Philip is a terrible bird watcher.
While the rest of the group advances along the path, my son plops down in the middle of the trail to play with rocks.
It’s a gorgeous day for this bird walk, one of many activities available as part of a local “Wildlife Weekend.” I had a choice between six sites participating in the annual event. After looking at the program options, I selected this hike.
Now doubt chirps in my brain.
He’s not even looking at the birds.
Doubt whispered to me as we assembled for the two-mile hike. I wasn’t concerned about the distance. If there’s one thing that my four-year-old has, it’s stamina. Instead, I was intimidated by the obvious preparation of the others, many of whom are carrying binoculars.
You don’t belong here.
Once we begin, the leader stops us almost immediately. He directs our gaze across the pond. He rattles off the names of several kinds of birds, but I only recognize “goose.” Many of the others are writing things down in their notebooks.
Philip is picking a weed.
You should just leave now, crows the voice. You don’t know what this guy is talking about.
I pull Philip along as we continue down the trail. The leader stops us again, pointing to the pines on our left. He names another bird and says, “If we are still and quiet, you can hear it.”
Philip is a hummingbird beside me. He rocks and vocalizes, he kicks at the gravel with his boots. He does not do “still and quiet” on command.
What kind of mother are you? doubt squawks. Can’t you keep your child quiet?
I’m feeling guilty, convinced one of the other hikers has cast a look our way. I don’t make Philip stand up and move with the rest of the group when they walk on this time. Instead, I let a gap developed between us. I no longer hear what the guide is saying.
Philip is building a mound of leaves and sticks.
Just turn around, doubt urges.
Suddenly, I hear a new voice. One of the other walkers has slowed to look at mushrooms. He nods to Philip and says, “He’s having a ball.”
I look down at Philip, his fingers caked in mud, his cheeks ruddy from running and skipping, his eyes bright with happiness.
“Yes,” I agree. “He’s not really interested in the birds, but he sure is having fun.”
“That’s all that counts,” says the wise owl as he walks back to the group.
I think about why I brought Philip here today: to get some exercise, to spend time in nature, to enjoy the pleasant weather.
To have fun.
I flip the bird to doubt and tell it, “Shut the hell up!”
In the silence that follows I can hear the bird song filling the woods. I may not be able to identify the sources, but I can still enjoy the tunes.
Philip isn’t interested in the music or the birds making it, but that’s okay. We are here together, each enjoying the hike in our own way.
Yes, that’s all that counts. Everything else is for the birds.