A red-tailed hawk family and a mother both prepare to say goodbye to fledglings.
The high-pitched call sounded like a sick kitten. I left my writing shack and wandered out into the sweltering yard. The cawing came from way up in the giant corkscrew willow. I went for binoculars. From my bedroom balcony I spotted something gray and black. Then a big female red-tailed hawk swooped down, followed by another smaller hawk. A new family had moved in, and I hadn’t even brought them a mice casserole.
This was the last week of July 2021. It was my husband, me, and three of our sons living at home. Our oldest had been on his own for years and being here was a temporary setup to save some money, rent-free. My two other sons were both off to college in the fall, so we were trying to make the most of our pandemic-scaled-down summer.
But to be honest, it wasn’t bad. With the summer off from teaching, I was writing and starting a business. The guys worked hard physical jobs and came home hangry and exhausted. We ate dinner silently some nights, but by dessert, everyone woke up again. We hung out in the backyard, threw a slobbery frisbee to the dog, and talked. On weekends we watched movies, hiked, and saw close friends. Our other kids and our two toddler grand-twins came over. We turned on the heat lamps and stayed outside until the stars popped out.
Even though we knew good and well that this was the last summer with kids in the house, no one moped around about the end of an era. We all just got up and rolled on with our days. You can’t hold the idea of goodbye in your mind all the time or you ruin the time you have. That’s just how it works.
The red-tails hung out too. Each day I would get up early to run with one son and see Ma and Pa Hawk teaching Baby Hawk routes around the neighborhood. In the afternoons these feathered neighbors would whistle from my rooftop, looking majestic and peevish with their dark spiky feathers and dagger-sharp beaks.
The fledging got fatter and flew further.
Then one Saturday morning in August, my own oldest fledgling packed up his Subaru to move back to USU, the middle took the bus to an all-day orientation at UVU, and we drove our youngest to his new dorm at BYU.
When I returned home, I walked into a silent yard. I looked up into the tall branches of the willow. Not even the leaves rustled. I went into my shack and started pecking at my keyboard, waiting. That night I ate in the backyard so I wouldn’t miss them. The next morning I got up early. Nothing.
On the same day my boys left the nest, so did my neighbors. The fledglings were ready. It was time to move on.
I saw the young red-tail off and on during the fall. He had some nostalgia for the place. Every once and a while he would fly through and caw from the willow. But he was alone—no need for Ma and Pa Hawk to hover around him anymore. He had things to do, places to be.
I find myself in a new place too. The same house—but a new place. It shocks me to realize I had the kids-on-board gig for 30 years—the hardest, best job there is. With my first I was terrified that she was so dependent on me. I didn’t know there would be something harder. Not awful. Just a little weird with new routes.
As I will have more time now, I may volunteer to teach some extra freshmen courses. I’m partial to fledglings. I admire their flights and songs.
This spring that red-tail might be back. But he will be different. Once fledglings leave, they leave. They eat at your table and drop their towels on the floor and grow your heart a thousand ways. And then they are ready. Even if you aren’t.
That’s just how it works.
Kristen Chandler is a mom, writer, and teacher from Orem, UT.
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