The Parable of the Pigeon: When the Time Comes to Let Go of Our Kids
We find the pigeon early one Sunday morning, as we’re heading over to my ex-husband’s house to feed the cats. At first I think it’s dead, but, then I see it move its head and realize it’s just stunned. “It must have fallen from one of the nests that are up under the overpass,” I tell my 15-year-old daughter as I hand the pigeon to her through the open car window.
“Well, can we keep it?”
“We can try. But, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t survive. It looks like it’s going into shock, so, you’re going to have to keep it from falling asleep. The next couple of days will be crucial. If it makes it through the next 24-48 hours, it has a pretty good chance of making it.”
So, we bring it home, make a nest for it in an old basket and research exactly what baby pigeons eat. My daughter keeps the pigeon next to her the entire day and stays awake with it most of the night, trying to make sure it doesn’t fall asleep. I poke my head in her room the following morning, “How’s the baby pigeon doing?”
“She’s still alive.”
“So, we’ve decided it’s a she?”
“Yeah, her name’s Reginald.” And so it begins.
My daughter insists on buying the baby bird food with her own money. She insists on being the “primary caregiver” to the baby, only asking for help with making up the daily pigeon feed. She has made up her mind it’s her responsibility to help this baby bird survive. Reginald makes it through the next 24 hours and the 24 hours after that. Three weeks go by and the pigeon is still going strong.
“Should we let it go?” my daughter asks me one morning.
“I think if it’s able to fly we should. It is a wild bird. Wild birds should be outside.”
“What if she can’t fly?” (There’s some question as to whether or not Reginald’s wing is broken).
“Well, then, we’ll figure something out.”
Within a few days, Reginald starts flapping around my daughter’s room. Then, she starts flying up onto things and hovering around. Reginald’s wings are just fine. My daughter, on the other hand, is starting to get a little annoyed with the pigeon.
“She keeps knocking things off my dresser and night table. And she poops everywhere.”
“Maybe it’s time to think about letting her go then?” I suggest.
“Whenever you think you are ready” I reply.
A few more days pass and my daughter decides it’s time to let the pigeon go. We bring it outside. The pigeon looks completely terrified in my daughter’s arms. I suggest she put it down on the grass. The pigeon just sits there, still looking completely terrified. After a few minutes, it runs and hides behind the trash barrels.
“Well, I guess she isn’t ready yet.” I say.
“So, what do we do?” my daughter asks.
“Well, we continue trying until she is ready.”
“And, what if she’s never ready?” is the next question.
“We’ll figure something out,” which is my usual noncommittal reply. There is some talk over dinner about building an outdoor enclosure should Reginald be our pigeon for life.
Reginald continues to fly around my daughter’s room. She sits on the windowsill and looks out at the other birds flying by. It’s hard to say if she is wistful or satisfied with her circumstance. When I get home from work one afternoon, my daughter announces she is ready to give releasing Reginald another try. Reginald, it seems, has been scratching at the window screens, which makes my daughter think Reginald is trying to get out to fly with the other pigeons.
So, again she brings Reginald downstairs and again we go outside. She puts Reginald down on the grass. At first, Reginald just sits there, looking around. Then, she flies up onto the shed.
“How are we going to get her down?” my daughter asks. I realize at this point my daughter doesn’t understand the finality of her decision to let Reginald go. As Reginald flies from the shed to the neighbor’s roof, I look to my daughter, excited Reginald has finally taken off. Her eyes are first filled with disbelief, then with tears.
“I didn’t think she would actually fly” she sobs as she rushes into the house and up to her room. I sit on the back porch and watch Reginald walking around on the roof across the way. I can hear my daughter in her room, crying. At this moment, there is nothing I want more than to be able to get that pigeon back and make my daughter’s hurt go away, even though I know it’s not in either her or the pigeon’s best interest. Eventually, her crying subsides and I know she is watching her pigeon, too. Reginald has been joined by another pigeon and they seem to be getting along quite well. We continue to watch for a little while longer. Eventually, I go in to make dinner and my daughter comes down and joins me in the kitchen. We can still see the two pigeons.
“I feel better now that she has a friend. I thought I had made a mistake letting her go because she might not know how to take care of herself. But, now that she has a friend I think she will be OK.”
In that moment, I am humbled by my daughter’s unassuming appraisal of the situation. Finally, the moment comes when we look out and the pigeons are gone.
There is life lesson here — probably more than one. My daughter has faced a moment of heartbreak and survived. She had the opportunity of being responsible for another living thing and was able to give it what it needed to survive. And I have been given a brief glimpse into the near future, when I’ll be letting my own baby bird fly free. I wonder if it will take more than one attempt for her to go off on her own. I wonder, too, if I will be as taken by surprise when she finally takes off. Hopefully, I have done as good a job giving her the tools to survive as she has given Reginald.