“Can’t you move any faster?” I implored my 7-year-old one weekday morning. Once again, she wouldn’t get out of bed and if we were going to make it to the bus stop on time, it would be nothing short of a miracle. “Let’s move it – now!” I demanded, barreling down the stairs, taking them two at a time.
Meanwhile, my 3-year-old wasn’t exactly winning any prizes for swiftness either. “I don’t want to wear those shoes,” she complained. “I want my flower sneakers!” Not up for yet another argument, I quickly removed the rejected pair and began to slip on the preferred footwear.
“No, I can do it myself!” she reminded me in a tone that was all too familiar. Defeated, I left her to her own devices and then set her up with breakfast before dashing out the door with my second grader. (It’s a wonder the little one didn’t protest about her bowl of Cheerios, but I was out of there before I could entertain any further complaints.)
Once outside, I managed to calm myself down rather quickly as I took in the scene directly in front of me. The freshwater pond across from our home is my instant oasis. A few deep breaths, as I gaze upon the serenity of a swan cascading past me, does wonders for my frazzled nerves on a bad day, and this one was no exception. On this particular morning, our resident swan family was moving gingerly across the water, the three ash-gray cygnets sandwiched between their mother and father in perfect formation.
I whirled around at the foot of our driveway when I realized my older daughter wasn’t in step with me and charged over to her just as she stepped out the door. “Do you think the bus is going to wait for you?” I asked. “Why can’t you just do what you’re supposed to without making everything such a big deal?” Her sigh was the only response I received. Could the teen years be far off?
As we walked in silence to the bus stop, she staring straight ahead and me still frustrated, I couldn’t help but glance over at the swan family. They glided across the calm waters, never straying from their course – or their mother. “See them?” I gestured to my daughter in a feeble attempt to explain my own behavior. “Why can’t you be more like those baby swans and listen to your mother?”
As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I realized how ridiculous they sounded. I heard my own parents’ voices, particularly my father’s, coming back to haunt the grown-up I had become. Although the realist in me knew that my expectations were unfounded, another part of me longed to be that mother swan – her children following along without resistance – even if it was just for one morning.
A mere half-hour later, a similar scenario played out with my younger daughter as we headed out to preschool. Ever a child to stop and smell the roses, she insisted on talking to an ant who was scurrying across the garage on our way to the car. “C’mon, we’d better go or Ms. Michelle will be wondering where you are,” I coaxed her – a slight improvement over my earlier tactic. Did mother swans catch more bees with honey than vinegar, too?
I saw myself slowly losing this battle when my 3-year-old then proceeded to spend the next five minutes climbing into her car seat herself. As I watched her eventually tumble into it, I saw that her once chubby limbs were stretching out. Had she lost her baby fat when I wasn’t looking? Those days that sometimes seemed to move at a snail’s pace had apparently turned into months, but I hadn’t stopped to notice.
Weeks later one afternoon, waiting for my older daughter’s bus to come home, it finally hit me. The light was different now, the late afternoon sun having already made its way across the autumn sky and casting shadows on the pond. Hints of cooler days were in the air, and the trees hanging over the water’s edge reflected their changing colors of yellow and red. I couldn’t deny the impending change of seasons as I hugged my coat closer. And there they were again, my stable swans at the other end of the pond, making their way past my post. But something was different this time, and my pulse quickened at the sight. The three cygnets were huddled together, but there was an obvious gap between them and their parents. As they drew closer, I stretched out my own neck to see what was going on.
I saw that their feathers were different now – more of them white than gray – and their necks appeared to have lengthened, making them much more elegant and sophisticated than I had remembered. They paddled with an ease that seemed to demonstrate a confidence that comes with experience. I swallowed back a lump that had formed in my throat and was thankful when my daughter’s bus suddenly came into view.
That night as we got ready for bedtime, I was still feeling a bit uneasy. As we sat down to begin our nightly reading, I began to fidget.
“What’s wrong?” asked my daughter. “Don’t you want to read this book?” She stared at me with watchful eyes.
I managed a simple response that was meant to console both of us. “It’s fine,” I said, smiling to show her that everything was all right. She sat back reassured, tucking her growing limbs underneath her and settling in for our together time. And as we dove into our nighttime story, I thought I heard the sound of wings flapping against the water just outside her window, a cygnet-turned-swan taking flight and making its way out into the world.
For now, at least, my own cygnets were still safely under my wings – and I’d gladly take those gray feather moments while they lasted.