Fully fledged

I'm not sure who noticed it first or even exactly when, but there was great deal of excitement in our house when we realized that there was a robin nest right outside the front door with four -- and then five -- blue eggs in it. We didn't know when the eggs were laid, but the female robin hardly ever left them alone. All day, and all night, she stayed in the nest, only leaving it briefly to find food. It was easy to watch what was going on because the nest was tucked into a weeping cherry tree not much higher than eye level. From the window in front of where my computer lives, we were able to see right into the nest.

Less than a week later, four of the eggs hatched. A day after that the fifth did as well. Frankly, baby robins are ugly. Their skin is bald and bumpy and pink, their eyes don't open for several days, their necks are weak and wobbly, and their open beaks are as big as they are. All that is what makes them so endearing. I could watch them for hours.

Of course, the other thing that's wonderful to witness is how attentive parent birds are to their tiny chicks. Flying out and back dozens of times a day, both Mom and Dad deposited food into those hungry not-so-little mouths every half-hour. They also kept the nest clean, and did what birds can -- which isn't much -- to protect them. At night, Mom returned to keep them warm. At dawn, she'd be off while they still slept to begin gathering food for them. The birds were growing, changing, and getting stronger every day. Until early one morning, we caught a neighbor's cat near the tree, and discovered the nest leaning precariously with only two chicks left inside. When I think about it, I'm not sure why I was shocked. Perhaps it was mostly because I had become so attached to the residents of that little nest.

Several days later, after the mommy bird had failed to return for the night, my heart sank again. The next day, however, Dad showed up to take care of all the feedings himself. And, the little birds, though not quite able to sustain flight, left the nest. Hopping into the thick brush at the edge of the nearby woods, the robin fledgling was watched by three adult birds. We saw one of them the next morning, following an adult who would stop intermittently to feed him.

The photos I took daily recorded a drama that felt strangely familiar. I think that is why it was so easy for me to invest so much of myself in the fate of that little avian family. Watching them was like seeing a sped-up version of what we've been doing for the past 26 years. Parents build a place for our kids to grow, and protect them the best we can. We feed their bodies, minds, and souls -- not so that they can stay in the nest forever -- but so that they will be strong enough to leave it flying.

Tonight, we attended Class Night at St. Patrick's School in Stoneham to celebrate the accomplishments of our latest 8th grader, Austin. Nadja, who has spent two years teaching English in Moscow, will begin law school at The College of William and Mary in the fall. Katerina is currently on a month-long mission trip to India, serving with the Missionaries of Charity. Kolbe will begin his junior year at DeSales University; Kyril his junior year at the Newman School in Boston. Jana is raising her own little nestlings. And, as 6th and 7th graders next year, our "little girls" aren't so little anymore.

Hatchlings become nestlings, and nestlings will fledge -- when they are ready -- and leave the nest for the world beyond it. But what gives our children wings and the strength to fly to both achievement and safety is the faith we give them while they depend on our care. Without faith, the world and the nest are much more dangerous. With faith, or better yet with God, there is nothing to fear and nothing beyond possibility.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.