by Harry Parmenter
When do you give up on your child? When do you ever say, enough? Enough of your bad choices, enough of your derelict, sometimes criminal behavior, enough of your doing whatever you want to do despite everyone’s good intentions to save you from yourself? When is enough, enough?
I face that decision as I sit here on the 37th floor of a Manhattan hotel, sirens and the wail of a fire truck in the distance, a beautiful spring day with clear blue sky as the city’s denizens emerge from a cocoon of raw, rainy days to hit the streets and enjoy the wonderful world and its infinite possibilities. Here on business for eight days a week, it takes only a few adventures on the crowded sidewalks of midtown, uptown and downtown to miss the 14 freeway, Canyon Country and the annual May ritual we have at our home.
Every year in the same nesting place under a backyard eave just outside our living room doors a robin lays her eggs, and then guards them religiously as she awaits the miracle of birth. When I left town a few days ago the three eggs were that sweetly unique and unmistakable shade of blue created weeks before, but are now fully formed symbols of nature’s indefinable beauty, power and meaning.
Stepping onto the backyard patio inevitably sends mama robin fluttering away in a brief spasm of fear to a vacant chaise longue ten feet away. When the coast clears, she swoops back to her perch atop a nest that has been built and rebuilt year after year with tree twigs, palm frond strands, anything these intrepid creatures can find, put in their beaks and transport to weave a temporary home for their pending offspring. (Hard to describe a nest without thinking of Albert Brooks’ classic description during his hilarious meltdown during “Lost in America: The bird lives in a round stick.”).
Vestiges of the bird’s nest, and several others like it also under the eaves, remain intact year-round, as we await the return of a mature creature surely hatched in the very same place to repeat the cycle of nesting, birth and finally, flight. Naturally this parallels the same path we humans take. As I write this on Mother’s Day eve, we prepare to celebrate and honor women who carried their own unique creations, bringing them to term and then, after about nine months—a tad longer than the robins’ gestation period of 12 to 14 days—the miracle of life. And so it begins.
Whereas the robin, like all animals, learns to live to eat, protect and survive, it’s a lot more complicated with a kid. They grow up, slowly at first, then the blur of childhood and suddenly they’re 18 and they don’t know what they want. Some of us never figure that out. Some of us go down the wrong road.
Like Robert Johnson at the crossroads, my daughter has made her decisions in life. Hamstrung by certain issues but none so severe as to render her incompetent, she has nonetheless chosen an unfortunate, recurrent path spanning a troubled decade that has made parenthood go from walking barefoot in the park to a park paved with broken glass. “I Walk on Gilded Splinters” sang Dr. John, his eminence gris gris, and I have come to appreciate that song in an entirely new, painful way.
Children require love, understanding, patience and support. It’s a lifelong commitment, the beginning of a great adventure from day one. When the robin hatches her eggs, she finds and delivers nourishment until her baby chicks take off and find their own way through the light and dark skies of life. Our children must do the same.
The question becomes, when do they provide their own nourishment? Take their own flight to fly straight and find their own direction? When does a parent cross over into a rinse repeat churn of rescue, forgiveness and ultimately, enabling? When must the bird go free?
Back in Canyon Country those eggs may be hatching at this very moment. Meanwhile, more sirens scream and fade away and radiate on the streets of the city. I can hear those sirens encircling my nearly 30-year-old child—and her future. What can I do? What will I do?
I walk on gilded splinters at the crossroads of parenthood. Fly straight…