On July 4th my 8 year-old little eagle walked up a tall ladder, waltzed across a platform full of teenage girls waiting to leap, and like a veteran champion approached the edge of the platform and jumped off. Arms in the air, feet forward and hardly a beat of hesitation, he took flight. What a gamer move. Next came twenty feet of free fall and a dock full of screaming enthusiasts. It all happened really fast and I think I may not have been the only one with two feet planted whose stomach dropped. Without question I had serious physiologic and neurologic shifts in my body as he leapt and fell, my stomach in my toes by the time he hit the water. What a wonder to see our children step up, look right at their fear, and then just push forward. Talk about leaning in…courage really is one of the most beautiful emotions to see in our children as they grow.
Raising children takes all sort of courage, of course. The odds at times feel stacked against us (overnight relentless wake-ups, temper tantrums, health challenges, worries about mental health, worries about physical health, resource restraints, failures, failures, failures). But nothing is typically stacked against most of us like other species. All parents face big challenges.
If you look carefully in the image, just behind my little eagle in free fall is a Bald Eagle’s nest. We’ve been watching a family of eagles raise two of their own this spring and summer. And the crazy thing? Eagles have staggering odds stacked AGAINST them. Some studies suggest a mortality risk for the 1st year of life is near 72% and I’ve also been told the mortality rate for an eagle during its first flight (around 10-12 weeks after hatching) is nearly 50%. Imagine — a developmental milestone with a flip-of-the-coin chance at survival. Parenting anything is staggeringly terrifying. Although some children are born with these kinds of odds due to congenital malformations or inborn errors of metabolism, most children in the U.S. come out with remarkable odds for survival. Modern medicine has enhanced this: sanitation, vaccination, child-safety restraints, and perinatal medicine has done wonders for our children.
My sweet little eagle had hesitated the last couple summers when looking up at the platform. And this summer he decided to take flight. Just a quick reminder for me that the risks, coupled with a brew of courage and enthusiasm, are likely ubiquitous, shared traits for all species raising little ones. I suspect the thrill that comes with successful first leaps is too…