mexico, the girls should stay for an extra week, meaning that they will be gone for an entire month. They will be flying alone into Mexico City.
Now, I know that for many families, trips like this are not unusual. Throughout his childhood, my husband, Bernie, and his sisters flew from Mexico City to France to spend the summers with their aunt and uncle. I didn't fly on a plane until I was about 17 years old. And our daughters have not been away from home for more than a few days. Anxieties of all kinds began to creep into my waking and sleeping thoughts. Big and small, I'm worrying about catastrophic tragedies and the girls fighting over clothes on the cruise ship. I'm worrying about how it will feel to have them gone for a month.
I'm worried because my daughters are worried, mostly about being away from home that long and about their cell phone coverage. At times I have felt like maybe they are not ready for such a big trip. At times I know that I am not ready.
I've talked with friends that understand and empathize with my fears, but I found that it is not a good idea to only talk to people who think the same as me. In this situation, I need an expanded perspective. So I talked to a few mama birds that have pushed their babies and watched them soar.
My friend Ruth has lived overseas, and she and her husband have adopted two children from Europe. They have all traveled extensively and have found great value in visiting other counties and experiencing different cultures. When I told her the girls were going to Europe with their grandparents for a month, her whole face lit up, her eyes twinkling, and she said, "Oh, that is going to be so wonderful for them!"
My friend Marla, who is very logical, has assured me numerous times that my children will come back alive. They will. She tells me it will be hard at times, but it will be OK.
My sister, Kari, and my friend, Margie, helped me to see that this trip will provide opportunities for growth and other things I highly value. My daughters will get to know their grandparents and cousin better, and will create memories they will never forget. And as sisters, they will share an experience that will strengthen their already close bond. They will be educated by history and inspired by beautiful architecture. Their family roots will grow deeper when they visit the place in France where their grandfather grew up and meet their great aunt and uncle. They will have to wash their clothes in the sink in their tiny cabin bathroom, which for some reason makes me smile. They will grow and mature in ways I can't imagine.
One day I was talking to Kari, who lives in Northern Michigan, and I heard her tell one of her older children to give her daughter, Maggie, "the remote control with no batteries." The older kids were playing Wii, and 1-year-old Maggie wanted to play too. The visual of my nephew giving Maggie a remote control with no batteries so she could point it at the TV, push buttons and think she was playing video games with her siblings made me laugh. What a perfect example of the illusion of control.
Because that is really what this is about for me. I like to have my baby birds close because I feel like I have more control, but it's really an illusion. My remote control doesn't have any batteries, and that is where my faith comes in. As much as I am able, I entrust my children to God who gave them to me in the first place.
But that doesn't mean that I won't still aim my remote and push the buttons. I'm making lists, doing online research and printing itineraries. We've upgraded our cell plan to include international texting and data. The girls are relieved, but what they don't realize is that I am even more relieved than they are. Because as much as they need to stay connected to their friends, I need to stay connected to them even more.
• Becky Baudouin lives in the Northwest suburbs with her husband and their three daughters. She blogs regularly at beckyspen.blogspot.com.