Adolescents and Squirrels
I’ve never really been into squirrels. Never thought too much about them except to avoid them on the road. But suddenly this spring I’ve found myself fostering two baby squirrels, from a nest narrowly saved from a chipper on my husband’s job site.
I’m a sucker, and I’m a mother. You give me a small, helpless, hungry thing, and I feed it. With the guidance of a wildlife rehabilitation professional and the internet, we’ve managed to grow a couple of happy, healthy squirrels, and they’re almost ready to go back out into the world on their own.
I don’t usually work with squirrels. I work with teenagers. I am currently parent to two teens, as well. And now some adolescent squirrels, too. Adolescents at every turn.
The squirrels are just a week or two from release, and so we’re in that challenging eight-and-a-half-months-pregnant kind of moment. Too big to stay in and not ready to get out.
This adolescent period is a clunky time for all mammals- one long and clumsy transition. As adults, our role is to walk the impossible balance of supporting just enough challenge and exposure so that they can gain necessary skills, with enough safety and protection to prevent injury.
Too much protection and they become resentful and frustrated, or worse, lose faith in their own ability. Too much exposure and they grow up too fast, miss developmental steps, and can be traumatized.
It’s a moving target, one moment to the next. When it’s quiet, the squirrels want to explore their surroundings. They get so irritated if I try to hold them back. But here comes a loud sound, and they don’t hesitate to dive back up my sleeve.
Squirrel dangers are obvious. Everything is dangerous for a squirrel. Teen dangers are more complex and less clear- the internet? The skatepark? Their friend’s house?
When are they exploring in a healthy and necessary way, and when do they need to be protected from forces or consequences they can’t yet understand?
This is our job as adults, to watch and listen and consider where our kids are on the spectrum from dangerous to necessary at any given moment. We’re there when they need to dive back under cover, and we’re there to believe in them, knowing they can and will take their next positive steps.
It’s not easy, obviously. But they will launch, squirrels and teenagers alike. They were born to. Until then, we keep them safe, just not too safe, and marvel that a creature that was so small and sweet and helpless just weeks ago, has already grown to have such sharp claws. It’s all well and good. They are going to need them.
[Photo credit: (cc) Kate Renkes]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Catherine has spent her career creating alternative educational options for young people. She led the program at North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens in Hadley for more than a decade, and is now Co-Director for LightHouse Personalized Education for Teens in Holyoke. Catherine resides in the Hilltowns with her family and aims to live with gratitude and serenity, achieving this about 15% of the time.