Parenting is For the Birds

Raising our Young

Yesterday an intriguing thing happened at our house. A young hawk showed up on our deck railing.

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That’s unusual, though we see hawks fly around the field in back of us all the time, and they perch in tall trees near us. But to see a young one, a teenager you might say—“up close and personal”—is another thing.

It’s a beautiful bird, a cousin of sorts to the Bald Eagles we have near us in Florida, several of which we spotted in a tree in our neighborhood near Sarasota two years ago.

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But this young hawk was fascinating for two reasons. First, it was sitting on our railing and watching a fat squirrel eat birdseed on the ground, not four feet from the rail! The adolescent hawk watched . . . and watched. And then, when the squirrel finally noticed the bird, it darted up a nearby Maple tree with the hawk in hot pursuit.

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The two raced around the trunk of the tree and through its branches, and then the squirrel fled to the back berm of fir trees, with the bird still on its trail. The hawk chased the squirrel round and round, not a foot away from it, but never caught its prey, never even tried hard.

Later, the hawk stayed in the berm under the evergreens and I saw it hopping straight up in the air, as if its clawed feet were on some hot surface or it was trying to pounce on a tiny critter. Seconds later, a fat stick about five inches long rolled down to the edge of the berm, and the hawk made several attempts to pounce on it.

At that point, suddenly I realized that this was a young hawk in training. With no adult mentors around, it was practicing to hunt. The squirrel was too big to catch and carry away, and the stick was just a toy to be played with in mock battle. That adolescent behavior was one reason this hawk’s presence was intriguing. Here’s the other reason.

For the past five summers we’ve had a young grandson live with us for four to six weeks. Each year we mark his height on a post in our kitchen (he asked again this morning to be re-checked for progress!). Each year we insist, with the boy’s mother’s support, that he do several pages in a summer workbook to prepare for next fall’s new grade level, and each year my wife and I have dealt with different behaviors on his part.

We’ve experienced anger and tears, pouting and fuzziness. We’ve lived through pleas for MTV and Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel during breakfast, lunch, dinner and every waking hour in between. This particular summer the pleading has to do with his X-Box and Kindle Fire and lots of games (‘shoot-em-up’ wars against aliens and other assorted enemies), and within the limit of two hours per day that he proposed to us, we’ve managed to cope.

But, here’s the thing. In those five summers living with one set of grandparents while his mother is working two jobs and his father is away a lot for construction work (both in another state), he’s learned to eat more vegetables, ask for what he wants and take ‘no’ for an answer, be polite and honest and says “Love you guys” a lot, even though my wife insists she’s not a guy!

Point is, we’ve had a young adolescent ‘hawk’ living with us part time for quite a while now, and it’s working. We’ve seen him mature over the past five years, from age seven to his current age of twelve. We’ve seen his schoolwork improve, along with his manners and his willingness to focus more now on what other people need and want, rather than just his own desires (he’s an only child like this author, a unique challenge to growing into adulthood, believe me!)

So, while all three of us have spent time staring through a sliding glass door in the kitchen and watching a young hawk ‘learn his trade’ so to speak, a mere six feet from us, we’ve also been part of the growth and maturation cycle of another young creature, this time a human being.

Both experiences are remarkable, and I’d recommend each to any reader of this article, though I realize your chances of seeing a young hawk up close are slim. But there are budding youngsters all around us. So, if you have grandchildren (or children of your own in the pre-teen stage, or just a neighbor’s children nearby), take advantage of the opportunity to help train them in the way they should go as adults. It will pay big dividends, not just in their lives (though that’s the optimal pay-off) but in your own as well. Take it from a ‘bird’ watcher who knows.

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