Letting go

By Margaret M. Treadwell

Every spring we watch and wait for our magnificent Yoshima cherry tree to reach peak bloom, signaling the afternoon for our annual Grove Street Cherry Blossom Popcorn Party beneath the popping buds. The lucky day this year fell on a glorious, warm Palm Sunday afternoon which brought out neighborhood families to revel in the tree’s splendor and each other’s celebration of spring after a long winter indoors. A soft southwest breeze wafted blossoms to the ground creating a pink carpet for our gathering. One friend commented that the sensational old tree helped to keep the spirit of neighborhood and fellowship alive.

When we moved from New York to our house in October 1975, we knew little about Washington cherry tree traditions and had no idea that we’d bought a front yard treasure. So we were awed when the tree popped five months later just in time for our daughter’s 4th birthday party to be celebrated beneath its branches. We began to commemorate all important family events with the tree as backdrop for photographs – more birthdays, graduations, Christmas card snapshots, a wedding, and now grandchildren arriving at Nana’s and Poppy’s. As our cherry has aged to be somewhere around 75-85 years old, far beyond its expected longevity, we have surprised ourselves by becoming the elders on our street, glad that we chose to be deeply rooted here along with our tree which has grown to wrap around our upstairs corner bedroom windows.

Last June, a robin couple built their nest in the tree just high enough so that we couldn’t see into their home but we could observe the parents’ preparations and nurturing when their fledglings’ tiny insatiably open beaks peaked up over the nest’s edge. Mother Robin was extraordinarily diligent in flying out to find food, feeding her young and during one horrific storm, spreading her wings over the nest like a living umbrella to shield her family of four from the cold rain and wind. As they grew larger, Mr. Robin began showing up more often to guard the nest of churning little bodies while his missus was scavenging for their food. His presence appeared to calm his offspring.

Within two weeks, the babies became so large that they almost pushed each other out of the nest, ruffling their wing feathers as if practicing for flight. One amazing day, we watched them begin to fly one by one out of the nest. Finally only one remained, and while his parents hovered around their last baby, I remembered my mixed emotions when our younger child left home (documented by pictures beneath the cherry tree). A story entitled “Soaring” in Friedman’s Fables by Edwin H. Friedman helped me over the rough patch:

Mr. and Mrs. Bird had successfully launched nine fledglings, but as the fable unfolds we experience their desperation over the youngest’s failure to launch or take any advice on how to flap his wings, lift his head, fly! The more perplexed they become, the harder they try, the more Baby-bird resists their mad pokes and chirping which somehow enable him to avoid his destiny instead of facing it.

Finally the parents are fed up enough to leave the nest for their own happy pursuits, but this infuriates Baby-bird which resolves to show them by jumping to a triumphal splat on the ground below. However, his attempt fails when nature takes its course, his wings pull away from his body and soon he is soaring naturally without his parents’ constant interference to foul up his functioning.

Friedman’s moral? “ The children who do best in this world are those we make least important to our own salvation.”

He wrote the fables to celebrate ambiguity, believing that “… questions are more important than answers, in part, because they are eternal while answers resemble fashions that come and go with the age.” In this sense, each fable is best understood as a question and several that flow from “Soaring” are as follows:

• Why do some fledglings have more trouble leaving home?

• How did Baby-bird wind up thinking that learning to fly was for the benefit of his parents?

• Why do children tend to function best in those areas where their parents are least anxious and most incompetent?

• Can you think of any books on raising children that try to get parents to de-focus their child?

As for me, when I see the fat- breasted robins playing in our yard, I imagine they are the now grown children who flew from our cherry tree nest a year ago. They are strong, feisty, and in charge of the garden. And I think to myself, “Babies do grow up and should leave home, and when they do, they return a lot more interesting.”

Margaret M. (“Peggy”) Treadwell, LCSW -C, has been active in the fields of education and counseling for thirty-five years. Following a long association with Dr. Edwin H. Friedman, during which she served on his faculty, she co-edited and helped posthumously publish his book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.

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