A Little Toast to Hope

Yesterday, I was having a good day, which really wouldn’t seem extraordinary except there just haven’t been a whole lot of them lately.

A year ago, I had just lost 22 pounds. My hip didn’t hurt anymore, and I was a little closer to keeping up with the boys. All of the big kids were coming home for Christmas, and we were looking forward to taking the little boys on a spring break trip to Florida to visit my mom and dad.

It’s different now.

When I encounter people for the first time, they see me on the screen as I carry a chrome book, doing my best not to slip on the cheese or whatever is stuck to the floor while I chase my kindergartner through one disastrous room after the next. We meet again and again in this same, awkward manner. They don’t know who I used to be, and I don’t know how to tell them because I am not sure I even remember.

Maybe it started during the first days of this forgettable year when I decided to try combing out my dreads. It took nearly a month of stolen time with my stiff hands to salvage probably four inches of hair; the razor would have been so much easier. Now, though, I want them back. It’s easy to forget about the incessantly itchy scalp, how bad they were for my already-bad posture, and the chickens getting stuck on my head. I just miss how things used to be.

My half-full glass sometimes seems to be evaporating. I think I’m sinking. As the walls cave in around me, I might soon be swallowed by this very earth that I love so desperately, that I dream of feeling in my hands, that I did not get enough of, as with so many other things in this sorry season.

Yesterday, my son brought in the mail, including a little paper package tied up with a string. My friend had left for me the sweetest pair of fingerless gloves, knitted with flowers in colors of red, purple, gold, and robin’s egg blue, vibrant as a street fair or holiday market, neither of which I could attend this year. In the attached note, she said she thought of me when she saw them. I was so touched that I nearly cried for the fourth time that day. The sun was peeking out, and I had the best new pair of fingerless gloves, just perfect to temper the burn of my arthritic joints. Maybe things were finally going to turn around.

We know what we need to do. We just need to do it. At some point, defeated too often by the slamming of the chrome book and the falling of our collective spirits, I stopped doing what I knew was right. I ate sugar and bread and bakers dozens of Christmas cookies. The creak came back in my hip, accompanied by all but about five of the pounds that I had lost. It was too much to think about. I knew what I needed to do; I just didn’t do it.

When we returned from the grocery store that night, the usual frenzy of carrying bags and unloading food ensued. Some hours passed, and as night fell I thought of my precious new gloves. I went out in the darkness to look in the van where I found only one glove. It had fallen between the seat and the door. How could I have lost its match on the very day that they had been given to me? At least, I told myself, I still had one glove.

The year has taken so much from us. I wonder if we will ever get any of it back. If I don’t even remember who I was, how is anyone else to know?

I went to bed wishing for things I no longer had, forgetting that so many things still filled my glass.

I’m trying. I haven’t had sugar in three days. I have been drinking beet and kale smoothies. Maybe the shortened time in the garden this year was actually good for my achy joints. Maybe they will stop aching if I eat more beets, which I actually love, and less Oreos, which I also love. Maybe I could dye my hair pink. Chickens would probably stay away from that.

Someday, the boys will be back at school, and I will have stretches of my days before me. I know my people don’t care if I have lost or gained twenty pounds, or if my hair is pink or my scalp is itchy. We know what we have to do to get through all of this. We just have to keep doing it.

I could hear the roosters crowing on my way to open the coop early on this cold, gray morning. There was, though, a small patch of jubilant brightness on the frosty ground near where the van was parked. It was the missing glove.

After warming it up on the heat vent inside the quiet house, I slipped it on my “bad hand,” which immediately felt better. The little gift…actually a big gift…from a blessing of a friend was a bold reminder that we can find what we once had. It may, though, be extra bright and beautiful, and warm like never before, because we felt, if only for a short time, what it was to have lost so much of what we had known.

Peace, love, and hope to all! XO

Dearth

“Mom, why is your garden really empty right now?”

The words of my five-year-old came from a place of curiosity. The corn stalks that had poked skyward for many months had been cut. Lemon cucumbers no longer hung along the fence posts like bright lamps strung for a party. He had noticed. He wondered: why?

Some might suggest that it would be my chickens, but it is my garden that is closest to my soul. Why, he might have asked, is your soul empty right now?

I can see where this is going. I can feel the thoughts. They come from so many: many who have not gone before. Without words, I know how they perceive me. They don’t hear what I say. They can’t. It doesn’t matter that the story ends…or almost…the same way, every time. Once again we pry it open…stitches for a paper cut from pages that we have known for a million days. We have to begin again, because we still don’t understand the words.

The moon was a giant orange ball, a jeering jack-o-lantern to guide me along the darkening road across, once again, the endless miles. Hope was a tiny space, fading to nothing, gone like the color of the moon by the time another could see.

The judgment reaches through the slammed doors. The noise of misconception, fabrication, and blame drown out the quiet truth which no one seems to hear. Who are we anyway, to step forward with our intentions? The fingers point at every turn; invisible laughter and thoughtess remarks grind into my hollow, guarded heart.

Beneath the balloons and party horns, the colors are faded, unnamed, indiscernible. A lifetime of celebrations is written in invitations lost along the way.

It’s not your fault. It’s not her fault. Really, it’s nobody’s fault.

I might know parts of the story, but only what I was not supposed to be told, that which poured from a young child’s glassy memory, like a kaleidoscope, twisting and fleeting at every turn. These patterns pervade, engraved in the stones of loss.

I lay awake as the voices rejoice. The circle is complete, but I find myself outside, cast out, perhaps. A questionable purpose known only to our Maker. So in the end, it’s just me, back where I began, gutted empty. The starry eyes have faded in favor of those gaunt and knowing, circled dark…a wisdom desired by no one.

How can this be God’s work?

When the day comes at last, when I am called home, will I look back and understand the work of His hand? Will we stand together, welcomed back into the circle?

It’s so dark, and we are far away from even the light of the moon. We know, though, that the winter sleep will yield its cold blanket of snow, and the magical asparagus will once again poke through the soil. The brittle grape vines will bring renewal with fresh green shoots to remind us of the promise of late summer fruit.

One season turns to the next, and our circle opens once again. Heaven’s garden knows no dearth; bountiful harvests flow like honey.

My little son marveled at the harvest moon’s surreal presence…a perfect circle, the color of the sun. Together we stood, watching as it faded to ordinary before our eyes. We knew, though, just how magnificent it once had been.

Let Me Be Your Lesson

“Everything is either a blessing or a lesson.”

Who was it that said that, anyway? Maybe, some things can be both of those at the same time.

Perched on top of the hill at the edge of my grandparents’ property, my brother, my sister, and I spent strings of days looking out onto the St. Louis traffic, wondering who inhabited the curious round apartment tower building, talking about where we could hide Grandpa Gene’s cigarettes, and dreaming of getting a can of Faygo Redpop from the grocery store across the highway. I think my body still hurts from rolling down that grassy slope so often during my childhood. I wonder how many times I narrowly avoided my demise by slowing just before I rolled a little too far.

Grandpa Gene would offer me a dime to pick apples from the tree that stood perfectly in the middle of his backyard. He would sit on the glider swing, eyeing the birds splashing in their pristine concrete bath as he coached me.

“You missed one,” he would laugh, but he was not joking. The shiny-skinned, gold- green apples were plentiful, with leaves rhythmically fertilized and untainted. Grandpa would send me inside to collect my dime after his carefully-directed harvest was complete. The apples, though, didn’t taste very sweet. At least, I didn’t think so at the time.

Every so often, competing for space with the swirl of “to-do’s” and “how-can-I-possibly’s” in my brain, a thought presents itself. This time, it was “blueberry Toasties.” When we were lucky, our grandparents would take us to the Howard Johnson hotel diner. There, I would have a special breakfast of two little square corn cakes, stuffed with blueberries and slathered in butter. I would cut the bites as tiny as possible, so the Toasties, which somehow were crunchy but melted in my mouth at the same time, would last as long as possible. Toasties may have come in other flavors, but I had never wanted to even explore that possibility. At some point, Grandma Evie found blueberry Toasties in a box at the grocery store, so we didn’t even have to wait to go to the diner. Maybe that was when they stopped tasting so good. Then, I forgot about blueberry Toasties for nearly fifty years.

Our end-of-the line child, our runaway caboose, starts kindergarten this fall. Thirty years of catch-up projects and neglected home keeping chores will have to wait just a little bit longer, as this boy and his brothers will be home at the farm this fall. We never expected this. Nobody did. His voice might plead, “Let me be your lesson, Mama.”

Sometimes, I do hear voices. It is no secret that we are bound here by mental illness along with the foreboding threat of our world, but these voices come from within with an unmistakable fury. Maybe no one else hears them at first, but as with the insistent cry of a child in the dark of night, I must listen.

Some years ago, my brother and I were traveling by airplane. From somewhere in the air above the seats in the cabin, a gravelly voice simply stated, “p”. This was particularly curious, as sometimes I was called “P” by my brother or sister when they may have felt that two syllables were too much. More letters came from the elusive voice. The mystery was solved when we realized that the man in the seat ahead of us was playing “Scrabble” with his seat mate.

Through the years, voices have called us to adopt, to foster, to move to the country, to campaign to legalize medical cannabis for autism, to raise chickens, to start beehives, and, most recently, to make blueberry Toasties. The “goat” voice, I hope, will come soon. Sometimes, the message has been in the form of one of my children, a friend, a flower, a newspaper, a tree, or a bird. And sometimes, for certain, it has been that of God.

Our little orchard at the farm has grown. I believe we have seven apple trees now. Two years ago, we were delighted to spy the first apple on one of those trees, our Colonnade Flamenco. We watched it grow, all alone, and we shared its sweet goodness on harvest day. That was the one and only apple in the orchard, until this year. Dismayed by rust on the apple trees and determined to use natural methods to care for our homestead, I have not held much hope in filling my apple basket anytime soon. There are, though, three perfect baby apples growing on one of the young Golden Delicious trees now. The voice of the young apple, looking very much like those that grew on Grandpa Gene’s tree so many years ago, pleads: “Be patient. Don’t doubt yourself. Keep going. It’s going to be worth it.”

I wondered if somewhere in the world of Pinterest or Google, someone else had remembered Blueberry Toasties. Indeed, with a little pinch of this or that, the memory of my best childhood diner breakfast became a reality.

Here’s how I made them, if anyone wants to experience the nostalgia first hand:

Blueberry Toasties, adapted from “Nancy’s A Recipe A Day” blog

This time, the lesson was easy. Crisped to perfection, dripping with the combined intoxication of blueberries and butter, my breakfast advised, in a voice that was nearly audible, “Don’t forget. Don’t forget the little things that you once loved.”

Would Faygo Redpop be bad for my kids? We could always have it along with the apples once they ripen, to balance things out a bit. That would definitely be a blessing.

A Chicken Gets Her Wings

Love, young love,

I hope you are well.

At least we now both

Have a story to tell.

—Keaton Henson, “Sarah Minor”

I should have known by the way she spun in a circle as she moved among the pine shavings, even somersaulting as she crashed into the other chicks. Sometimes, she kept one eye closed.

Soon, she couldn’t stand up without tipping over. It turns out she was “stargazing”, looking skyward, for she had wry neck, a neurological condition perhaps due to a vitamin deficiency or an injury sustained during her travels to the farm.

If she had a fighting chance, we were going to give it to her. We held her tiny yellow body. We fed her electrolytes with a dropper. We positioned her in a little cup filled with soft pine shavings. We kept her warm.

Still, Sarah Minor made weak little peeps as she continued to look to the sky. She didn’t seem to be getting better.

Chickens already have wings, so getting to heaven would be easy. She wouldn’t need angel wings.

All of the little boy’s sadness came through the five-day old chicken whose stay here was short. His own life’s loss and grief came as tears for a lost soft feathered friend. There were other chickens in the flock, but none was Sarah Minor.

“I think I just felt her going to heaven,” said the boy.

Sarah Minor died.

We wrapped her lifeless body in a soft white cotton cloth embroidered with tiny white flowers.

We set her into the farm’s earth, tied up with all her little chicken hopes and chicken dreams. Sarah, we were so glad that you came. Even though your time here was short, we know you visited for a reason.

Sarah, I love you.

Eyes

If our eyes are windows to our souls, the other features certainly help with interpretation.

The thoughts are higher, bigger, and more pervasive. There are questions in everything. Our world is different.

For some, it’s really the only world they know. A quandary in the world of child welfare is the often dumbfounding loyalty from a child to a parent who has hurt them, from a child who has suffered terrible things at the hands of those that they love best. This is not something that I could begin to understand until, through life experience, I could see it with my own eyes.

They loved, quite simply, because along with the hurt, there was also a lot of good. And that love, that good, carried them through the unthinkable. This life of hurt…and also of love…was what they knew.

I took my teenage daughter to the doctor for a routine physical last week. I was conscious of each door handle I touched, however hesitantly, and grateful that I hadn’t been asked to sign anything. Many times I reached for my hand sanitizer which I now carry in my purse.

Wearing twin masks that covered our noses and mouths, we walked the length of the clinic to the office of our longtime pediatrician, whose services we value even more in these days of uncertainty. A profound thought registered inside of me as I smiled at a young mother, also masked. I was unsure if she knew I smiled, though I am certain that the age lines at the corners of my eyes must have deepened. I really had no way of knowing if she returned my smile. Her glorious baby girl, perhaps six months old and the picture of happiness and joy, wearing a soft cotton floral dress and a matching headband, stood in her mother’s lap. The baby wore no mask, as they are not recommended for the youngest population. Her face was pure. There was no question that the baby was smiling, squealing, and showing the waiting patients her sparkly new teeth. Her bright eyes took in all there was to see. She looked to those around her, making eye contact and blowing raspberries.

No one, though, blew raspberries back to her. Not then.

The world outside that baby girl’s home is suddenly different from how her mother likely envisioned it would be. For me, and for my teenage daughter, it was a curious thing to see people out in public begin wearing masks. For this baby, for now, it will be what she knows, and how she sees most people.

She won’t see the facial expressions or smiles of passing strangers. Her interpretation of body language and communication in society will be different than mine. But it will be what she knows.

All my life, I have marveled at how those with sensory impairments navigate the world. My longtime friend works with children with visual impairments. She often shares stories of her small clients and the victories that they achieve and the ways that she supports them as they learn to grow within the world as they know and experience it. I have sat in homes of children and families that have learned to speak with their hands and to listen with their eyes. I am brought to my knees at the wonders of humankind.

Maybe I wear a mask when I am afraid to speak. Now, the mask may cover what I need to hear. The beautiful baby will learn to talk, communicate, and interpret language as she grows. There may, though be some differences from how babies learned before the world changed before us, and before we put on our masks.

I have lived through many hopeful experiences in the child welfare system, where things changed for a while. Hard things happened, and children were separated from their families. There was a period of time when things were different…confusing…sad…and where we all sometimes felt like covering our faces so that nobody would know that we were crying. Changes had to happen, and when they did, families were reunited. They were, though, forever changed by what they had been through.

To us, this time is unsettling. It seems we are missing out. That little baby, though, reminded me of all that we do have, even as we are forced to wear masks, masks which protect us from the unknown, masks which can keep all of us safe during this time of great uncertainty.

If I can’t see your smile, I hope to hear your laughter, and perhaps to feel your energy from six feet away.

“Without a noise, without my pride, I reach out from the inside.”

—Peter Gabriel, In Your Eyes

I Wish I Could Tell You

As a little girl, on my sick days from school, the best part of the day was the half hour when I could sit in my dad’s recliner in my pajamas and watch Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. I found great comfort in staring at the trolley while it circled the neighborhood, where I could pass some of my time with this great man who had so much to show me. He always knew the right thing to say to make me feel better.

After nearly thirteen years of fostering, we surrendered our license, which was somehow at once sad and celebratory. During that tenure, one of the greatest challenges lay in trying to answer questions which were essentially unanswerable.

“When am I going home?”

“When can I see my mom?”

“Will I be staying here forever?”

As I, too, longed for answers to these questions, I knew it was my job to reassure, to be honest, to share what I knew could be understood, and, often impossibly, to comfort, even when the words I could provide were not what the children longed to hear.

When our license capacity had been and would be at the maximum for many years, when our final adoption was made official, and when the many needs of our family made the decision clear (well, maybe not to me…), it was time to close our doors to fostering.

It seemed, then, that the questions might stop.

They didn’t.

I know that the hard questions came from the birth families, too, who had loved and lost so much. At the judge’s decision, the life long grief is hardly an answer.

My children still wonder when they will see their birth parents, why they cannot be with their first families, if they had always been loved, and whether they will really be staying with us forever…because the formality of adoption, for many, is not enough to answer those questions.

The state of our recent days reminds me of the challenges of unanswerable questions.

“When is this dumb virus going to be over?”

“When can I see my friends? When can I ride dirt bikes with Ray (our revered family friend)?”

“When is baseball going to start?” (I am in on this one, too, for sure).

“When can we see the big kids? When can we go on an airplane to California?”

“Are we all going to die?”

Am I actually going to be able to help them through this? Because, really, I have no idea. No one does.

I guess I can try to apply the fostering philosophy for handling these questions, too, and I will likely wind up feeling just as bewildered in my inability to really give them what they need.

The truth is that we don’t know what we need. No one does. I wonder if we ever will again, or if we ever even did. If only Mr. Rogers was still here…

As my children are tucked safely in their beds each night, the stars shining high over the forest, in this home where they will be welcomed forever, I can’t help but think of those who, even in this period of great uncertainty, have even bigger questions. Those youth in care and those who have just aged out of the system have the same unanswerable questions that I have heard many times, only now there are harder and more uncertain, even more foreboding questions. An uncertain future in an uncertain world is just too much to bear…and far too much to bear alone, wondering.

In the night, the claps of thunder shook me awake, but then I heard the rumble of the train in the distance, in quiet competition with a soft, steady rain that carried on through most of today.

The wisdom of Mr. Rogers advises us to “look for the helpers”. These days, certainly, they are not hard to find.

I wonder, really, how best to be a helper in these overwhelming, often lonely times. Maybe just doing our best to listen to those questions and worries, maybe just being there, is being a helper. After all, we can’t really go anywhere…

Once the rain had passed, it really was a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

My View from the Back Seat: This Life-Altering Course of Parenting

I would always have someone with me, and I would never be lonely, not ever again.

At twenty-four, and I was about to have my first baby. Early Motherhood, though inherently challenging, treated me gently. It had been my deepest wish, to become a mother. With my new mom friends, I passed idle days walking to the Chocolate Moon for coffee, nursing my tiny sons, washing diapers, and learning to make wildflower jelly.

It’s just not that simple anymore.

It seemed a good idea to sit in the back seat with a tiny infant on the trips with our new family. I could keep an eye on the little being and feed him, entertain him, and clean him up if something happened to erupt. With him beside me, I knew he was safe.

When our second baby was born, his older brother was a bright and contemplative preschooler, capable of replacing a pacifier or making the little one laugh. I returned to the passenger seat for our family road trips, for an unsuspecting decade.

Our recent years have been peppered with people, with helpers that came to our home, that saw who I was deep inside, that saw the things I didn’t even know were inside of me; people that sometimes knew me better than my best friends. The helpers would come, some for short times and some for longer. I have never really known if we are better once they have gone, or if they were just there to help us pass the time.

And we have a lot of time to pass these days.

These were people that I didn’t want to need, people that I didn’t know we needed, and sometimes even people that we couldn’t live without.

At some point, after enough questionable behaviors and dangerous things, I started sitting in the back seat again, with all riders in strategic places to encourage the least amount of consternation. I have never really made my way out: not yet, anyway.

So many years in the back seat have made me question who I am, and who I thought I might be. It’s a lot of waiting…and a lot of hoping…that when my time is done, it will have been enough.

Sometimes the roads are easier. Maybe that’s part of the rhythm of the year, or because we are driving through the countryside instead of the city’s traffic. We try to make it uphill. We run out of gas. Maybe we are all a bit safer when I am in the back seat, or maybe it wouldn’t even matter.

I sometimes wonder what would happen if I just let them be, if I didn’t intervene, if I didn’t try to separate the brothers from their torment. Maybe I am not helping at all.

There are times, of course, when I am driving alone with a little person or two. There are times when I am hit by a flying boot, and when I have to drive with one hand and mediate a fight with the other.

It’s so hard for them to understand all of this; it’s so hard for us to see when we don’t understand, when we don’t even know what we need.

I miss the front seat for the little things: sitting alongside someone that I have loved for so much of my life, having idle conversation, sharing coffee from the cup holder, reading a book in peace. It’s a bit harder when I am in the back seat. I guess we have gotten used to it. Nearly thirty years have passed, and I am not yet back to this place that I once took for granted, that I abandoned by choice. I’m trying really hard to get back there.

I guess I got my wish, though…for I always have someone with me. Always. And I am far from lonely, especially when I am in the back seat.

Loss

It’s helpful, necessary, and smart. It’s good practice. Also, it’s terrifying.

There’s no more solace to be found in the garden these days. “Put them to work with you,” advise the well-intentioned folks who do not understand my reality of the transformation of a tiny farmer that uses a three-quarter-scale shovel to scoop compost into a wheelbarrow, only to turn (in the time it takes to pull two weeds) on a brother who had let his thoughts escape into words. I can only hope to reach the angry pair before the shovel strikes.

It’s the images of the masks which hide the faces; the hands, including mine, fitted with gloves; the grocery store carts topped with hand sanitizer and bleach as though a disinfectant sundae was on the dinner menu; the plastic shields intended to protect the brave cashiers who come to work so we can eat; and the heaviness of fear, both known and unknown, that’s terrifying beyond measure. Terrifying, too, is that we don’t really even know what we’ve lost.

Maybe I should have wiped down all the packages from today’s supply runs. I didn’t. Maybe I just needed another thought to wake me at two in the morning, when the boys are actually sleeping.

I had envisioned a brightly-colored piñata hanging from the tree in the sunshine, with my little line of children barely able to contain their excitement. It would be a treat for us all during this time of uncertainty. The box came from Amazon, but I told them it was a surprise for the next day. One boy became incensed; he didn’t like surprises, and he hated me. “Sorry! It’s a piñata,” I blurted. “I thought it would be fun.” At that, another brother announced that he, too, hated me, and pretty much everything, because I had ruined the surprise.

Next, there were cartoon-style clouds of body parts swirling through the air to the tune of an anguished choir. Maybe we should have called for help. That concept, too, is terrifying for so many reasons.

Come tomorrow, I will have to decide what to do about the piñata. It might feel good for all of us to take a turn at striking.

There’s so much loss going on all around us…so much on top of what’s already there, most of which may be hidden so deeply within that we cannot call it up. It must come on its own, in its own time.

It’s hard to know how to help my children through all of this, when my band of supporters must keep a social distance or communicate over a screen.

Maybe it’s like hitting a piñata, where finally all the beating and shaking becomes too much, and it just breaks apart. What it once was is lost. The masks and sanitizer will just help soften the blow.

I did manage to get some seeds in the ground earlier in the day. In about a month, my lettuce will be ready to harvest, and soon I will be able to transplant the seeds that we started inside. There will also be sugar snaps, beets, and carrots to follow. By mid summer, I hope that we will have stored our medical gloves and masks away. I hope for a lot of things. We all do.

We’ll try to record our piñata adventure, if it even happens. My guess is that everyone will be lined up and ready to take a swing. Even me. Especially me.

You Always Did Love the Ocean

It was hard to discern where the brilliant blue sky became the ocean’s choppy waves, where the hope looked more like fear.

From his little spot in the Florida sun, my dad sends me things to read: funny and interesting things…things that he has found on the internet or in the newspaper, things that he hears the neighbors talking about, or things that he thinks will remind me of something from an earlier day. Many of these things are about baseball.

This year, we are going to have to wait for our great game. We are going to have to wait for a lot of things.

Sometimes I don’t get to these things right away; often I have the intention to return to my messages later in the day. Often, though, my time gets swept up in other things, and more messages come. I know there are some that I have yet to open, messages that my Dad knew would be worth the two minute read.

A car trip to the ocean to visit my parents who, though gracefully, are nonetheless aging, seemed like the perfect way to pass the time leading up to the start of our great game. I wanted my little boys to know them as our grown children do. With the ebb and flow of behaviors in our home, traveling has not been easy. We took a chance, and we planned our seventeen-hour car trip one week before the school’s spring break, just because the timing seemed right.

The night’s sparring match began with one brother wanting to play a racing game and the other not wanting to give up his Minecraft berth. The first brother, miraculously, decided it would be okay if the second brother kept on playing his game. Dumbfounded, I watched as the second brother announced and then acted out his rage that the first brother “gave in” to him. After some yelling and escalation, he stood, abandoning his game controller and the coveted spot on the couch.

When it gets hard, we sometimes go outside and run around the property. By now, he was shaking and crying, saying over and over how he didn’t want to be here, how he needed to go.

The hard part is that even if we could go somewhere, we wouldn’t know where to go.

First it was the play castle, an outside climbing toy that we had inherited from a good friend whose many children had hung up their capes and crowns years before. He ran at the castle, kicking, hitting, yelling and turning over a structure many times his size with the force of his fierce anger.

Next was the giant maple tree, pummeled by my strong little-leaguer’s strife, channeled through a baseball bat, which had been lying nearby. “I hate the tree. I hate everything,” he cried. Barely four feet tall, in this fit of angst, he had the strength of the tallest giant…the wrath of a little boy whose pain was taller than a hundred-year-old Maple tree.

I stood by him for what seemed a terribly long time, watching the fire burn from his tormented soul. I told him that I needed to lock up the chickens. Before I had reached the first coop, I turned to find that he had nearly caught up to me. Somewhere along the way, he had abandoned his baseball bat. He had also dispelled most of the rage, and he was ready to say goodnight to our flock. We closed the chicken doors. The hardest part of the night was behind us.

We spent a few minutes more walking around the property, looking for spring’s promise in the form of new buds on black raspberry canes, young apple trees, and fairy roses. He apologized to the castle and to the tree.

We were better.

If I had called for help in the height of his anguish, there might have been none. Instead, our earth provided.

Just days earlier, this boy had the ocean nearly to himself. For blissful hours, he caught the waves and dug for shells. I sat on the hot sand with my dad, who, in that moment, was healthy and well. The Florida sun shone on his skin. He turned to me as he looked out onto the waves of the coming tide.

“You always did love the ocean, didn’t you?” he asked, but his question begged no answer.

The waves became more rough and uncertain with each news report. Our long-awaited getaway was overshadowed by fear and anxiety of the unknown. We cut our trip short, and drove across the country, barely stopping for an hour.

We have been ravaged and beaten by something that is beyond understanding. Did we do wrong by trying to travel at the early rumblings of what was to come? Will we be together again?

Even baseball is canceled.

We’re all fighting against the castles and the trees to find what we’ve lost.

I hope I have read all the messages.

It’s such a glorious time of year; it’s so easy to see God’s work and to know which branches to prune. It’s a clear, familiar path. It’s meaning, though, is elusive. Tomorrow was supposed to be opening day.

My son had a better day today. He had not said much other than to utter a few groans before we sat down to begin our school day at home. I looked over his shoulder to see that he was, indeed, working on his math.

Maybe we’ll make it to a baseball game this season: my dad, my son, and me, once this is all behind us. And hopefully, we will make it back to the ocean before sunset.

Garbage Mom









Monday had a promising start: the sun shone brightly, and I had a few minutes to spare before I would be meeting my longtime friend, so I stopped at the post office. Two pairs of ladies occupied the lobby in front of me; both sets engaged in separate conversations.

The first pair consisted of the very pleasant post office clerk and a vibrant middle-aged customer whose hair was tied in a floral bandanna and whose presence radiated some sort of energy that (I inferred from my unintended eavesdropping) was clearly born from the relaxation of a beach vacation.

The second pair, two ladies who were standing eight feet or so from the first pair, off to the side of the line and presumably finished with any mailing business that had brought them there in the first place, exchanged a bit more concern with each turn of their conversation, which seemed to involve some unfortunate surgical mishaps or medical disturbances.

The two stories, in that space of time, in the stiff environment of the post office, blended into one conversation that was at once uplifting and unsettling, depending on which part I allowed myself to focus.

What entered my brain from the post office lobby went something like this:

“So good to see you… what a lovely day we have…”

“He lost part of one foot, then the rest of it, then the other foot…”

“I have my list, and I’m sticking to it. We just got back last night….the sun’s out for us; how lovely…”

How lovely, indeed, and how tragic, this dichotomy of our lives.

“Horns from my head, wings from my shoulders…”

I hadn’t seen my friend in more than a year. We had worked together for a period of time, what seems like a lifetime ago.

She spoke of her children, now nearly grown, of places that she had visited, and about how she had been starting flowers from seed. We talked a bit about growing older, about worrying about things, about food, and about how much changes in a space of time….well, mostly.

She asked about each of my older children, whom she had known as the young children that they once were. I told her, too, about the trials of parenting this second wave of children.

The struggles are mighty. My older sons referred to me as “garbage” exactly zero times (out loud, anyway) during their collective years at home. This week alone, I have been called both “trash” and “garbage”, a “toddler” (because I cried; perhaps I earned that one), “lazy”, “mean”, and a “pig”. I have also been told that my glasses were pretty, my pajama pants were cool, and that I smelled good. I have been fallen asleep upon at least six times, and I have been given no less than twenty-seven crayon drawings, also in this week, which I chalk up to mean that I am loved.

So maybe one skill that I have learned is to let the insults, the comments spun in webs of anger, bounce from my back like a crumpled paper which, I suppose, could be classified as either garbage or trash, depending on the moment.

These days, we have therapy sessions and behavior plans in place of baseball practice and band…oh, wait…we have that, too…

“Quick, Mama, look up…your baby has grown up…”

My friend and I drank good coffee and ran out of time before we had run out of things to talk about. At some point it occurred to me that I could try to fight and defy the challenges that interrupt my path, or I could spend that same hour, minding my own business, in my garden. While I might not have control over my problems, which may not even be my problems in the first place, I can surely stand to breathe in something of nature even as I bend in defeat. I suppose, then, all would not be lost. There might even be a flower at some point, maybe some sunshine instead of the amputation of some toes, depending on how I see…or hear it.

My friend went back to her work late on that Monday morning, and I went home to meet my little son’s bus, wondering if he would still think that my glasses looked nice, or if he would give me a few more reasons to spend a late hour in the garden.

Song lyrics from “O Behold”, by Kevin Morby, courtesy of Sam who, for the record, never called me either “garbage” or “trash”