Finch familyLast weekend we loaded up the U-Haul and moved our daughter into her first San Francisco apartment.  Ally had just started a new job—the kind with benefits, including dental. That same day, our other daughter, Emma, moved from home into an artist’s residency a thousand miles away.

Developments were also under way in another family—this one nesting under the eaves on a drainpipe above our back deck. A pair of house finches who raised a brood there last year had returned.

The first time round, I was a nervous wreck about the birds. Would the neighbor’s cat get them? Would the babies fall out of their nest? Crash while learning to fly? Every morning I peeked out the window like a new parent who ventures into the nursery dreading crib death. It was like a time-lapsed sequence of all my anxieties about raising our own children.

But everything turned out fine, as it usually does. So this time round I’ve been calmer, not only with the finches’ launch, but with our daughters’. There’s a pang still, but it’s not nearly as acute as before, when each new step Emma and Ally made away from us left me worried about their well-being and wondering who I would be in their absence. Now I have come back to myself, come back to the marriage pushed to the back burner while my husband and I grew our girls into young women. Just as our daughters are taking flight into their new lives, we are, too.

So it is with our bird family. The parent finches go from patient egg-sitting to cramming food down gaping mouths. Scruffy teens with tufts of down atop their heads soon take over the living space, crowding each other on the edge of the nest.  Dislodged twigs and dried bits of guano litter the deck below. In a few days, they are gone, leaving behind their mess.

Just like Ally and Emma. I sweep the deck, then tackle the debris left behind in their rooms–stray socks, scraps of paper, dirty sheets and towels. As much as we miss our daughters, my husband and I love the return to order, love having our house (and deck) back.

Besides, we look forward to return visits, messiness and all.




V is for Vaccination Village

herd immunityI live in Marin County, California—ground zero of the vaccination wars that erupted after this winter’s measles outbreak in Disneyland. Marin County is one of the most affluent, best-educated, and progressive enclaves in America. It also has some of the highest rates of personal belief exemptions for standard childhood vaccinations. Left-wing parents here who do not want to vaccinate their children cry “Freedom!” just as loudly as their right-wing counterparts. Some have quipped that Marin County is the place where the Tea Party and the Green Tea Party come together.

I support SB277, a bill currently making its way through California’s Senate that would eliminate all but medical exemptions for vaccinations for school-aged children whose parents wish to enroll them in public schools.

Yet I hesitate to wade into the battleground, knowing how firmly held beliefs become even more entrenched when disputed, even in the face of scientific evidence. Although a false claim linking autism to vaccines has been thoroughly debunked, fear persists. I do not know how to approach parents who fervently defend their right to choose what is best for their children when I know it is not best—for their kids, or for anyone else’s. Maybe if my friend Mark Paul’s essay, “My Polio, My Mother’s Choice,” were required reading, it would be more persuasive than my impatient incredulity.

These days, though, I fear that perhaps we’re suffering from something even worse than the easily preventable outbreak of disease. The vaccination wars speak to deeper problems in our country: distrust in the government, both earned and unearned; too many who turn away from science; and, most gravely, the abandonment of the village. The near-universal practice of vaccination confers herd immunity, protecting those who are too young, too old, or too immuno-compromised to be vaccinated. But if enough people seek “freedom”—freedom from their responsibility to the herd–where does that leave us? We are too much in it for ourselves now, no longer interested in contributing to the common good. This worrisome trend affects many issues beyond vaccination

It does, indeed, takes a village. But what if people want only the rights, and not the responsibilities, of being a villager?