Ponies and Cupcakes: All Grown Up 


There was nothing magic that happened at the end.  It just trailed off quietly and uneventfully.  I’m not sure what I expected, or if I expected much of anything at all.  Now, though, it’s all done, without fancy sugar-sparkled cupcakes, rainbow-maned ponies with golden hooves, or a ticker-tape parade.  The hopes and wishes have faded out with the passage of time.

How could a mother do that to her child?  Why would a mother do that to her baby?  How could it possibly be okay?

We delighted in watching Fried Chicken, one of our hens, care for baby Kitty May.  The tiny chick that surprised us all with her arrival as a miniature fluff of downy gray in the nest box was guided through every “first” by her proud mother hen.  For this new life, one I knew nothing about, I worried constantly and consulted my mom many times with each potential new obstacle.

Where will she sleep?  How will she get down from the coop?  What if the laying hens eat her food?  Will she range around the property with the rest of the hens?  And, of course, what will Wendell the rooster think of her?

We looked hard to find the good.  Even as each day seemed an impossible chore, the years picked up speed and pretty soon we could see lights.  Not the bold, confident type of lights that blare overhead in the supermarket.  I am not sure I would have been able to tolerate those anyway.  We saw little sparks, glimmers, and an occasional burned out bulb, not with the predictability of the rise and fall of the sun, but the brightest bright when it was good.

“You think you’re such a good mom.”

“You don’t even take care of the kids.”

“You don’t do anything for me.”

I watched as Fried Chicken lowered her beak into a saucer of water, lifted her head skyward to drink, and then urged Kitty May to do the same.  When I set a plate of cottage cheese out for the flock, she used her foot to scrape some over the edge just for her baby chick.  

During the first nights, Fried stayed with Kitty May in their makeshift nest on the floor of the coop.  When the time came, the mother hen helped her little one up to the perches where she kept Kitty May warm alongside the rest of the flock.  Fried kept Kitty May close as they explored the farm each day, and she led her to the safety of the coop at sundown.  I remember hearing loud squawks one afternoon as Fried called Wendell to defend Kitty May from the curiosity of one of the barn cats.

She was her baby, and she took care of her.

There were times when she wanted so badly not to need me that she made me believe that she didn’t.  

When she moves out on her own, is she going to be okay?  Will there be someone by her side, someone to watch over her, to laugh with her, to understand her?  Will she notice if there is?  Will she know if there isn’t?

I could hear the loud peeps as Kitty May seemed desperate in her search for her mother, who appeared deliberate in her attempt to keep a distance.  Though the little one continued to seek out Fried Chicken, it was clear that something had changed.  

When I check the chickens every night, the laying hens and Wendell are in their familiar spots at the top perch.  The four teenagers have claimed one side of the lower perch. Then there’s little Kitty May, in her own spot, on the rafters above the window.  She’s all alone.

There are times, too, when my grown child spends idle hours as her own best company.  Perhaps she likes it that way, as she has passed on many invitations to play “Go Fish”, to pick cherry tomatoes, and even to go for frozen custard.

Will she feel alone?  Will she close the door to the farm for the last time, never once looking back to wonder what a Saturday morning might bring?  Does she know I love her?

As I stand, bewildered by ambivalence while somehow struck by something deep within my soul, I knew there would be no breakthrough, no moment when all of a sudden everything thing is right.

I didn’t think Kitty May was ready to forage on her own.  I wonder if my daughter is ready to find her own way to adulthood.  It’s hard not to let the tears rush like the wild rivers; the reality of today contrasts sharply with my starry-eyed vision from days past.  I hope she is ready.  I hope I am.  I hope I did the best I could.

I hope that one day, she will think so, too.

Impatient


Even though the plant’s tag read “full shade,” I was sure that if I planted it in a bright, sunny spot, it would do even better.  I have learned much about plants over the years.  I have learned that more sun is definitely not better for impatiens, and that tomatoes will not grow well if planted in the same spot, year after year.  I have yet to learn, though, how to protect the vulnerable from the forces that strike when we do not expect them, and when they are far from welcome.

But there really aren’t any directions, at least not any reliable ones.  I thought things were better, but then it comes screaming back.  I guess it never quite settles, though it seems to from time to time.  We might look okay, like the blooms of sparkling fuschia and the sun’s cheer of yellow that spill boldly forth from the repurposed white enamel pot.  Nobody would speculate that they had been picked at, stripped, and stomped on by my curious flock of chickens before being salvaged, repotted, and resurrected to glory.  They were almost lost, but it wasn’t time.

How long is this going to take?  

I did learn, though, in those early years of gardening, that real lavender leaves and blossoms smell just like Yardley of London pump soap, and that this enchanting herb will grow into a fanciful, robust hedge in just a few years’ time.  And recently, I learned that the chickens will leave lavender alone.  That, to me, is victory.

“Let the chickens do all of your garden work for you.”

Here comes Wendell with the hand weeder and his pair of gloves to pick  the stray grass from underneath the tomato cages.  Jenny is not far behind, equipped with twine to tame the snap pea climbers.

I really didn’t think that would happen, as some books and articles had promised, but I still don’t recommend adopting the belief that your herbs will be pruned to prize status by your flock.

They fertilize the land.  What more could I ask for?

There will be destruction, devastation, even regret.  Things will not come out even, and maybe we will be less confident than before it all began.   We will work for nearly nothing, and our bodies will be stiff and sore.  We just want to lie down and rest.

Maybe it will be seasons, years, even decades before we see the sun.  It seems to be ready to peek forth from behind the clouds.  There are a few glorious rays, but then we can no longer see.  Darkness comes over us, and again, we wonder.

I figured out that I can fasten a length of wire fencing into a dome to protect my new plantings.  Of course, the chickens can knock them over or pull them apart, but sometimes, what I have done is enough…at least for one small chamomile plug on a windy Sunday morning.

The richness of what they have left for us must surely be enough to feed our souls as the land for a while longer.

I guess it is best to follow directions, at least the obvious ones.  They don’t tell you, though, that even if you plant the impatiens in the shade, feed it with fish emulsion, and provide plenty of water, a curious chicken may still cause it’s demise.

We don’t know.  How could we ever be expected to?  

In all of the amazement and surprise of a baby hatching at the farm, I hadn’t given a thought to the true possibility that Kitty May could be a rooster.  She looks different from all the others, and she seems a gentle, independent, spirited little hen…or rooster.  One day, she will either crow or lay an egg, and there will be no more questions.  Until this day, though, I am content in my hope that Kitty May will be joining the other girls in the nest boxes.

It must be okay not to know.

Darkness had long since fallen when I returned from the hospital without my child.  When I passed by the garden, there was enough light coming from the window in the main house that I could see that four of my young plants had been uprooted, surely the work of curious chickens.  I was tired, so they would have to wait until morning.

And I guess it’s alright to wait for lots of other things, too, especially when there aren’t any rules or instructions.  It’s just not time yet.  

This spring, the lavender has come back rich and strong, with just a few bare branches.  I know, too, that in time, however long it may take, and even if a new rooster crows on the farm, the holes will begin to fill in, and we will admire the flowers in their magnificent resilience.

Getting to the Other Side 

The chickens cross the road for lots of reasons.  

It was unusually warm for late May.  As I stole time in the garden on a Sunday morning, I could nearly feel the seeds taking root beneath the soil.  There was already a row of mesclun, a cool weather crop, showing itself to life above ground.  There would be two rows of popcorn this season, for one had not been enough last year.  Perhaps it would be a good year…for the garden, at least.   

My dear friend, someone who has taught me much about this life, lost her father unexpectedly last week.  The sultry wave of lilac perfume that greeted me at intervals in the spring breeze held me at a state which was somewhere between a dream and intense, conscious concentration as I heard my friend describe her father’s accomplishments, the way he took care of his family, and how deeply he will be missed.  As I held on to her words, I thought of my own father.  Both fathers were given the name, “Don”; both fathers had two daughters and one son; both fathers had served our country; and both fathers had taken their families on memorable pilgrimages to Wall Drug.  The commonalities that bring us together, however tiny or seemingly insignificant, give meaning to our journeys, no matter how long or how far.  I am not sure if my Dad likes the smell of lilacs, but I think he would.

Fried Chicken was my first hen to go “broody”, with such a strong instinct to nurture that she would spend hours, and then entire days and nights, in one of the nest boxes.  She seemed a bit confused…as was I…about the task at hand.   Several times I went to the coop to gather eggs, only to find Fried sitting in a different nest box, atop different eggs.   With chicken anxiety in high gear, I became vigilant about moving the hen to her still-warm eggs or moving the eggs to her new station, whichever seemed more reasonable on a given day.  I brought her yogurt and scratch and barely allowed myself to dream about what could happen in the  weeks to come.

Sometimes I wonder what Ethan would be like if his days were not spent in a spell of anger, if he was not overwhelmed by forces much greater than a nine-year-old boy.  I do know, a little bit, because I have seen the other side.  I have seen the charming little fellow alight with joy as he describes a NASCAR race or attempts a skateboard move.  I have seen him invite his baby brother to sit by his side as he played a game;  I know there is another side.   He knows just what he needs to do.  Then something goes wrong: someone says the wrong word, or the demons inside rise to the surface.  

My shoulder had been burned earlier that weekend from the unexpectedly strong sun, so the pain was sharp.  He drove his nails into my flesh, drawing blood this time.  We tried so hard.  Testimony, letters, a rally, and even a lawsuit was not enough. It is beyond my understanding how a young child could have been prescribed twenty-four different medications yet be prohibited from being allowed a trial of medical cannabis.  One day, my dear boy, we will make it to the other side, and you will know what it is like to be free from the wrath of your own mind.

The chickens have missions.  Each day, after some eggs have been collected and the chores of the morning are done, I open the door to the run so the flock can explore.  With Wendell, our rooster, at the lead, they race, chicken-style, across the gravel drive, past the Fairy rose, through my sage, parsley, and mint, directly to the cat food bowl.  If it wasn’t already empty, it soon would be.  

Maybe I did not have enough faith.  I did not expect that, on the twenty-first day, when I would check Fried Chicken and her eggs just as I had each day before, that my eyes would meet those of a tiny bundle of gray feathers.  Fried had hatched an egg!  

I had promised my friend that if a chicken came from one of the eggs, I would name the baby after her.  Little Kitty May is a wonder;  she, too, explores the farm alongside Fried and the rest of the flock.  

There was a loud, unsettling squawk.  One of the barn cats had discovered Kitty May.  Wendell was on his way, flapping his majestic feathers in terrifying fashion and making his way, followed by the rest of the flock, to defend his own, and to scare the cat from ever trying such a thing again.

We need people to take care of us, to help us to the other side.  What if we’re not strong enough to make it there alone?  Where, even, are we going?  What if we work so hard, and our fight is just done before we were ready for it to end?  I think that is better than never having fought at all.  And maybe the strong people, the ones that work hard to make sure we are okay, need a little help crossing their own roads.    

If our work isn’t done, there must be  a time again for us to keep going.  From the freshness of new life, through our trials and failings across many roads, in the shadows of our last breaths, we must know that there is much left.  In pursuit of our missions, with our flocks at our sides, the time will come.

I see my friend stoically carry on, across her days, along her road, which surely must be different than the one she had envisioned.

We live through one another, those that have meant something to us along the way.  Whether we are headed to Wall Drug, to a rally in support of medical cannabis for autism, or to the cat food bowl, our missions are important.  The day may come when we find what we are seeking, or maybe we will realize that what we truly need is not what we had been looking for after all.  I’m pretty sure that’s a lesson from my dad.

I was taken by surprise this morning as Kitty May, too, ran across the road to the cat food bowl.  The sun is shining brightly from above, and it should be a good day in the garden.

Sand and Music


The fairies are at work on the farm at this time of year.  I am grateful for the renewal of spring, when I am surprised by all of last year’s plantings and those from years past, by the reminders of the new life as the year, however challenging or joyous it may have been, completes it’s circle only to begin another turn.

“It keeps changing fast, and it don’t last for long.”

My mom loved the water.  We traveled the country for many summers in our state-of-the-art Coachmen RV, visiting the classic American tourist spots from coast to coast.  We loved riding the horse  trails, panning for gold, and visiting Opryland.  Our adventures, as the driving, were endless.  My mom listened to Elvis across a vast majority of the miles, but (perhaps at the hands of my dad) there was also music from the John Denver 8-track, which was my favorite.  I felt as though the songs were written just for us, as I, along with one cousin or another, jumped on the bed at my aunt’s lake house and roasted marshmallows with my brother and sister at the Yogi Bear campground.  Mom was happiest, though, walking on the sandy beaches of the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic Ocean.  We were along for the ride, which was a great one, but the high tide, the starfish, and the shimmer of the sun in the ocean waves filled my mother’s soul.

We grew up, and the camper was sold in favor of more practical adventures such as college tuition and wedding expenses.

“Someday,” my mom would say, looking at old vacation pictures which surely brought back more than thoughts of sandpipers and sun.

If you long to do something, you must find a way.

When my college roommate and I were young mothers at home, we both bought bread machines at the same time.  I still have the recipe cards that she shared with me: Honey Wheat Bread and Apple Spice Bread, among others, especially endearing as they are handwritten, and I cannot look at them without thinking of her and of the life carving impact that she had on me as together we crossed the threshold to our adult lives.  

Just a handful of times have I seen my college roommate in recent decades, and my bread machine had long since been retired to a remote basement shelf.  

Led recently by a friend to do more scratch baking, I have been making our family’s sandwich bread.  To accomplish this, to mix the bread dough, I have resurrected the bread machine that had been used nearly daily for the course of several years during my early motherhood.

The dough cycle takes about two and a half hours, which seems just enough time for me to forget that I am making bread in the first place.  

At the end of the cycle, eight faint beeps can be heard.  If I neglect to take out the pan right away, the dough will keep rising over the edge of the pan, spilling into the heat mechanism and causing all sorts of trouble that does not result in sandwich bread.  If I respond to that tiny signal just as it calls, though, just at the right moment, the dough will be perfect for baking into two golden loaves to fill the bellies of my family.

If I don’t hear the sound, it’s like it never happened in the first place.  The window, the opportunity is lost.

I have to pay attention.

“And they say that he got crazy once and tried to touch the sun.”

I am grateful for one more chance to visit the ducks at the lagoon, to throw rocks into the waterfall under the bridge, and to be transported back to 1986 by the smell of the mingling of library books, musty furniture, and strong coffee which greets me as I open the door to the music building.  A great advantage to living at the edge of your college campus as an adult is that you know the best places for picnics, you remember where the soda machines are, and you are able to navigate, even with a stroller, to the bathrooms in the university buildings.  

We heard the sound of drumbeats as we passed by Still Gym on our way back from our circle around the lagoon.  Today, we could wait, and we could listen, unlike the students who were making their way to lecture halls and dissertation seminars in pursuit of the quickly approaching end-of-spring-semester.

It had turned out to be a bright, warm day in spite of the dismal forecast.

As we passed Gilbert Hall, it became clear that the sounds hadn’t been coming from Still Gym at all.  A group of students were practicing their music just beyond where we had parked.  We paused to take in this unexpected gift, which minutes before had been a bit of a mystery.  Up close, we could see and feel the passion and rhythm that had once been just background music.

With a greater level of awareness, we wonder how it could have been anything else.  When we think we have arrived, we may have only begun the journey.

“His sight has turned inside himself to try and understand…”

The springtime is no subtle beep, but rather a magical burst life, of new color and fantastic patterns that grow and change on a daily, even momentary basis.  If I fail to make it to the east edge of my property within a day or two, I will find spent magnolia blooms spilled throughout the grass.  I will have missed the skyward flowery burst that heralds spring’s beauty.  

Tomorrow, despite the expected rain and gloom, I am going to cut some lilac flowers and take in the gifts before me.

“Now his life is full of wonder, but his heart still knows some fear of a simple thing he cannot comprehend.”

I understand why my dad took my mom to the ocean.  It was time, and he couldn’t miss it.  The music was beautiful.  The songs were not from Elvis this time, or even John Denver.  This music was such that anyone would recognize, though it made no sound at all.  It was the music of a longing fulfilled, a soul opening to another, and a gift that can only be given when it’s bearer is truly able to listen.

Song lyrics: John Denver, “Rocky Mountain High”

Undone

Right now, nothing else matters to her.  She has put her whole self, every ounce of her energy and every hour of her days and nights into sitting on a fake egg and two brown eggs which will never develop into chickens.  “Poor girl,” as my friend pointed out, “just wants to be a mama.”

I actually jumped up and down as I listened to what the investigator had to say.  Of course, we would love to take a fourteen-month-old little girl.   As I waited for my son to finish a late evening band practice, the air of this early fall evening was fresh and full of promise as I thought of this little girl who liked bananas and was just getting over the chicken pox.  Soon, she would be sitting on the counter making buns with me.  When I heard the message that the little girl would not be coming after all, that things had been worked out with her family, I was, admittedly, a little disappointed.  It hadn’t occurred to me, in my wave of selfish excitement, that somewhere, on the other side of this story, someone’s world was crumbling, coming undone.  It had nothing to do with bananas, baking, or me.

There was a good chance that one of my hens could go broody, that her mothering instinct would kick in.  There was also a good chance that I could fall in love with every child that walked through my door.

Any time my phone would ring, I would secretly hope to see the caller identification light up with the words, “State of Illinois”.  Each time the answer was, “yes,” my mission and purpose would be further defined.  In the days that would follow, there would be meetings, visits, appointments, and encounters to pepper my calendar and fill my hours.  It seemed our house was at capacity all the time.  The months, then the years, passed.  I turned around to see that, whether we felt this way or not, we had become seasoned foster parents.  There was much joy and much healing, but there was also the stark reality of the weight of forever, and the heaviness of things that cannot be undone.

In the wake of it all, the aftermath is a vivid reminder of the gravity of our commitments, of the importance of standing up and honoring what we signed up to do.

In the deepest dark of the night, when I am with people that are not here anymore, I hear music that my children have stopped playing.

On some of the days, sometimes, I wonder if the stuff inside your soul can be undone. Can the paths which we once walked with such confidence be covered and forgotten?

The state licensing worker had left a message.  Some time ago, I had stopped jumping up and down at the prospect of a call for a new foster placement. We have not had an opening in a long time.  Further had been my realization that there is no reason to celebrate when these calls, due to one sort of unthinkable trauma or another, must be made.  This was not, though, the purpose of his contact. Our license is nearing renewal, and his call was to find out if we would be keeping our foster license for another four years.

I don’t know if I am ready to be done. Somehow, though, I don’t think it is up to me.  Not anymore.

It was time to let him know, to make it official.  I waited a few days to return the call.  The noise in my ear was harsh and drawn out; I was relieved at the sound of the recorded message.  I didn’t have to say it out loud.  I didn’t have to tell him that our days were done.  Not today; not yet. 

I waited several more days after the first time that I put the light up to the eggs in the darkness of the chicken coop.  My chicken-keeping friend urged me give it a while longer, but this time I knew.  Nothing is growing inside those two eggs to which Fried Chicken has been so dedicated.  I slipped them, still warm, back under the hen.  I offered her a handful of scratch, playing along.  I wished her a good night and locked the door to the coop.  I am just not ready to take her eggs… or her purpose…from her.

When the door closes, what if there are no more words to write?  How do we really, truly, know when it’s done?  If we were to have just one more day, one more turn, would it change the course, or would it merely allow us to be here, in our space just as we are, putting off the uncertainty of tomorrow?  I wonder if we will ever be ready.

Maybe the part of not wanting it to be over is our way of holding on to the comfort and certainty of how we want things to be.  Just maybe, when we allow ourselves to come undone, we will be free to discover what awaits in another nest.

As for Fried Chicken, I think she knows. And I hope she takes great delight in the new little chicks, soon to arrive from the hatchery.  I hope she will love them just as if they had found their way out of the eggs that she had faithfully warmed for so long.

Lions and Lambs

Darkness had already fallen when I finally made my way out to close the chicken door on this cold March night.  I was almost startled by the nondescript, shadowy figure that mimicked my gait against the grain bin, until the motion sensitive light snapped on, taking me with it,  back to the reality that it was just my own image.  It could have been anyone, though, in the dark.  I could have been anyone.  

My first semester of college was going just fine.  I had a fabulous roommate who quickly figured out how to make me laugh until my stomach hurt, at things that noone else might even find funny.  I fell head over heels for the university city, which held such treasures as Cracker Jax, a vintage haven beyond worthy description; Record Revolution, where I found rare music and, later, my best job; the balcony in the old public library where I could spend hours buried in the musty air among the stacks of books; and the nondescript square stone wall, which, to me, held promise and mystery at the same time, and which was just the right place for people-watching, in a clandestine downtown alley.  

I went home for Thanksgiving break, which began abruptly after I sheepishly turned in my exam to my PolySci 100H teaching assistant named Tom, who, as the story goes, once had a Cheerio stuck to the inside of his glasses for an entire day.  

When the turkey, cranberry sauce, and all of the leftovers were gone, when my friends were on their own journeys back to their college towns, when darkness had fallen, I said my words of farewell to my family and began the short drive back to DeKalb.  Though I loved the freedom of living on my own, there was part of me, that day, that just wanted to go home. I wanted to turn around and run straight back into the arms of those who raised me.  I didn’t really want it to be over. Not yet.

Wish us back to the day when we wanted to be where we are now.  What, really, was behind our hurry?

I’m not sure where it came from.  It fell from somewhere as I was moving the March china girl and some other little things on the top of my dresser.  I had given it to a young teenager on the day of her baby brother’s memorial service. A simple silver chain bearing a tiny fairy who held a sprig of lavender: this was my attempt to bridge meaning to what had happened, and to show this young girl that as I had loved her baby brother, who had come unto this earth without a fighting chance, I, too, had loved her. When you spend hours of days that stretch into years as a helper to a family, if it ends, a part of you is still there. Years passed, though, and chance encounters told me that our time together was done. Meeting the eyes might be too painful.  Maybe they didn’t remember, or maybe they needed to forget.  And then there was the fairy; how did she get back to me?  Perhaps this was not the same charm?  Perhaps it was a message from the little boy that I had so loved so many years before?

I have never taken my children to the mountains, where they could shout from their souls and breathe freedom.  I want to take them to the seashore, where they can abandon their burdens along with their shoes, taste the salty waves, and let the sun turn their hearts warm.

Just when I have heard so much of the endless string of words, random facts woven through stream-of-consciousness chatter and reiterated movie scripts, there is silence. I look back at him, and his eyes are glassy. His pink lips are slightly open, as if the words had somehow been halted by an outside force.  He is turned to the window, but he seems to be somewhere else.  

“I want to go home.”

Sometimes, the thought of my own shadow is something to fear.  I long for one more story through the silence.
When it was over, when this moment’s tirade of impossible anger had passed, he lay over me in a puddle of grief.  For the first time, his fear for his own future was palatable.  He cried out for things that a nine-year-old should not have to hold.

My boy, if you have nothing, if you have nowhere to go, I will come for you.  I will find you, and I will bring you home.  I will take care of you.  You will never be alone.

After a while, we can’t really go home anymore.  We can’t go back to where we long to be, because it isn’t there anymore.  The scenes change: the street signs read differently, and the chairs around the table hold different memories.  Home is no longer a physical space, but something more.   I could have gone anywhere, and I could have been anyone. Still, I am going home.

The brightness of pink that lit the otherwise black grayness of the night sky was a beacon: the connection, the recognition, the fairy that materializes to remind me of a past encounter, the way I feel after a spirit-cleansing cry. We are not in this space forever.

Home is where we are on the inside, and, someday, when I take you there, we will find the air more crisp than that at the top of any mountain, and the sand will be as white as the heavens.

What’s In Your Egg Basket?

Something happened.  Something went wrong, or maybe it didn’t.  Words that interrupted my idle thoughts as I stood at the kitchen sink,  face-to-face with dinner’s aftermath, cannot be taken back.  Even as I feel the blood rush through my legs and the empty space grow in my soul, I find solace in a cupcake.  It’s the last one, hidden in the back corner of the freezer, leftover from a forgotten celebration.  Rich chocolate of the most devilish kind, with a perfectly swirled pink vanilla piped frosting, made extra special with a fairy dusting of sparkling sugar…gone in an instant. The experts would probably call this emotional eating.  Alone on it’s plate, it beckoned, and I ate it.

If I get out to the coop at just the right time, I can get an egg that still feels warm to the touch.  Fresh from it’s laying hen, this egg rides in the cup holder of my car as I take the baby in to town for therapy. It acccompanies me across the road to the mailbox.  I hold it gingerly in my hand as I look around the farm, thinking of the blooms that will pepper the summer’s garden and imagining the tiny herd of goats that might one day entertain us in the pasture.  Everything seems to hold a bit more promise as I am reassured by the blue-green chicken egg that brings so much to me.

It’s an egg.  I could get a dozen eggs for a little more than a dollar at the grocery store.  

After what seemed like two hours but was actually just over ten minutes, I could feel his body melt into mine.  He made his way to the pink chair, my favorite one.  The storm had subsided, and Dan was home by now.  There were no more cupcakes, but I could get my egg basket, and I could see if there were any eggs to gather.  Even if the hens were done laying for the day, I would breathe the peace of the outside air and know that in this moment, I am okay.  We are okay, right now.  Even if I returned to the house with an empty basket, I would know, because of what it represents, that the basket is actually quite full, if not of eggs. 

There might be different things inside the basket on a given day. Pink sparkly cupcakes, my best well worn sweater, the anticipation of my sister’s visit, my special water bottle, the thought of my fairy roses and my Christmas milk punch: these are in my basket.  In it I can also find the way it feels when all is quiet, when I am washing the last plate, when bedtime has blanketed the little ones in a soft hush (at least for a few hours), when I am able to sneak down to the cellar to start my onion seeds in their fresh peat pots, and when the promise of spring is tangible in the form of garden catalogs that have begun to arrive two-a-day by mail.

To me, it’s much more than just an egg.

There are people, many people, in my egg basket, which is also full of robust donut shop coffee and baseball.  These people fill me up when I most need them, and even when I don’t know what I need.  One brings me ice cream in the middle of the night, another sends me a message that makes my stomach hurt from laughing, and another came to sit with me and did not mention one word about the cheese that stuck to the bottom of her shoe as she walked through my  kitchen.  

When the questions are bigger than the answers after a quarter century of parenting, when the pancakes burned because I had to step away from the griddle to mediate a fight, when I don’t want to look past today for fear of what I might see, and even when someone has eaten the last secret cupcake, I can go to the chicken coop with my egg basket, and I know that I will feel better for having gone.  Experts might think that this is emotional egg gathering.  Though I am far from an expert, I think it might be.  

I don’t think we can really know what is in someone else’s egg basket, at least not everything, anyway. It’s probably not even an egg.  For our deepest friendships, yes, we sometimes do know some of what the basket holds, or we can do our best to try to figure it out.  And even the thought of someone trying to understand what is inside can be enough to fill it up.

When the bread is baking, when my grown son calls to share his excitement at his new venture, when I take a minute to look at my vintage cookie jars, when my daughter’s eyes flash so brightly that I can nearly feel the warmth of her happiness, when the little boys drive their construction trucks in rare harmony, perched together atop the gravel pile; these are the times that I have enough to share my basket with others.  

I might miss the glory of the Northern Illinois sunset if I don’t hurry out now to close the chicken door for the night.  While I am out there, I will be sure to check for eggs one last time.