It is tricky, as a mother, to try to make the right decisions for a preteen lad...
It is important to teach about commitment and loyalty, grafting and sometimes plain hard slogging. This is what we did for a year at Warwick Racecourse; patching with the senior member of the team at least twice a week, with a few very exciting, but hard-earned gems brightening up an extremely low-yielding year. Jack learned that birding isn't just about life lists, and chasing rarities, but about monitoring, record-keeping and watching for trends to help ecologists build a wider picture of our UK wildlife.
However, it is also vital that a twelve-year-old's enthusiasm is held, that he doesn't start to see birding as a chore and that he enjoys and maintains his enthusiasm for ornithology and all things wild as he moves through life. As the year went on at the Racecourse, we could visibly see Jack's steps starting to drag and the zest beginning to drain out of the poor boy. So I made the difficult decision to step away from patching and go where the birds were for a bit.
Visits to Norfolk, Portland, Bempton and Flamborough, Spurn (of course!) and Bardsey Island were planned and twitches to see various rarities around the country were made in the trusty Twitchmobile, even taking Non-birding Dad with us a couple of times. We managed to catch up with the senior member of the team a few times, but not nearly enough. Jack has had an amazing few months and his life UK list now stands at 253.
The absolutely brilliant news is that making that conscious choice to 'chill out' seems to have done the trick - Jack is now more enthusiastic than ever. He is often found vis migging out of the front bedroom window, spends hours looking at Birdguides, books and magazines, loves every minute of our birding trips and he has finally mentioned that word I've been waiting for all year.....patching.
Unfortunately though, Jack does not want to return to the Racecourse on a regular basis. I think, perhaps, I pulled him out too late and have put him off there for life. But he at least wanted to start patching again, in a new area. He suggested Warwick's Saxon Mill and surrounding fields as an idea. We have been there four times now and are seeing some potential in the site, so watch this space.
As for the Senior Member of the team - well, Jack is missing him. When he returns from his hols with the lovely wife, we will arrange to meet up and, hopefully, regular blogs can start again.
There's no book that tells you whether you are doing a good job as a parent, and no instructions on how to deal with the growing personality in front of you. Much of being a mum is playing it by ear and desperately hoping you're not damaging your child for life. Jack has a great future of birding ahead of him if he wants it (even though he wants NONE of his mates to know that) and I don't know if he'll still want to do it when he discovers different types of 'bird' but, in the meantime, we will support him and try to keep his enthusiasm going for as long as possible!