Whose birthday is it?
There’s a Happy Birthday banner, bright colored cardstock letters against a fringed white streamer, hung up in our dining room. It went up in April for my son’s birthday and will stay up until my daughter’s birthday in a few days. By now I don’t remember it’s there, so I’m always surprised when people coming into the house notice it and inquire who’s celebrating.
My son turned 12 this year; my daughter is two days from 9. Nine and Twelve. I confess—it makes me suck in my breath. They are, my babies, (nearly) Nine and Twelve.
Twelve, this week, is at sleep-away camp for the first time. He’s in a safe and beautiful environment, playing his trumpet with other motivated band students and enjoying the week. He reports that the food is good and he’s sleeping well. His roommate is one of his many new best friends. The camp counselors herd them around as a floor a lot, and he’s even seen a few people he knows from home—one girl from his school who was so relieved to see him because his was the only familiar face and one from a day camp last summer. If sleep-away camp is a taste of college life, it doesn’t surprise me that he’s already working at being a big man on campus.
Nearly Nine has stepped up to beat her grandmother at Monopoly and will be hosting a sleepover birthday party on Friday. She’s spending the week of her brother’s absence in dance camp in the mornings, heading out the door in the required leotard and tights festooned with a scarf, a boa, or hair ribbons of her own design. And just two weeks ago she delighted in donating ten inches of her lovely blond hair to Locks of Love (see http://www.yeahdave.com/beautiful-moment-hair-today-gone-tomorrow).
Twelve’s camp isn’t far from the famed Decorah Eagle Cam eagles (http://www.decoraheaglecamalerts.com/). After checking him in, seeing him through his audition, and helping stow his stuff in his dorm room, his father and I waved goodbye and headed over to see the eagles in person. The enormous nest is easily visible from the ground. A good zoom lens or binoculars gets you right up next to the edge. The three babies are within weeks, perhaps days, of flying. They stand on one edge of the nest and hop with wings spread to the other edge. Sometimes they flap their wings, feeling the breeze and extending their new flight feathers. Their parents fly fish after fish after fish to the nest. It is no accident, I feel sure, that they built their enormous nest across the street from the DNR’s fish hatchery.
At just about any time of night or day, people around the world are watching the eagles via the Internet. And when they can, they make the trek to Decorah, IA, gathering below the nest, parked on the gravel shoulder, respectful of the people whose houses are on this supposedly quiet country road. With cameras and binoculars aimed at the enormous aerie, they exchange eagle lore. One woman told me that in a few days’ time the parents would begin inciting the babies to fly, winging over the nest with fish grasped in their talons, but not directly bringing it all the way to the babies to eat.
From nesting to flight, it’ll be about five months. Unlike the eagle babies, Nine won’t be fully fledged until she’s added twelve to her Nine for Twenty-one and even then I know human babies bounce back to the nest time and again. I wonder if the eagles will be relieved when their babies fly or if, like me, they feel like childhood is all going by so quickly. At once I want my babies to soar, to fly out and get their own magical fish, seize opportunities, ride the wind. The more they are capable of themselves, the less I do for them and we all gain independence. The closer to flight they get, the more entranced I am by them, who they’re becoming, and how they are Nine and Twelve, not babies any longer. These interesting people I enjoy and am in no hurry for them to fly off from my daily world.
Birthday season will come to an end on Friday and after the weekend the banner will come down and will be stowed in the basement until next spring. My babies will be fully Nine and more Twelve than ever, headed to fourth and eighth grades in the fall. They will continue to stretch me with new challenges, and I will continue to remind myself it’s a good thing they grow up just one day at a time and not all at once like eagle babies.
Happy Full Strawberry Moon, Rxo
[Twelve in his dorm room aerie]