Many years ago my sisters rescued a baby bird who had been separated from its nest during a storm. Acting on the advice of our veterinarian neighbor, we fed peanut butter bread-balls into its open beak. The redness of the little bird’s throat faded with every ball.
Transforming himself from a jumble of spindly bone and wet feathers into what we recognized as a robin, and transitioning from a cage on my parents’ breezeway to the great outdoors, the bird taught himself to fly. He would sit in the trees above the patio at night, coming down each morning for food. His visits grew increasingly rare until one day he stopped coming altogether. When you did see him, he was usually within a square foot of certain spots around the yard that seemed to have been pre-programmed into him.
Child-rearing, I have thought in retrospect, is a lot like raising this bird. You feed your kids and you keep them safe. But there is not a whole lot that you can do wrong. With minds of their own and destinies that seem impervious to anything you might want to wish on them, the children are pre-programmed to grow up without you. You are instead the caretaker. You look at the first robin of every spring with the thought that maybe this is the creature, no different really than any other, who at one point used the mass of his body against yours to push off into flight.