Late Spring 2011 - Letting Them Fail
Last spring and summer I was hooked on watching a webcam from a Barn Owl house in southern California. Molly and McGee, the two owls living there, were in the family way, and I was fortunate enough to be online when one of their owlets hatched. In the following weeks, there were stunning live views of McGee bringing food (rats, gophers, etc.) back to the nest and Molly feeding the owlets. Eventually Molly was able to leave the babies alone and hunt, too, as their growing appetites became true forces to deal with. Little by little, as the scrawny, homely owlets exchanged their wispy down for gorgeous brown and grey feathers, things changed. Molly and McGee weren't around as much. They still brought food, but now the babies had to rip the flesh, themselves, if they wanted to eat.
As the owls grew bigger and bigger, the owl house seemed to get smaller and smaller. Eventually, the oldest one (they hatch just a few days apart) started to hang around on the outside perch at night, surveying the surroundings. Molly and McGee were still delivering food, but it became apparent that the oldest owl would soon be expected to find and return with his own meals. But first he had to actually fledge -- fly from the owl house for the very first time. After hours and hours and several nights of what I'm going to call 'getting his nerve up,' he launched himself through the air, returning just a few moments later. It was a stirring sight, and I was humbled by somehow being a part of a phenomenon that occurs countless times every day on this planet.Then came the night he knew, and Molly and McGee knew, that it was time for him to find his own food and get it back up to the owl house. We viewers didn't get to see him find his prey, but he had me on pins and needles as he struggled to get the rodent, half his size, back up to the owl house. It took what looked like a painful number of tries to succeed, but eventually he did, and Molly and McGee didn't interfere throughout the effort.
As a parent who has had to watch my own children struggle at certain points during their lives, it was excruciating to see the owl try and fail, try and fail, over and over again. Yet, with each attempt, he was figuring something out. He was tiring, but he was also getting stronger. And whatever you call 'confidence' in owls, he certainly was growing in that as well. Now he's out on his own, being a perfect owl, somewhere. Molly and McGee knew every step of the way what to do when, and what not to do. There are some aspects of Nature that you just can't argue with, no matter what. As challenging as it may be for parents to watch our kids experience failure and learn from it, I think we would do well to take this lesson from Molly and McGee to heart.