It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. ~ C. S. Lewis
I was tending to my garden yesterday.
My solitude was interrupted by a bird perched on the picket fence no more than a foot away. It was frantic. It’s tail feathers were fanned in an effort to intimidate me as it screeched loudly. Soon another joined in the riot. Scout, the rat terrier, was outside the garden and attacked by the birds when he trotted over to see what the commotion was. This came to a halt when he started barking at what he discovered.
People often see baby birds that are partially feathered sitting on the ground below a tree and automatically assume that they need to be rescued. At this stage in a bird’s development, they are considered “fledglings”. They normally will jump or fall out of the nest. This is their “flight training” stage. The mother bird will continue feeding the fledgling (on the ground) until it is able to fly, which usually takes a few days. These birds should be left alone. Keep cats, dogs, and curious children away so the mother bird can continue to feed it. The fledglings are at risk from predators and even harsh weather while on the ground, but the danger must be faced so the next generation can take flight.
The birds know instinctively what we humans have forgotten: accomplishment only comes by way of risks overcome. What risks do we consider acceptable for our children? In our eagerness to protect, we have created a padded world where the even the playground mulch is made of rubber and we don’t keep score so no one has to lose. If you study the history of our country you will read of mere children routinely performing work that would tax today’s grown men and women. Their world was not easy and a simple mistake could mean the loss of life or limb. Life was far more dangerous then, yet those generations turned an empty continent into a world power in less than a hundred years. Our lives have thankfully become safer, easier and more comfortable than ever before. We live in circumstances that kings would once have envied. No one should wish for a return of the past.
Still, for all our progress, the world remains a dangerous place and our children will be left to conquer it alone. If we remove even the smallest of playground dangers, how will they have learned to persevere? If we take away the sting of defeats, and painful mistakes, will they ever feel the thrill of certainty that they are equal to any task? We should be asking ourselves how safe is safe enough, what risks are not just acceptable, but necessary, and who gets to make that call.
Today’s parents should take a lesson from the birds. All children are fledglings. From the time babies learn to stand and take a few steps, they are beginning the process of leaving the nest to face an unforgiving world. Make them strong, confident and able.