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Sometimes being stuck smack in the middle of a metaphor is the last place you want to be.

It was Memorial Day five years ago when she saw the bird. Her daughter’s wedding day.

She was on a ladder wiring peonies into the backyard arbor when their eyes met – one pair black and beady, the other blue and slightly bloodshot. Protecting her nest, the mother  bird stayed. Preparing to empty hers, the mother of the bride held her gaze, said wryly – maybe out loud – “You and I have something in common, you know.”

Hours later, a photographer captured the moment when the young couple stepped through the arbor into their future together – brunette bride frosted in ivory lace, blond groom beaming in dark tux. When family photos were taken, the bride’s mother insisted that the bird be included.

She’s been thinking about Mama Dove a lot in recent weeks. 48 hours ago, her youngest child crammed the last box into his car. Fame and fortune do not interest him. Her son has never sought the limelight and would happily give away whatever he owns. He often has. But his future lies to the west, at least for now, and in the manner of legions of young men and women before him, he is going.

And she and his father remain. As it should be. Nests are not meant to nurture the young forever. Birds are born to fly. So reasonable, logical, common-sensical.

But a mother’s heart has its own reason.

Stay here longer, she says, sometimes even out loud. Till you have a bigger nest egg.  Till you get married. Until I am ready to let you go.

But her youngest child knows that day will not come. Calmly, he disentangles himself, says “Mom, it’s time. I’ll be fine.”

Of course you will, she thinks. It’s your mama who’s not. What if I forgot to tell you something, like the meaning of life or how to cook pot-roast?  How will you know which store has the best sales on underwear? Who will program the wretched remote control for me?

But it’s time.

She presses a little extra money into his pocket. She puts snacks sealed in zipper bags into his car. Food is something a mother knows how to keep safe. She brings the cat out to say goodbye, then the dog.

“They don’t want you to go!” she cries, but the car is already backing down the driveway. He lifts his hand, and he’s gone.

Foolish woman, she thinks, blinking hard. Ungrateful mother. What did you think, that they were supposed to stay with you forever? Never leave home, never move into the future God has for each one?

It’s what we raise them for – independence. It’s what we want them to do – fly. We have Skype, for heaven’s sake. Facebook. Instant-messaging.  Texting. Our grown children are as close as the tiny screens in our hands.

And as far away as the distance measured by our hearts.

Then she remembers the week after her daughter’s wedding five years ago. She had climbed the ladder to commiserate with her kindred spirit, the mourning dove. But the nest was empty. The babies were gone.

As it should be.

As it was meant to be.