Traffic stops while the family makes their way across the busy street. There is much honking as one parent leads the charge and one brings up the rear while tiny bodies in between hustle across. The parents are honking, not the cars, as they urge their baby goslings ahead, their webbed feet carrying them quickly across the pavement. The babies almost tip forward in their rush to keep up, little feet hard at work to make it safely to the other side.
It’s molting season for the Canadian geese. This is the time of year when eggs hatch and little families appear all over towns, in parking lot medians and pine straw landscaping.
This time each year, adult geese loose their feathers and their ability to fly. Old feathers fall out and are replaced with new ones. The timing is perfect since the newly born goslings need their parents on the ground with them. The family sticks together, feet on the ground, the gaggle of them, shedding what is old and growing what is new.
As mothers, we can understand this process. I have been molting for 10 years and don’t see an end in sight. When I became a mom, my son wasn’t the only thing born. My motherhood was born, shiny and blazing and brand spanking new. I was tired, of course, overwhelmed, sure, but those things paled in comparison to my “newness.” I had this tiny son to love and a whole new coat of feathers burst out all over me the instant I looked into his eyes. Those first feathers of motherhood may as well have been made of iron, as strong as they were, as beautiful as they seemed to me. They were feathers of protection, a shield, they were feathers of comfort, of purpose, sleek, strong and surely impenetrable.
Then, he didn’t sleep for many months. I felt plucked bald, scrubbed raw. I. needed. sleep. I had a few straggling feathers hanging on, but they were a pitiful bunch. The iron had softened into a putty type substance that couldn’t do much more than hold me semi-upright while I’ll devised ways to keep a pacifier in a tiny, fitful mouth.
Slowly but surely, new feathers started to grow in as my little goose grew and sleep entered our world again. Feathers came and went as the phases came and went, sometimes so fast I didn’t even feel them growing or departing. Other times the releasing was painful and the growing in was agonizingly slow. Some days my feathers felt invincible, full of joy and flight, other days they felt sparse, weak, insufficient to even begin to cover us. Some days he needed all the shelter of my wings, others found me stretching, swiping to catch him and bring him close to me. Then, in a blink, he began to grow his very own flying wings and spent his days flapping recklessly about, testing their strength.
He is bigger now and he strolls and bounds and struts about, a confident and happy boy. A feather sheds as I recall the sweet weight of him hiding in the crook of my arm those years ago. I feel the tug of a new one, happy and sleek, as he stretches his sturdy long legs out next to mine and rests his head on my shoulder. The feathers of motherhood continue to fray, wear out and release, while the new ones keep appearing to take their place. Stronger, healthier, the right feathers for the right time, and then we start again.