Ever have a gut feeling while raising children? Listen to it!
I named him Chester. A plucky little Canada goose that was given to me shortly after he’d been rescued. He came to live with us as a pre-teen, and no one was sure what this little scruff was as he scrambled between my feet everywhere I went– I had to protect him from the cat, dog and adopted duck that shared our property.
He spent hours with me as I weeded and watered the garden, learned to swim with my son in the swimming hole, (spending more time playing under water than floating on top, as they will) and came to know every nook and cranny of the property that was his new home.
It wasn’t long before we became a quick study of each other’s grunts and coos. And just as I had done with my own children, I soon gained the ability to interpret each of his sounds. When we would lose sight of each other, he would call me, honking, as if to holler, “Mom? Where are you?” and I’d answer him, “I’m over here!” and he’d come running.
When he was old enough to sleep outside the safety of his pen all night, I’d be awakened by a cooing love song, right below the bedroom window– at 5 a.m! My husband would roll over and moan, “Your adopted son is calling you, he probably wants breakfast.” So, clad in slippers and nightgown, I would sleepily pad my way to the back deck and he’d fly to meet me at the door, fluffing his wings and calling, “gook, gooook!”, as if to scold me for taking so long.
In the summertime, Sundays were spent relaxing in a lawn chair with the local paper and Chester. He was worse than any two year old wanting mom’s attention. Sneaking up behind me, he’d pull a strand of my long pony-tail, and if that didn’t work, he’d peck at my pop can. When all else failed, he’d grab my paper in his beak and run off. Eventually he would win; I would give up and take him to the creek to enjoy a swim, or appease him with an apple off the tree.
Each day Chester would follow me on the trail through the woods as I took my morning walk. My neighbor would wave to me and call out, “Well, well, there goes Mother Goose!”
After a while, the question began to arise: When will he fly?
As a concerned mother, I began to worry that his wings wouldn’t develop enough strength to carry his increasing body weight. Determined that my little goose turn out normal, I slowly began to increase my pace during our daily walk. Chester would stretch out his wings and run behind me in a desperate effort to keep up. Jogging ahead of him, my heart would break as he called out, “Gook, goooook!” as if to say, “Wait, mom, why are you doing this?”, but I kept at it, staying just out of his reach, until he finally extended his wings to their fullest, beating the air and taking his first flight. I was so excited, I almost fell into a blackberry bush cheering and applauding him!
As if to let me know it was his idea and not mine, he flew just high enough to pass me, but low enough to give me a good thunk on the back of the head with one of his wings. We then ran and flew up the trail to the house together to show off for the others. “I taught Chester to fly!” I cried to my husband.
Chester’s flight was the beginning of his arrival into young adulthood. Like most teens announcing their arrival on the scene, he became belligerent and obstinate. Thinking the world revolved around him, he started to let me know he thought his schedule was the most important, and that it was an honor when he allowed me to be with him.
He no longer cooed at me, but hollered as if he was always angry instead. Loving him as only a step-mother could, I allowed him his annoying efforts toward independence. As he moved into the role of terrorizing all the farm animals and visitors to our home, we worried no one would survive his ‘coming of age’.
It was around this time that I was encouraged to set him free into the wilderness — for his own good, of course. Although I didn’t feel he was ready, after much persuasion, I agreed, and we drove to a nearby pond where we knew Canadian Geese habitually gathered.
Willingly, he got out of the truck to go swimming. Once in the water, he attempted to socialize, only to be run off continually by males who were guarding the females who were sitting on nests. Thus, poor Chester kept returning to his mommy at the side of the pond.
At a certain point however, and as hard as it was, I had to turn my back. Convinced by my husband that I was keeping him from adjusting, I ignored Chester and walked away, climbing into the truck and shutting the door. Tears in my eyes, I protested that the poor guy was scared, and that I shouldn’t leave him, but my better half’s logic won out and we finally began the drive home.
But as we turned onto the highway, I heard the familiar “gook, gooook!” and shifted in my seat to peer out the window. There he was, following the truck, high in the sky, crying out after us with his wait for me! honk.
I began to panic. Chester was too green for this — there was no way his wings were strong enough to sustain the six-mile flight home. Seconds later, he proved me right, coming to an awkward landing in the middle of the highway and crying out after us at the top of his lungs.
“Stop!”I yelled at my husband, “He’s going to get hit!”
We pulled the truck to the side of the road, and I leapt out before it was barely to a halt, yelling out to my makeshift step-child in the best ‘come here call’ I could manage.
Our eyes met, and I could tell in that moment he knew what to do. He gave two mighty strokes of his wings, and his body lifted into the air — just in time to be hit broadside by a car going 55 miles per hour.
It was as if a feather bed had exploded before my eyes. I dropped to my knees, wailing, but my husband was quick on his feet. He ran to him on the road, gathered him up and brought him back to me. “What do you want to do with him?!” he hollered.
Looking down at the limp body of my poor, broken little Chester, I could think of nothing. Though he was beyond saving, he wasn’t gone yet. “We need to take him home, and let him die in his own pen” I replied. I gathered him into my arms, his little head lolling about against my sobbing chest, and we cried together.
Just as we were pulling into the house, Chester began to go into serious shock. Knowing the end was near, I got him comfortable in the pen and made a place for myself next to him. Though I knew it was pointless, I had my husband call the vet. We were told there was nothing that could be done and we needed to consider putting him down.
Lying next to him, I cried and cried, the tears pouring down my cheeks as I apologized to him over and over for my fatal mistake in judgment. I told him I wasn’t going anywhere, and I meant it. For two days I sat in his pen, attempting to nurse him back to health, praying, and weeping, and sleeping very little…
Yet, miracles do happen.
Ten years have passed since that fateful day, and Chester is alive and well. While he now walks with a permanent limp, he continues to rule the yard — make no mistake about it — he is as cocksure as he ever was. And, watching him make his way determinedly around his fiefdom day after day, I am forever reminded of the lesson inherent in the whole thing: In a world that moves our children from infants to adulthood in record time, you must, as a parent, trust your instincts. I no longer allow others that don’t spend as much time with my children to dictate what — and when — is best for them.
Today’s children are making decisions that have potentially life-threatening consequences before they’ve even learned to manage their acne. Life readiness arrives on individual, perfectly timed body-clocks that get out of sync when they’re sped up or slowed down. As the “flight trainer”, one of my many jobs is to determine when, exactly, my children are ready for flight. It works the same way with you: You too must become the best flight trainer your children have got to get them into the sky.