I was sitting outside yesterday morning at Nova’s, one of my favorite bakery/coffee shops in Charlotte. I was enjoying my cranberry scone and having a really good Americano: equal parts expresso to water and a lot of cream. I had just finished going for a long walk on the Greenway with a dear friend, and it was a perfect spring morning, sunny but not too hot. I had plenty of time before my first client and was savoring all of my five happy senses.
Very abruptly, a little sparrow landed on edge of my table, about a foot away from me. We locked eyes and both froze. I couldn’t believe it was perching so close to me. After I got over my shock, I started talking to her (or him) in the sweetest sing-song voice I could muster, complimenting her for her bravery. I gently offered a piece of my scone on my extended palm, thinking if she was so bold to get this close, she must be looking for food. She did not take me up on the crumb, and I wisely resisted the urge to reach for my phone to take a picture. Another sparrow was chirping away at us, hovering, and that was when it dawned on me that this was a little fledgling. She was probably about four or five-weeks old, had dark bold yellow lines around her beak and was still learning how to use her wings.
Sure enough, this little wonder awkwardly flung her body to the adjacent empty chair, and her parent flew over with a bit of some kind of food. The fledgling opened her mouth, started fluttering her wings and chirping quite loudly and in a demanding pitch. I was glad that neither parent nor fledgling perceived me as a threat. This intimate mealtime process went on for a while, much to my delight.
My take away as I’ve reflected on this experience is two-fold.
I want to feel the same tenderness, protectiveness, and patience toward my inner fledgling that I had for my little feathered oracle. When I become aware of a part of me that needs to grow, I can stop being critical and harsh and instead give myself permission to not know how to master an emotional skill right away. It takes practice to develop any new know-how. It also takes courage to attempt to fly and try out new wings and feathers never tested.
The second insight I had was around the mechanism of demandingness in getting a need met. I could almost feel myself ramping up inside as I watched the baby bird insistently and actively solicit a meal from her parent. Mother Nature set it up this way--we are programed to respond to the cries and actions of our young, and instinctively equipped with the ability to elicit a swift response when we are an infant.
This dynamic, however, can go awry when an essential developmental need does not get addressed when we are in infancy or childhood. If this happens, then as an adult, we are left with that sense of need and entitlement that would have worked well in the context of a healthy parent-child relationship but is not appropriate, nor does it translate effectively, in an intimate relationship or adult friendship. We have to take care of and be responsible for that demanding part of ourselves if it didn’t get nurtured or attended to when we were little. It is a natural and human part of us, and it helps to see it as such without judgment.
We often parent our internal self the way we were parented, and it’s helpful to be aware of how we continue to enact this form of attachment. The good news is that we can learn to choose to be a good and attentive caregiver.
What a sweet coincidence that Mother’s Day was just a few days ago.