Monday, August 18, 2008

Leaving the Nest

On Saturday morning glancing up from my packing at our Kiawah villa, I saw a gathering of people by an orange-topped stake in the sand. I put down the clothes I was folding, grabbed my camera and ran to the loggerhead turtle’s nest. The volunteer watching the site had noticed a problem, so she flagged down other volunteers, and they helped her dig. They found seventy-nine dead baby turtles, ones that had hatched, but not survived, and forty-some live babies, plus three unhatched eggs. They speculated that the incredibly heavy downpour we’d had a few days ago drowned the new hatchlings. Some of the “pips”, the babies who had just broken through their eggshells, still had umbilical cords and egg sacks attached. Others had carapaces soft on the underside. All of these were examined carefully and then returned to the nest. (The dead ones were taken away. They could attract predators which would kill the live babies--or worse, ants which would flood the nest and also kill the live babies.)

Now that the sand was loosened up above, and the rain was over, the hatchlings could draw nourishment and strength from their egg sacks before digging their way to the top. From there, they would cross the sand—a necessary activity for their survival. Long ago, volunteers discovered that if they picked up the babies and carried them across the sand, their internal “compasses” wouldn’t set. The hatchlings would be set down in the ocean, only to swim in circles, and provide easy pickings for predators and die.

I had the privilege of holding a struggling hatchling in my hand. The strength of his tiny legs—no longer than my thumb—amazed me as he pressed and pressed against the flesh of my hand. He was trying and trying to swim away. He looked calmly around as he lifted his small head, shaped and colored like a log. It's this similiarity that caused sailors to call these turtles “loggerheads." Always, he seemed to be moving toward the sea.

Watching those baby turtles reminded me that my son Michael must leave the metaphorical nest. He’s a “pip” right now—we’re taking him to college this week. My son’s fully formed, having broken out of his eggshell, that tender environment we’ve provided for him, and over the next few days his carapace will harden. But digging his way up through the sand, toward the surface, and crossing the treacherous sand (four or more years of college) is his journey to make.

This year, my son has struggled. Trying to push against us, only to be held back by our rules and curfew, trying to become a man, but still living at home and attending high school. On Thursday, we’ll perform one last duty as his parents. We’ll get him moved into his dorm room, then drive him to a nearby hospital and sit with him. My niece Lexie is having her baby—a boy! And the timing couldn’t be more perfect. Michael, my husband David and I will wait with my family until we can see our newest member. Then we’ll drive our son back to his new college home and say goodbye. Hello to baby Skyler Logan, and goodbye to college freshman Michael Harrison.

I hope those turtles make it.


Monica Ferris said...

I think maybe you've put your finger on a problem with "helicopter parents," who hover over their young even after the young should be operating on their own -- not only in college but at work! (Can you imagine your mom or dad calling your boss to ask for a raise for you?) How can your child ever "grow that carapace" if you don't allow nature to follow its natural course? Good post!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Thanks, Monica. I'll do my best not to hover. We had a child die in my family, so we tend to be overly protective. But...he's really ready and he knows that if he needs us, we'll do all we can. It's time. A few of my friends said they'd never let their children go so far away, but I think for our son, who's an only child and who has traveled the world with us, it's almost obligatory that we step away from him and let him spread his wings. (How's that for a mixed metaphor. Perhaps I should say he'll flap his flippers.)

Camille Minichino said...

Lucky Michael, with parents who are there for him but not there with him!

Monica Ferris said...

Oh, Camille, you said it best!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

You two are the best. I'll re-read this often. And it will help when I'm feeling teary!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for such a lovely post to which I can relate. I too just moved my only child, a son, into his dorm room to begin his college experience. The house is very quiet, the refrigerator is very full, and no laundry needing washing. I have way too much time on my hands - I think I am going to have a get a few more hobbies!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...


I'm trying to think of this as Act II of my life. This is my time. I'm not losing a son; I'm gaining a bedroom--and a house payment!

I hope you'll consider scrapbooking. There's a lot of stuff to scrap besides our kids.