Learning to Fly

Early one morning, when the air was cool, just as the sun was cresting over the hills to our east, my husband was gesturing wildly from another room — but not saying anything. “What,” I thought, “Is he trying to tell me?” Finally I caught on that he wanted me to come look out the window.

I did. And, sitting on one of the benches built into our patio, I saw a family of quail — mom, dad and about a dozen little tiny puffball babies, all lined up and perched on the edge of the bench. I ran to get my camera, but I was too late. By the time I got back, in only the passing of mere seconds, the adult quail were airborne with each baby, in turn, stepping off the bench and into the air. They were learning to fly.

The next day, our oldest son turned 15. After an outrageous, yet wholly predictable (and predicted) four-hour wait at the DMV, he became the proud owner of a Colorado Driver’s License Learner’s Permit.

Now, as you may know, while quail can fly, it is not their preferred mode of travel. Put a quail behind a fence and it will run along the ground, popping its head through any nook or cranny, hole or crevice, looking for a way to run. Only when it discovers no other way out, or it is feeling very threatened, will a quail resort to flying.

As we left the DMV, I asked my son if he wanted to practice driving. “Not today,” he replied. “I’m not quite ready.” Another day passed with no driving. And then, suddenly, he was ready. With some rather rudimentary and inscrutable instruction from me (“You have to feel the relationship between the clutch and the gas pedal to avoid stalling”), we were off. He was driving.

Over the next few days, he drove with both me and his dad. He quickly determined that his dad is by far the better instructor. For one thing, his father gives actual, technical instructions that explain the relationship between the engine and the clutch and that make it clear what our son needs to do to keep the car moving.

Buoyed and confident from his time with dad in the passenger seat, our son was now unstoppable. Within two weeks of his birthday, he logged 13 hours of drive time (50 are required over 12 months to qualify for a Colorado license). He confidently drives us most everywhere we go — in town, in the mountains and even on narrow, washboarded dirt roads.

Like those little quail, our son followed us, jumping off the bench into the unknown. Only now he’s not stopping to look through the fence. He’s headed up and over any obstacles. He has learned to fly.

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