It is a cold, rainy day here in Atlanta; the air is cool for a Georgia spring. I am cozy on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket, the house quiet before the excitement begins. It is one of the proudest days of our lives.
Our son Kevin, the sweet baby boy we brought home from the hospital 22 years ago, is graduating from Georgia Tech today.
When I was pregnant with Kevin a friend gave me an article to read that has stayed with me all these years. A woman was writing about how having a child had changed her. Not just her life, but her very being, her essence, the person that she was. She had become a she-bear, she said, an animal mother ferociously protective of her cub. Even though I had not yet seen my baby’s face, I knew exactly what she meant. I would do anything, absolutely anything, to protect my child.
I have reflected since that we humans are not so far from the rest of the animals in nature as we like to think. The impulse to protect our offspring is an instinct to ensure the survival of the species, because that’s what humans really are–just another animal species trying to survive. The goal of every animal mother, from the robin in her nest to a lion on the Serengetti, is to prepare her children for survival in their environment. The more advanced the animal, the longer it takes. It takes a bird a few months, teaching her babies how to fly and what to eat. It takes mammals somewhat longer, anywwhere from those same few months to several years. Lions and bears take a couple of years, elephants take fifteen.
Human society is so complex that it takes us many more years to prepare our offspring for success. It requires an education that other animals–to their credit–find unnecessary. No other animal has to teach its children to wear clothes or do laundry or navigate rush hour traffic. And, in the society where my family lives and my children must survive academic and career education is the key to success. The more education and/or career training the more successful they will be.
So now I can say we have done our best for our son, given him the best start we possibly could. We have seen him through his first 22 years, made sure he learned to walk, to swim, to ride a bike, and to drive. We made sure he graduated from high school, and went on to college. Fortunately he was born with his own drive for success and an incredible thirst for knowledge. All we have had to do is present the opportunities, answer his questions to the best of our abilities, and get out of the way.
And getting out of the way is my final, and most difficult, task as a mother. Bears, lions and elephants all know how to push their cubs or calves away when the time comes and send them out in the world. This is instinct for them, and whether or not they want to do it (because how much do we know about the emotions of other animals) they do it exactly as they are supposed to because it is the best thing, the right thing, to do.
As a mother I have done my best and now, for better or for worse, the job I took on 22 years ago is complete. God bless our precious son and God, please, send wind to fill his sails.