Andrei Sakharov, Russian physicist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, like the rest of us, didn’t hatch from an egg; he had a mother. And his mother is credited with saying one of my all-time favorite quotes about parenting: “Sometimes I feel like a chicken who has given birth to an eagle.”
The more I have thought about this, the more fitting it becomes. For starters, as parents, we all hold a bias toward our kids. We all tend to think they’re awesome little geniuses who constantly amaze us with how fast they learn and grow.
When baby learns to crawl, it’s a video-worthy moment, as well as when he says his first word and learns to ride a bike with no training wheels and takes his first excursion out the driveway in the car alone, proudly sitting on his brand new driver’s license. And pretty much every moment in between.
At our house, we have stacks of photo albums and hours worth of digital photos on discs and hard drives. Because we invest so much time and money and attention and pain and sleepless nights into our children and, because we are consumed with the love they have added to our lives, we find something extraordinarily incredible in the most common and normal things they do (if anything in a child can be considered “common” or “normal”).
Back when permanent roommate and I were the only members of our family, we talked at length about adding to the unit. The plans to have a baby were made around all the other things we had going on in life; then after the baby arrived, all the other plans were pushed to the back burner, and the baby took precedence. Life began to revolve around what the baby needed, instead of the plans for the baby revolving around us. The eagle was transforming our chicken coop.
Another aspect of the quote, is that I think I hear wonder and bewilderment in Mrs. Sakharov’s voice. She has birthed this child who went on to be so smart and so far advanced beyond his peers, and she isn’t quite sure where he came from. Although she remembers and acknowledges him as her own, there’s something about him that surpasses the expectations she had for her brood. While immensely proud, she’s almost uncertain where he got this ability and maybe hesitates to take a whole lot of credit for it.
I can absolutely relate. In spite of pouring my self wholeheartedly into this parenting endeavor, there are definitely times when it feels like cheating to take a lot of credit for how my kids are turning out, for the aptitude they are displaying, and for the seemingly original talent that is turning up from them and their curious minds. Like a mother hen, I wonder where did these eagles come from, and how did they get in my nesting box?
After the first baby, we added on again three years later, and now have two kids growing up in our home and taking after their parents, and many times, surpassing us. Just yesterday, my older daughter played her 4th guitar gig, setting up her instruments in a stranger’s house and playing for 2 ½ hours for money and for the love of her hobby. She’s been pouring her heart into that guitar for 7 years; she’s 15 years old. Where did she get that talent and dedication and passion?
My younger daughter has been increasingly interested in working with her hands and spent most of last weekend carving a walking stick. From a raw willow branch, pruned off our tree and left in the burn pile, she has spent hours sanding and shaping and bringing out the natural beauty of the wood. By the time she’s finished, she will have a solid, handcrafted walking stick that will last her a lifetime with the proper care. Then, this morning, she poked her head over the railing from her top bunk and informed me that she had come up with a new joke after waking, and would I like to hear it? Trust me when I say she did not get her woodworking skills or her sense of humor from me. The eagle feathers are beginning to show.
And one final thing I get from this quote is this: It should be every parent’s goal and aspiration to provide a strong, stable platform that enables their kids to stand tall and succeed beyond the skill set of their parents. If each generation would encourage and support and mentor and invest in the one coming on, think of the collective wealth we could pass to them. We could indeed begin seeing eagles among the flock.
While I know very little about Andrei’s mother, I have a feeling she loved her son dearly, and to come up with so succinct a comment in an interview about him, I believe she must have given Andrei a solid start of his own. There are no perfect parents. I’ve made my share of mistakes and, no doubt, will make more before it’s over. Yet nothing should detract from the love we carry for our children and the sincere desire to see them grow and mature and become eagles soaring far higher than we ever did.
So here’s to us, the mothers and fathers of the next generation’s eagles…. May we play well the part we have in the lives of our children, and when it’s time for our little eaglets to leave the safety of the coop, may we have the grace to launch them into flight.