Birds of a different feather

1. Introduction

In my last newsletter I mentioned that my long time friend and teacher (Eva Graf) had recently passed away. I want to thank all of you for the many kind emails I received expressing your condolences.

I have thought long and hard about what to write for this newsletter. As I was considering what would be best, I thought about the many wonderful things I had learned from Eva. Suddenly I realized for the first time, that the stories I write for you are similar to the stories Eva sometimes wrote for her students. So interesting that I never saw the connection before!

As a way to honor Eva, I am presenting you today with a story she wrote more than thirty years ago. I hope you’ll enjoy Eva’s story as much as you’ve been enjoying mine.

(Because of the close relationship I had with Eva, I’ve taken the liberty of doing some editing and a bit of rewriting.)


2. Birds of a different feather

Tramping around the swamp not far from our house, my brothers came upon a wild duck’s nest with five newly laid eggs, but no mother in sight. Carrying the eggs under their sweaters to keep them warm, they brought them home to mom and dad’s chicken farm.

One of our hens had been trying to hatch some of her eggs for a while now, but we had been gathering her output for our own consumption. We decided to finally give her the chance to be a mom. Thinking it would be fun to watch our hen “Penny” with a small flock of orphans.

Two weeks passed, with Penny sitting and waiting to become a mom. Then, all of a sudden the baby ducklings started to spring to life! “Peck, peck, peck” turned into “Peep, peep, peep” and Penny squawked to let the world know she was a proud new mom!

The tiny ducklings were darling little balls of fluff, with webbed feet and square beaks, all hale and hearty. Penny tried to gather them about her like baby chicks, but the ducklings had minds of their own. Rather than scurry about their mom, and huddle under her, they preferred to line up behind her in single file. Wherever she went, they waddled behind her in a neat line.

Penny took a couple of days to get used to her brood, but soon she was proudly strutting around the yard with her new found family following behind her. It didn’t matter that her babies were “different.” She was as pleased as any mom would be.

Out strolling one sunny afternoon, Penny got thirsty. She marched her brood over to the small pond where the chickens normally drank. Then she had what was probably the greatest shock of her life. With great chirps of glee, all four little ducks plunged in to the pond for their first swim! Poor Penny wasn’t prepared for this turn of events. She squawked and flapped her wings, trying to get them to come back to shore. But to no avail, as they were having the time of their life.

Penny was of course terrified of the water, She stayed by the side of the pond squawking, scolding, and pleading, until she was finally exhausted. Then she settled down fearfully, seemingly expecting the worst.

As dusk approached her ordeal finally came to an end. The biggest of the ducklings called its siblings together and they swam to the edge of the pond, waddled out, and lined up behind Penny once again. Seeing they were all safe, she fluffed her feathers, scolded them as only a mother hen can, and led them back to the hen house.

At the hen house, Penny and her little ones expressed their differences once again. Penny hopped up on the lowest perch and tried to get her babies to do the same. But, while chickens roost for the night, ducks tuck their feet underneath them and snuggle close to the ground. Again and again, Penny tried to get them to be good little chicks. But again and again, they preferred to be good little ducks.

The scenes at the pond and in the hen house took place over and over until Penny finally gave in. Eventually she took to marching her “chicks” to the edge of the pond, and invited them to have a swim. “All right,” she seemed to say. “lf you refuse to stay out of the water, then enjoy yourselves and swim!”

The ducklings quickly grew, and Penny seemed less concerned about their safety as they matured and began to awkwardly make short flights around the yard. One day as a flock of wild ducks flew by, her babies let out loud screams as they madly flapped their wings and flew a few yards before tiring and returning. Two days later when another flock passed by, the young ducks again let out wild screams. This time upon taking off, they made their way towards their feathered friends and flew off into the distance never to be seen again. Penny’s time taking care of them was now over, and I couldn’t help but wonder if she felt abandoned or relieved.

Penny and her “babies” taught me so much! As a parent I have had to learn the very same lessons as her. It’s so important to love and accept your children. Especially when their ways are different than yours and seem to be dangerous. Trust that on some level your children likely know what they are doing, even though you can’t make any sense out of what is going on. Also remember, that each one of us has different behaviors and different ways of being in the world. What is right for you might not be right for your children.

Sometimes I squawk and get frightened, just like Penny did. At other times I remember that Penny let go of her fears and her sense of right and wrong, and trusted that a greater intelligence was being acted upon. As my children leave the nest I have made for them, I am confident they will indeed know how to fly, and find their way in the world.

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