Vessels

Deep inside lies the truth.

The wall is made of so many things which, separately, split souls that cry out to the empty darkness, but bound together become impenetrable.

I know, because I have tried to push it down, to cause it to crumble. It seems nearly sacred, guarded against all that is good and evil, both at the same time.

Its very existence has threatened mine, nearly breaking my bones and stealing my hope.

Should it weaken, becoming vulnerable enough to let the light in, what will become of what we once were?

I will lie still, weary in the darkness of midnight.

A hand, not so small anymore, beckons. We will try once more, with all our collective might, to cast forth the scars and imaginary vessels so that we may understand.

Advertisements

Luke Ate The Snowstorm

“Last year, at this place in Michigan, they got FIFTY-THREE FEET of snow IN ONE DAY.” The words spilled emphatically from his mouth and sent forth little drops of spit that distracted me, but only slightly, as I imagined this extraordinary snow occurrence which, in his mind, had certainly happened.

“Maybe you mean fifty-three inches? That’s still quite a bit.” Dan was always the polite voice of reason.

“No, I mean FEET, you idiot.”

Okay.

There was an impending snowstorm. We may have been ready. The news reports described something nearly as foreboding as our son’s description of what had hit Michigan last year.

“Luke ate the snowstorm.” Our youngest boy had to offer a fantastic tale of his own. “Luke” often emerges in conversation. He seems to be a phenomenal boy, quite skilled for just four, who has done most everything and who shows up randomly but is never seen by anyone except our own four-year-old.

Someone once told me that having an imaginary friend is a sign of high intelligence. If that is so, what does an imaginary snowstorm signify? Years ago, Ethan also had an imaginary friend. The friend’s name was Jake Harrison, and he lived in a yellow house near the university. He had never been described as doing outlandish things such as eating a snowstorm; rather, he would sit alongside Ethan and sometimes accompany him around town. Perhaps in this simplicity of character, Ethan found some calm for his restless spirit.

Luke, though, seems to seek the thrills, get the latest haircuts, eat the greatest amounts food, and own the most exotic animals. My child was quite convincing, and I was curious enough that I felt compelled to verify his non-existence at our preschool meeting. The teacher, principal, and therapist assured me that this extraordinary child was indeed my little son’s imaginary friend; they could think of no one named Luke that fit the description.

I thought so. But sometimes I just don’t know.

Dan has had cycles of painful headaches for years. They are debilitating when they occur. An eight-inch blanket of snow had fallen overnight, as predicted, blanketing the farm in winter’s magical and bountiful, and also heavy and sloppy, offering. Through the window, I watched him drive his tractor, recently fitted with the snow attachment, and I admired his courage for doing his best to take care of us even during the worst hours of his affliction. There is much to read about these cluster headaches, but what people do to get relief seems as random as the manifestation of our imaginary friends. Dan and I had both read about drinking Red Bull or some sort of energy drink at the onset of an episode. Today, after the snowstorm, he tried it, and very quickly, he felt better. We shouldn’t ask the questions. We should just go with the answers…for now, for today.

So often in parenting, and in all aspects of life, really, I just don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say. So I just don’t do or say anything. Perhaps by not doing anything, I am doing something. But I just don’t know.

One of my more spirited foster children told me that her sister had the second longest hair in the world. I had actually met the sister, and I had admired her pixie-ish haircut. But, in this little girl’s world, where it was just her and her sister, her sister did have the second longest hair, second only to her own. So I guess she was, in her own way, right.

“Luke ate the snowstorm, and it turned into ice cream.”

Now, we are getting somewhere.

While our resident farmer was plowing the snow, the boys and I were busy making snow ice cream, a winter treat that we have grown to love. Aaron gathered a bowl of freshly fallen snow to which we added milk, sugar, and a little vanilla.

We, then, ate the snowstorm, but not fifty-three feet’s worth. We will leave that to Luke.

Mother

In the morning, I saw my mother in the mirror for the very first time. A bit later that same day, my husband reminded me that my mother-in-law was four years younger than me when she lost her husband to cancer.

There was a magnificent purple in the dusky sky as it beckoned nightfall. I was out of my element, an anxious, slow moving person that held fast to all available handrails in this city of lights, sparkle, and circumstance. We had spent the day in the city: the girl my son will marry, two of her close friends, her mother, and me. I was honored to be included in this entourage on the day that a perfect girl searched for the perfect wedding dress.

So far from my usual rhythm, I was an observer, keenly aware of the passage of time in more ways than one, of a day that included homemade chicken and dumplings at the charming home of one of my older son’s now-grown-up childhood friends; the lilting beats of a street musician; walking in Chicago time with the parade of people-going-places; and the reason for this day: the pursuit of something beautiful, for a beautiful someone.

I had never seen my own resemblance to my mother. That morning, though, there was something. Perhaps it was the cumulative years of wishing that I shared not physical but constitutional characteristics, those which drive her to her successes and motivate her to make a difference in this earth. She is dark-haired and slightly built, tidy in all affairs, accomplished in business and philanthropy, and comfortable in a crowd. I am none of those. But our eyes: they have the same green. Maybe that’s what I saw in the mirror: my own eyes reflecting the soul of my mother into mine. I am not what she has been, but she has given to me what I am.

I wonder if my own daughters will ever see me, or what’s inside of me, in their own reflections. If they see me, and even when they do not, I wonder if they will know.

When my son was ten, there was a time when we worried that he may not survive, that the tumor in his brain might take him away. For a while, the surrounding fears defined our days. Time has taken those fears; time has turned our boy to a young adult, forging his path together with his beloved.

I wasn’t sure what it meant, but once my eyes were opened, I couldn’t forget. It was a bit like a show I had watched some years before we moved to the farm. She would disappear behind a wall, only to emerge in lace, sparkles, fanfare and splendor, all pinned to her tiny frame with clips. It was exciting, dizzying, and beautiful. She sat for a moment beside her mother, and the two seemed almost one person. To me, they resembled one another in many ways that were not just physical. One had carried the other so many years before, and now, flush with emotion on this monumental afternoon, they were at the threshold of something that was to come. I watched them, and I loved them both, and I was grateful to be part of this space in time. I may have been confused by the letters, but in the end, all the signs seemed to make sense.

Tomorrow, my husband will turn the same age as his father was when he left this earth. I hadn’t met him, but I feel as if I have known him, as part of him is carried by his son.

And for our children who were not born to us, still they carry us with them. They carry, too, those that birthed them, and our Maker has made us all as one. Relationships are at once rich, painful, complicated, and the force which pulls us through the years.

And so we walked, together, for a very long time, for however long it took to get there. Through the rhythms, reflected in the mirrors, across the seasons, through biology, adoption, and the extinguishing of life’s light, our blessings abound.

The Way Home

It wouldn’t have mattered how many books I had read or that I had attended lectures and breakout sessions from the foremost experts in the field. Whether I had a master’s degree or the highest level, most current certification was insignificant. It meant nothing, and it never would.

I had coffee with a longtime friend this morning. Actually, it ended up as more of a soul opening than a coffee date; I guess we both needed a good cry. It is in looking for answers that we come to realize there may be none…at least, not yet.

I love Ed Sheeran’s music. I have been listening incessantly for three years. This is a departure from my decades-long habit of overplaying my post-punk college music. It began with one song, then another. For now, anyway, I am hooked. My little boys know the lyrics to many of his songs. Perhaps they have heard them enough times in the car or in the chicken coop to have committed them to memory. Regardless, I like to believe that they think there is something about his music, too.

When the concert was announced late last winter, I bought tickets for the Milwaukee show, as traveling to Chicago heightens my anxiety. Seven months was a long time to wait. No matter what my days would bring, I could look forward to the show as a great prize for making it through the days, weeks, and months. Though my potential travel companions changed several times, the concert was finally on the horizon. The opening band played, and then our hero took the stage. I had been waiting so long for this. The moment arrived, and the music was breathtaking. Then, it was just over. The show was fantastic, but one song that I had expected to hear had been left out. I had waited expectantly, but it was never played.

We struggled and stumbled through my daughter’s childhood. So many times, I had searched for meaning, for direction through the haze of angst, confusion, and emptiness. Now, I have turned to see that with or without my awareness, the circle of the seasons has come and gone enough times to blur the hardest times. I see that both of us, right now, are mostly okay. Perhaps it’s a different kind of okay, but it’s more okay than it could have been. I used to fear that once she left, I would not see her again. She came just the other day, though, with my best coffee drink. And it was not the first time she had come home. I realized, too, that there had been much that was good.

We had taken our medically fragile little boy to one appointment after another over the course of years. Each time, we hoped that this specialist or test would be “the one” that would give us the answer. That never really came about. Today, the tiny boy that struggled to breathe through many nights runs endlessly up and down the soccer field, spins cartwheels through the grocery store, and belts out “Castle on the Hill” with abandon. We may not have found the answer that we thought we were looking for, but somehow, that doesn’t matter, for we have arrived at today.

It seems I am always looking forward…to a certain show, to the telltale appointment, even to God’s kingdom. I guess I don’t know how this moment will bring me to the next. Still, I think I’ll get there.

The answer, the real truth, is not in a college course, within the pages of a best seller, or in the lyrics of a favorite song. It’s in the soul of someone who understands; it’s in the heart of the friend who is not afraid to walk with you, to pull you closer to her. It is inside all of us, whether we understand or are ready to believe.

Maybe the absence of the song I had hoped to hear was a little bit disappointing. There were plenty of songs, though, that were just as beautiful.

“…getting myself lost… I am so gone, so tell me the way home.”

–Ed Sheeran, “One”

Laughing

Sometimes,

I can see it getting closer,

But mostly, it’s really far away.

I try hard to keep it from coming back, but I can’t.

It’s fierce, lively, bright, sharp, glorious, and terribly sad, all at the same time.

Even from a distance, its force brings me to my knees.

I try to catch it, to hold it, to contain it. Rings of sage and flashes of yellow burst forth, laughing,

Laughing at me.

You’re a fool for trying.

I push it away, but it surrounds me, invades me, makes me small.

It’s always there. It’s everywhere.

Have mercy on me.

I’ll fall on my way back to where I thought I was going, again.

Again.

Girl on the Swing

On the day that summer turned to fall, I took my little son to the park. The blue of the sky made the clouds stand out, drawing our attention to the heavens.

There was a college-aged girl on a swing when we arrived. Though I studied her, her eyes never met mine; maybe she never knew. Her gaze was strong and fixed. A hint of a smile crossed her face; the rhythm never broke. I wondered what purpose the swing served for her, what emotions she was stirring as she moved through the air.

Blackbirds, backwards, forwards, fall…

Our connection to the past is undeniable. Though our days ahead can seem full of such hope and wonder, looking back to yesterday, I can remember what happened, and it was mostly good. I pushed the hard parts down to make them go away, at least for a time. In the days that are gone, I had no way to know that today’s burdens would slow me down and make my bones weary.

I was like the girl on the swing; I actually once was the girl on the swing. Not the same girl, and not the same swing…my swing was in the South of France.

Blackbirds, backwards, forwards, fall…

There is so much I don’t understand, so much I can’t say; there are so many words I cannot write, not ever.

The air carries a heavy burden even in its invisibility. I am afraid to walk through it, to break it, for fear that it won’t be contained. Though it is everywhere, I often cannot see it before the darkness takes over, threatening to engulf me in its wrath.

I am consumed; I am spent. Let the day begin.

Blackbirds, backwards, forwards, fall…

When I was a small girl, when the bell tolled for summer, the first thing I wanted to do was to swing in my backyard. I believed, and part of me still believes, that if I were to swing high enough, I might be able to wrap all the way around the support bar at the top of the swing set. I have flown so high as to nearly disappear into the clouds, but I have not yet made it around the pole.

Blackbirds, backwards, forwards, fall…

When you came to my door, the stories were big, almost daunting, though you were very small. Without words, you told me things that I shouldn’t know. You guided me to places that I didn’t want to go. Still, there was so much hope.

In the beginning, I thought that we could do it together, that the rest didn’t matter. You’ve grown, and we’ve grown, though I often am made to feel smaller than before.

During my week spent at Aix-en-Provence as a twenty-year-old, I walked through the storybook pages of cobblestone streets, lined with cottages…jewel-toned shutters open to the sunny morning…smell of noisette loaves and pain au chocolat wafting by to further decorate my senses. At the top of the road, there was a clearing, defined in part by what remained of a flagstone wall. In the center of that clearing was a wooden board suspended from a frame by the longest ropes that I had ever seen on what was certainly the most magical, enchanting swing. It was there that I felt the deep laughter and joy of my childhood even as I eagerly anticipated crossing the threshold into adulthood.

Blackbirds, backwards, forwards, fall…

What if you didn’t have a chance to try the magical swing because it was too hard to find? I am pretty sure we can find it together, if you will trust me enough to take my hand.

When we left the park that afternoon, the college girl was still as we found her, still swinging. Perhaps the swing at this little park, tucked into the edge of the university’s campus, held the same charm for her as mine had all those years before.

You can find your swing; it’s not too late. It’s never too late for the magic.

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Inspiration taken from R.E.M.’s “Half a World Away”

Ode to My Child’s Teacher

You have been my child’s teacher, and I am grateful.

For a span of nearly twenty-five years, children of mine have had the privilege of being taught, nurtured, cared for, and loved by so many extraordinary teachers, men and women who have helped to form these young beings into who they are.

My nearly grown son stopped by the farm earlier this week. He was about to leave on a business trip, but he made time to deliver a bag of apple cider donuts from the nearby orchard. I had been harvesting watermelons when his car pulled in; I have a bit of time now to work on the chores that have piled up for too long, as the littlest boy is now at school for a few hours each morning.

My son drove off just before the bus returned my preschooler to me. Time has a way of turning our boys to men even as we spin around to tend to the things that fill our days.

In the early years of motherhood, we hold our little ones close. To them, we are the whole world. The doors open, though, and there are influences that reach past our own fingertips, influences that help to form these tiny souls into who they will become.

And that’s where the teachers come in.

I am busy with the things of adulthood; I have waved to my child as she looked back at me through the school bus window, and I hope I held a thought of gratitude for the teacher who was moments from receiving my teenage bundle of attitude, unrest, and great promise (who just happened to be wearing pajamas).

Because you have always worked to forge a partnership with us, and to find something good in difficult circumstances, even when actions and behaviors were beyond understanding; for your tenacity, I am grateful.

Perhaps the nature of my family makes for a good longitudinal study of some sort. At the very least, it has allowed me to see over and again how the great love of a teacher can make a vast difference in the life of a child.

You made me feel like I am a good enough parent, through my tears and frustration, when life’s forces were bigger than me; for your support, and for your kindness, I am grateful.

For seeing past my child’s dirty fingernails, for praising him for his careful coloring, and for asking him to tell you more about his special train engine; you have done these things, and you have made a difference.

For helping my little boy to see that he is magic and brilliant even as he struggles with below-grade-level work; for your compassion, I am grateful.

For giving my daughter the time and space that she so desperately needed to be ready for learning, and for lifting her up so the burdens she carried were just a bit lighter; for your understanding, I am grateful.

I sometimes wondered how we would ever make it through the day. Then I turned around, and a whole year had passed. The year turned to decades, and I see grown children whose lives reflect the gifts they have been given by their teachers through the years.

I love those cider donuts, especially at this time of year. I ate three in a row that morning, right from the bag.

Perhaps it’s the time of year: transition, gratitude, thanksgiving as all around me are fields in the throes of harvest. I am grateful for the little things, which really might be big things. I am grateful for my children, for what is before me, and for you, the teachers that have given so much of yourselves for so very long.

I am grateful beyond any words I could write, and I hope you know that as you offer your hand, once again, to my child.

Thank you.