Raccoon Vs. Chicken Vs. Me

As far as I could see, the gravel road stretched into the expanse of the dreary midday. The road seemed to lead to nowhere, but I felt as though I knew where I was going.

I must have waited at the edge of the road for at least twenty minutes. The wild grasses were so tall by this time of year, whatever time of year it actually was.

It wasn’t going to change; no matter how long I waited, watching for nothing in particular, I was not going to be able to see. I just took the risk, running along the edge of the road, where the gravel met up with the wild grass, faster than I had been able to move in recent memory.

I made it to the other side.

For a very long time, just over 30 years, I had been pining for a particular tattoo. The image is a simple moon and stars design, artwork from a formative album from my college days. A lifelong fear of needles and the audible thoughts of others over the years kept my little wish tucked away as just that, until last year when my son, already very much decorated, took me to a tattoo shop on our spring break trip to Florida.

In much the same way as I had to trust to get to the other side of the road, I got up in the chair and waited for my assigned artist, who just a few days earlier had to have his man parts repaired after what sounded like a most unsettling situation that was the topic of one-sided discussion for most of the nearly three-hour process of the manifestation of my dream.

Nancy, my Lavender Orpington hen, has been through some things. As a tiny chick, she spent time in isolation after a neck injury. I fed her with a dropper and before long, she was back with her young flock. Another time, she came up with an alarming cough for which we gave her a special chicken respiratory remedy for several days. Once again, she bounced back. Last fall, she again fell ill and, after several days of taking up residency in a brooder in the bathroom, she had a ride in the car for nearly an hour to a vet that had experience with chickens. She was okay.

One day last week, Nancy was not in her usual spot on the roost at dusk. It was a frigid night, with temperatures going well below zero by the morning. My post on social media inspired a trail of good wishes, and the next morning Nancy was discovered behind the feed bins, safe and warm.

On the day that I crossed the gravel road, I was wearing a light cottony dress which had caught upon some relenting brush and ripped in a few spots. Though winter’s aftermath had left great frozen shapes of black-gray which I often mistook for bear-or-raccoon vs. car mishaps along the road, I was wearing flip flops, one of which I lost as I hopped the fence in the snow…but I had to keep going. I didn’t want to look back, but I was afraid, too, of looking ahead.

Somehow, I had found my way into a school. There were gangs of people going place-to-place with stern determination. I had no purpose here. The heavy din of hurriedness broke momentarily. People gawked and stared as I asked for help.

“Can you show me the way out? I’m just trying to get outside.” I no longer felt assured that I had a destination, or even a purpose.

The small design on my arm was looking pretty good. It hurt, but it felt different from how I had expected it to feel. Then came the green.

“I’m having trouble with this color.” This time I felt a different kind of pain, less tolerable than before, and I wanted it to end. My artist again went over the area and seemed to cut deeper into my skin with each trial. Still, I envisioned the perfection of my finished design.

“Done!” The artist proclaimed his completion of my tattoo. He sprayed my arm with something before wrapping it with plastic and masking tape. I was hopeful.

The day after Nancy had been found safe in the coop, she fell victim to a raccoon attack. It was a young raccoon who, after the battle with Nancy that left her injured and motionless behind some plywood in a corner of the chicken run, stretched out in a corner of the coop in anticipation of meeting up with the ten-or-so chickens that perched on the roost in fear.

Nancy is not doing very well. We brought her in the house and treated her wounds. A stuffed rooster is perched on the bathroom counter, keeping vigil by the brooder that has all-to-often served as a place of safe-keeping for this ill-fated chicken. I fear she may be joining those flock mates that have gone before.

My tattoo is healed. The ink has faded, and I am left with a bit of scarring. The imperfections in the color are very evident, but only to those who know the original design. To others, that’s just how it is. I guess I like it that way. I like knowing that in spite of some unexpected challenges, healing can happen.

Once I opened the door to the school, I had no idea where I was or even where I was going. Even when I opened my eyes, still I didn’t know.

I think I like it that way.

When I look at Nancy, resting atop her fresh nest of pine shavings, with no competition whatsoever for the sunflower seeds and mealworms before her, sometimes she seems okay. At other times, she doesn’t. I think I am a lot like that, too. I think we all are.

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Circus Freaks and an Animal Parade

I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything.

I had no idea what to do, so I did nothing.

Still, the days passed, and there was another sunrise, a ball of red-orange casting a spell of yellow softness onto the white snow, but only for a short time.

The hours pass with little fanfare, until dusk, until a strip of the brightest pink opens the clouds, swallows them up, and draws the curtain of darkness onto the night as my eyes close.

I am afraid of what I cannot see.

We were not expecting to be more of what we have already been. We didn’t know, though, that we would become less.

This winter season has seemed endless. One more day of short-stepping my way across the many-times-frozen expanse of the driveway, crunching along the top layer of compacted ice and snow to tend to my chickens, who attempt to venture only a few feet outside the run on most days.

The season of angst, too, has carried on. And that’s how it is.

We are circus freaks or an animal parade, embattled, defeated, yet still called to continue. I guess we’re not done yet.

Our eyes are open, but we can’t see.

The magnolia tree is budding out with the first hope of spring; I noticed it yesterday through the still-frosted living room window. It’s true: this season will yield to the next. The chickens will begin laying again, prolifically, and the baby chicks will arrive at the farm.

We don’t know what you have been through. We don’t know what has broken you. We don’t know how to uncover what’s real.

I don’t know what to say, so I say nothing. I hope, with all that’s inside of me, that you can hear me.

Open My Eyes; Take Me To My People

It sure is cold outside.

She was as sweet a baby as ever I have known, and I was so happy that she was mine.

But actually, she wasn’t mine.

The first time I took her to the social services office to visit with her mom, I had dressed her in my daughter’s outfit, the one that had been my favorite from her early childhood. It was the softest pink cotton, a one-piece jumpsuit with rolled ankle cuffs. I have memories of my little girl wearing this in her first days home from Korea, when she was just the same age as my foster daughter. They both wore the leather little bird shoes, too, that I had saved all these years.

“They’re ugly.”

I looked up, perplexed.

“Those shoes. They’re ugly.”

The seasoned caseworker must have felt my heart sink . “I think they’re cute.” Her voice trailed away, but I know she knew.

I had entered the office, confident in my abilities of parenting another person’s child, but having no concept of the depth of feeling and emotion that each interaction could present. I left the office with someone else’s baby, and the first-hand experience that this journey was not going to be just about a little girl and her foster family. The picture was much bigger, much more important than that. The foster family, I would find out, would take a seat in the second row. This was about supporting families…this mom and this baby…not about a walk through my own pleasant memories as I dressed someone else’s little girl in my daughter’s jumpsuit.

Have I been blind? Have I been lost inside myself, in my own mind?”

–Natalie Merchant, “Carnival”

She had come with several bags full of clothing, some still with tags and others worn. For the next visit, and each visit thereafter, I chose an outfit from those bags.

It wasn’t really about clothes, though, for either of us. I was given the task of taking care of someone else’s child, and it was my job to do just that, and to never forget that she had someone that loved her first and best, and that I was a mere bridge of support between the two, for this moment in time.

It wasn’t long before this sweet baby was moved to the home of a relative. Family connections are so very important for children in care.

She had outgrown all of the clothing that had come along with her. The day she left, she was dressed in a brand new jogging suit that I had bought for her; the caseworker said her mama was going to love it.

She left in a driving snowstorm. My son, ten at the time, dissolved into a heap of tears on the floor of the bedroom where this little girl had slept for four months. He loved her deeply, as we all did. She was someone else’s child, and we were a stepping stone on her path. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy, but I didn’t think it would be so hard.

These days we have a therapist here for one of the boys six days a week. We are grateful for the support, which has been long in coming. The outbursts, the holes in the walls, and the fear still abound, but now we have someone to share the burden, to stand by our sides, at least for the two-and-a-half hours while he is here. Most importantly, we have someone who sees the magnitude of the behaviors and its effect on the whole family; someone who acknowledges that we are, through it all, trying our best.

I was trying my best to be a good foster mom. My eyes are open, and I see that I am merely standing by, reminding myself of what is most important…because I know, until I don’t.

There is an online support group for chicken keepers. I am so worried about my precious flock in these arctic temperatures. “They’ll be fine” was the overwhelming response when I shared my fears with these people that I have never met. My wise friend, not a chicken keeper, but a keeper of much else, suggested some extra straw. I took her advice and added a bed of straw to the coops, right on top of the pine shavings. And I hoped.

I sometimes wonder if the therapists that work with our son believe that there is hope for him to learn other ways to express his emotions. I wonder, but I am afraid to ask. There is promise in the unknown. For me, too, there is fear. And for this boy, fear. For the young mother who watches another woman care for her daughter, there is an uncomfortable fear for what is or what is not to come.

Keep me safe, lie with me, stay beside me, don’t go.”

–Natalie Merchant, “Motherland”

I may be okay to lay here with my eyes closed, hoping tomorrow takes its sweet time in coming. I’m afraid to open the door to the chicken coop. Afraid to face another long day with no programming, I am secretly hoping that the challenging behaviors might take a snow day.

I found out some years later that my first little foster baby has thrived with her family. We had been a tiny part of this story, a part of our collective purpose.

About a month ago, I had an exchange with a fellow foster parent. She offered words that have carried me through more than just that day. She assured me that there would be healing, on this or that side of heaven. What she said has offered new hope and fuel along this often tiresome journey, where I have learned to rely on the support of others, of my people in faraway corners, of my tribe, in so many ways.

My lungs burned as I breathed in the twenty-degrees-below zero afternoon air from the quick trip to the coop to check on the chickens, but my hand was warm in my pocket from the egg laid by a hardy hen. I can do this, for another day, forever, as long as I am in good company.

XO🐥❤️

The Butterfly Child

It’s not that I’ve lost my way; I am just not yet sure where I am going. For a time, I was sure that I knew: the activities of my future were far in the distance, many rotations of the sun from the rhythm of today. There was much between my tasks of the day and the elusive vision that was to come. I liked it that way; I didn’t question that there would be more than what was right in front of me.

It’s hard to say just when the faraway fields began to close me in. I look to my love, who first knew me when I was almost still a child.

I ran across the grass with a freedom that has been all but lost with the passage of time. If I left my white leather strapped sandals on the porch, my bare feet could take me faster to race my sister to the ice cream truck. Still, she always won.

If it was a good day, the neighbor lady would call us over for a visit. She would sit on a chair in front of the picture window in the room that faced our house. For what might have been hours and with my face still stained from my Fudgesicle, I brushed the neighbor lady’s soft brown hair, separated it into at least a dozen sections, and fastened each with a brightly-colored band. The neighbor lady always smiled and told me how pretty I had made her. Sometimes, her husband would come into the room and offer me a drink of his beer. He smiled a lot, too. I didn’t want any of the beer, though he was quite persistent.

I skipped until the day I fell hard on the concrete. I danced until my sister’s friend told me I looked funny. And I dreamed until I woke up.

Deep inside, we all have a need to mean something to others. We need to matter to someone, to be worth something for who we are inside. The older I have grown, the more I miss who I used to be. Is that what we are here for, to complete the circle and to return to who we were, and who we really still are inside?

My sister sent me a little box of treasures this Christmas, specifically some flower essences, a crystal, and a bar of soap packaged in a brown box, all zipped together in a silky pouch embellished with ribbon flowers. She knows me like none other.

There was something about that little brown box. Without even opening the soap, my reveries carried me back to 1985, when I was setting up my room at the Delta Gamma house, blasting the Cocteau Twins, specifically “Pearly Dew Drops Drops”, from my new push-button turntable. The Crabtree and Evelyn drawer liner that I used on that day smelled just the same as the soap that my sister sent me thirty-three years later. For a little while, I longed to be that college girl again: confident, driven, with a clear picture of what her future would hold.

But it didn’t.

I write because it connects me to others, but also because it connects me to parts of myself that have been nearly lost, if not for the memories that are called up with experiences that catch me as they come.

Some years ago, we decided not to exchange Christmas gifts anymore. I am not sure my sister or I have paid perfect attention to this declaration; we have found “things” and celebrated our sisterhood in a more random manner, with similar, though subtle, fanfare.

My sister was given the vinyl Butterfly Child when she had surgery as a young girl. I was secretly jealous, not of the surgery, but of the special attention that she received and, mostly, that she had the Butterfly Child. It was sort of like an animal and a person at the same time. Its suit was an array of the best colors, and there was sparkle to its wings. It was fantastic.

Over the years, my sister kept the Butterfly Child through maybe a dozen moves. At one point, she passed it along to one or another of my children, which was probably hard for her to do, and it hasn’t turned up in years.

I miss the Butterfly Child.

My days are a pageant, rich with things I cannot interpret, and rich with nothing at the same time. In the sparseness of nothing, still I am rich. I don’t like the taste of beer, and I would not have liked it when I was four.

Christmas is past, and the boys will be leaving soon. I have swept up a dustpan full of pine needles, Lego heads, and remnants of precious days together, spun too quickly on time’s impatient wheel.

I found the Butterfly Child…just an image, but there it was, nonetheless. My painter friend has captured its spirit, and my sister is going to get that sparkle in her bright green eyes, and this time I will beat her to the ice cream truck.

When the Gates Go Down: So Much I Wish I Could Say

I’m sorry.

I understand.

I mean I don’t understand, but I think I might know why. Not exactly…maybe…

I watch you. I can see you clutching your secrets tightly near your heart as you melt, ever so slowly, as a candle burning to nonexistence, into your grave.

I tried walking beside you, leading the way, following. There mustn’t have been room on the path, or maybe you couldn’t bear the thought of having company.

Let me help you with your bags. They must be heavy. Today, I am strong. I can help you bear your burdens, if only you let me.

But you don’t.

And you won’t.

I understand.

There’s no little crack, but rather the instant shattering of glass, with tiny fragments piercing my skin and creating a danger zone for anyone that should pass by.

We try our best to clean it up, but we can never put the glass together to make it whole. It has been broken in pieces for too long.

It’s former self is unrecognizable, as am I.

I am comforted by the rhythmic creaking of the rocking chair, and though the small beings have gone to sleep, the shadows are very much awake at this hour. Here, right now, is mystery in what is nearly still.

Someone that I had known half a lifetime ago comes to mind in a flood of tears. I don’t want her to pity me, stuck within the wrath of the minds of my own children.

When Elliott was a tiny boy, we would wait for Dan’s train to come in to the station. Sometimes, while we watched through the windows in the playroom, we could spot it as it made its way to the station. Our little bungalow on Clinton Avenue would shake just a bit at the passing of a train, and still that faraway rumble holds such wonder for me.

I am a messenger, here for a purpose that I have yet to discover. Sometimes, it seems , I am walking close to the gates. The horn blares, the lights flash, and I can feel the rumble of the nearby train coming from a distance. It’s too late to cross, for there would be too much to risk.

I thought I heard the voice of my friend. There was the flash of a hundred boxcars, red, brown, gold, and blue, shaking and shifting, keeping me from the other side. My heart raced as the last cars passed to the exaggerated blare of the train horn.

The gates lifted again, but my friend was not there. It had been too long. I may never see her again. Behind the danger of the gates and glass, there is a soul crying out for what it does not know.

And I understand.

Photo credit to Jeannette O’Toole, wherever she may be❤️.

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.

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.