Beginning Again

She did it again.

The mother robin who returns each spring to craft a nest in record time on the ledge beneath our patio overhang followed through on her instincts earlier this month.

Recently, her construction efforts, patience and maternal defensiveness were rewarded, with the hungry mouths and fragile necks of baby robins finally visible above the edges of the sturdy brown cradle she had painstakingly created.

From experience, I know it won’t be long–slightly more than a week, possibly a few days more–before all the care and nurturing she’s provided will enable her babies to test their wings and fly off to explore the world and dig their own worms.

It’s always a marvel to notice how quickly the cycle unfolds, from the moment scraps of straw and sticks appear on the ledge (and a fully formed nest magically results mere hours later) to the day the baby robins scatter as fledglings, eager and somewhat naive about what lies ahead.

Last weekend I observed the first of my three babies begin his leap from nest to world. There he was, walking in dignified fashion across the platform bedecked in a black gown and mortarboard, smiling at his classmates and the college president as he happily accepted the diploma that certified he had successfully completed all requirements for a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Because the memories of my husband and I date to the second of his birth (indeed, to nine months before it), we knew full well exactly how far he had already come and the obstacles over which he has managed to hurdle thus far.

And yet, as parents, we also know how many more challenges lie ahead. Coupled with that is the knowledge we won’t be there to dig every worm, feather every nest and fend off every attacking hawk for him. How could we be?

But have we, like the mother robin, done enough to equip him for what awaits? Oh, to be as fearless as the robin appears. She watches attentively from a safe distance as her babies hover on the nest’s rim before finally, finally, swooping out and away from their safe, warm shelter.

Among the commencement speakers at our son’s graduation ceremony were Senator Amy Klobuchar and U.S. District Court Judge Wilhelmina M. Wright.

These two intelligent, successful women both shared unexpected tidbits. First, Klobuchar revealed that her initial post-college job in Washington, D.C., was inventorying the furniture stock in former Vice President Walter Mondale’s office. For a graduate with high aspirations and faith in her own abilities, the assignment was initially a downer, but she learned the lessons of humility and follow-through nevertheless.

Similarly, Wright mentioned she had experienced failures, although she didn’t dwell on the details; she simply stressed that everyone would fail at some point, and that failure is an essential ingredient for growth and achievement.

It’s the failures that push us forward, Wright emphasized, and an uncertain future can be a compelling motivator.

The sun shone on Saturday afternoon, and our son beamed, poised to depart from his precarious perch on the very edge of the nest we had labored to build and maintain for his edification.

Ready to fly, ready to explore, ready to fail, ready to succeed: Whatever the winds may bring, may your wings sustain you, may you find shelter from the elements, may you find an able and responsible mate, may you avoid the hawks and may the worms be abundant.

We love you and we’ll be watching, like the vigilant mother robin, from a safe distance.