CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When my son graduated from high school, it was easy to write a column comparing the raising of plants to the raising of children. His graduation meant growing, branching out -- all of the things that have to do with a sturdy sapling becoming a strong tree. I was happy, proud and kept a stiff upper lip through it all.
Today is my daughter's graduation day, and all I can think about is that tired-but-true reference to the "empty nest." My baby is one step closer to leaving home. And like the mama bird, I wish I could keep this tiny egg warm for a while longer.
My little girl was always fascinated with the nests the birds left behind, as was I. We would look at them, studying their construction, saving the teeny feathers. And we thought about the little birdies that had flown away, off to a life of their own. I remember when she was about 5 years old she asked me why those fledglings would ever want to leave their mama.
"Oh, honey," I responded, "they still visit. I'm sure they come home for dinner and for holidays and vacations and Mother's Day and for their mom's birthday." Hint, hint.
I was planting this thought in her developing brain, as I knew she would be the little bird that flew far, far away. She was the brave girl who wasn't afraid of snakes, who helped the teacher take care of her own kindergarten class, who flew alone to Colorado. The teen who took four toddlers to eat lunch at The Greenbrier's Draper's, who interviewed with a panel of businesspeople for an academic scholarship, who is comfortable chatting with the folks at the soup kitchen and with classics professors.
She's become the willing one in the garden -- mulching, weeding, mowing. But beyond the work, she will just stroll with me, in the evenings, and never tire of hearing that the lilac bush came from Grandma Floss, or that her daddy's dad gave us the Autumn Applause ash tree. And she'll laugh every time I tell her about her grandpap (who knew nothing about trees!) insisting we plant a golden rain tree that would be the bane of our existence for years with its deep-rooted seedlings. She loves the dogwoods planted by the Wright family in honor of her and her brother's christenings. And in the spring, she always remembers gathering bouquets in her grade-school years to place on the altar at Sacred Heart for the May crowning.
Lots of hands helped cultivate this child -- at school, at church, at home. Melanie VanMetre's advice to let her grow at her own pace; Helen Inghram's sage advice about maturity; Miss Betsy and all of the aunts and uncles, big brother (and all of his friends), grandparents.