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.

Lessons from Popeye and the Hummingbird

I overheard her telling someone that nothing could really hurt her. When you have been broken more times than the years you have lived, and when your heart has been shattered into  a million tiny pieces, you already know the worst kinds of hurt.  What more could there possibly be that you have yet to endure?  She collected what fragments she could in the aftermath of brokenness, and she hurled them at anyone that stood in her way.  Those who were closest to her, those who were in the line of fire, felt the deepest hurt.  This hurt, though, was a hundred million times softer than the hurt, than the grief that had swallowed her as Jonah in the belly of the whale, with no clear route to escape.

We were sometimes allowed to stay up until ten o’clock on Friday nights.  I remember being an early riser as a young child, and I could probably have been the first to the television on Saturday mornings even if I had been last to bed the night before.  I did not, though, find the charm in most cartoons.  My mind would drift, and I would not really understand what was happening on the screen.  I think I still have that going today, for more than just cartoons.  I did, though enjoy the Popeye show.  Olive Oyl was tall and skinny, and I admired the skirts that she wore.  I liked Sweet Pea, the baby in his little sleeper, best of all.  And I heard Popeye’s message loudly and clearly:  eat spinach, for it will make you strong.  I really like spinach, and I owe it all to Popeye.  These days, I can eat fresh spinach by the handful from my garden.  And I am still trying to find my strength.

If you believe something, it’s closer to happening than if you don’t.  The hope is there, pulsing in its existence.  My babies, my sons who are now grown men, believed in me, because I gave them life.  I was what they knew, and they trusted me, even without having a soft place to land.  They looked to me to be there for them, and they needed me, even in my own frailty, when inside I was full of fear.  It has not been the same for those children, my children who have come to me bearing the weight of another life lived.  They are skeptical.  They test and challenge.  They do not believe.  They make me question my own truth, strength, and integrity.  My hands shake, blood rushes through my legs, and I am overcome by my own acts of hypervigilance which cause me to stay awake, wide-eyed, tears flowing, fearing the cobra as I anticipate the nearly undetectable sound of the coil and wonder when the next strike will be.

I wonder, too, how long it will take for her to trust, to believe, and if she even ever will.  She certainly is strong, but it isn’t from eating spinach.  Well, there is a little spinach in our recipe for tortellini soup.  But that isn’t what Popeye had in mind.  Time and again, she is overwhelmed by her own conflict and disbelief.

Two times before, I fancied hummingbirds as backyard visitors.  I prepared the nectar,  hung the feeders,  and waited for something that wouldn’t happen.  Once I even forgot about the nectar for a long while, only to remember when I discovered a sticky mess and a trail of ants where my dreams of a magical little bird had been waiting to manifest.  Earlier this month, I was shopping for chicken feed when I chanced upon a pretty little red glass, vintage-looking feeder.  It was my message to try again, though I needed, first, to find my faith that they would one day come.  We chose a spot just outside the kitchen window, and Dan hung the feeder with a repurposed candelabra that we had found behind the barn.  It looked lovely, just as it was.  I knew it would take time, and I would try to remember to refill the nectar this time.

Maybe it’s the collective spinach that you eat, over years and years, that gives you the kind of strength that you need to believe.  More than likely, though, it’s time, patience, a sense of purpose, and knowing that you are truly, deeply loved that will make the difference in the end.  When all the fight is gone, battle-weary and vulnerable, we turn to our Maker, knowing that this is what He had in mind for us all along.

My shoulder stung where my embattled eight-year-old had sunk his frustration and his fingernails hard into my flesh in the wake of brotherly combat.  “It’s okay.  We’re okay.”  That was all I had to offer as I walked away from the heap of his body.  All his fight had gone out, at least for this moment.  As I went to find my iced tea, something caught my attention outside the kitchen window.  It had come just for me, in that moment, and with a message to deliver.  Looking tentative and almost disheveled, the tiny gray hummingbird darted off as quickly as it had come.  But it came, and with it followed a whole new kind of hope.

It’s not up to us.  It’s not our plan, or even our time.  For Jonah, whose name, I learned, means “dove,” a peaceful bird that frequents our feeders at the farm, the urge to flee was not enough to keep him from the path that was intended solely as his.  We can’t hide from ourselves, from our own truths, and from what is in store for us.  I guess we all just need a vision, a little tenacity, our fair share of spinach, and maybe some help believing that someone will be there to catch us along the way.

 

 Sparkly Things and Fancy Little Animals

 
I have no idea when the fascination first began.  It was never really an obsession, but rather something that I would allow myself to think of from time to time.   My mind would wander to some sort of enchanted place where dogs would be smiling and wearing overalls, lambs would ride little bicycles with bunches of flowers in their handle baskets, and mother cats dressed in Sunday finery would push ivory wicker carriages that held twin kittens tucked beneath sweetly embroidered cotton blankets.

The escalating turns of a little boy sparring match from around the corner bring me back to the present.   Later that evening, the dull ache in my hip and the scratch marks on my forearm remind me that my eight year old son will only get bigger and stronger, and that there will come a day when I can no longer hold him to keep us all safe from the tempest of his writhing body.  In that moment, earlier in the day, though, we were able to weather the storm at hand.

It takes a bit of might and determination to will the tears back as I think of his smallness in the wake of his overwhelming angst, and how things will have to be different when he grows older.  I cannot hold that thought, though, because right now, just as the ducks sit cross legged for a picnic of buttered croissants and strawberries on the clover-massed lawn, all is peaceful and well.

Our young mom coffee shop meet ups evolved over the years, and our beloved Chocolate Moon has long since closed.   My family moved away.  It seemed in the blink of an eye, my longtime friend Kathy’s toddlers turned to teenagers with their own games and recitals.  My older sons, too, were scarcely available when we were able to find time, usually at a bookstore somewhere between our two towns, to catch up over an afternoon latte.

There was always a baby (or maybe two) in tow on my end, and I was always grateful for Kathy’s capable  extra hands.  I would see the fancy little animals, the ones with pinafores and bunches of flowers, for sale at the bookstore, and I would admire them, out loud, for my friend knew.  She always did.

As a young teenager and beyond, I looked forward to my babysitting jobs as one of my peers might look forward to a homecoming dance or a trip to the mall.  I spent hours reading to my sweetest charges, Ryan and Daniel.  Daniel, the younger boy, would wait for me to turn the page and then point an eager toddler finger at the tiniest animal on the page.  Every time, and every page.  I don’t remember if I ever told his parents about that.  Little Daniel, too, loved small things.  I hope he still does.

Our Chicago friends gave us a gift certificate to the bookstore a few years ago.  When I had found the perfect family book with some funds to spare,  I bought myself one of those fancy little animals that were so much a part of my stolen reveries.  It was, after all, 25% off.

In the dark shadows on the hardest days, again I fight the demons along with the tears as I consider that when you live among those with mental illness, and maybe you also may not be far from a ledge of sorts, you need the little things.

A padded yellow envelope arrived from Kathy a few days before Christmas.  Inside was one of the tiny animals from the bookstore.  A little curly lamb, dressed in a pink sundress and seated proudly on a red train, now holds a place of honor on my kitchen windowsill and will forever be a reminder of the whimsy and delight that truly can be part of every day.

When we hope for something, when we love something, we have to believe, and we have to know, that one day, perhaps not even during this time on earth, that that something will come back to us, and we will know it, and it may even be wearing fancy sparkles.

💕Pink farmhouse table courtesy of my clever and lovely artist friend, Sue, who is fancy and sparkly, every single  day.

Bigger Than Me

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We used to plan our outings around his fears.  When Ethan was a very small boy, I could push the stroller as fast as my feet could carry us.  We may have been nearly across the railroad tracks before he knew.  As he grew older and his supernatural power of directionality kicked in full force, he was more keenly aware of the shadows where his fears were held captive.  We would go only to the parks on our side of the train tracks, and we would save our trips downtown to the Confectionery for times when someone could be home to look after our boy.

The county home hosts a trick-or-treating event for children of the community on the evening before Halloween.  We decided to take our children this year in hopes that we could soften their desire to spend hours on what was expected to be a blustery, rainy Saturday, on parade in  pursuit of Laffy Taffy and candy corn.  Our wide-eyed little ones were uncharacteristically quiet as they walked through the halls of the facility, extending their plastic pumpkins to yesterday’s princesses, clowns, and witches who offered shaky fists full of Skittles, M & M’s, and Smarties.   I was told by more than one resident that my baby was too little for candy.

I am fearful of growing old.

We had been wondering the same thing as our eyes met over our soy lattes: how long have we been meeting like this?  We deduced through memories of Christmas lists of years past that it must have been about fifteen years of the nearly three-decade span of our friendship.  Yesterday, my college friend, Kim, and I had our annual ritual of meeting halfway between DeKalb and Madison on the first Saturday after Halloween.  Our intentions of crossing off the holiday wish lists have, over the years,  mixed gracefully with our yearly reflections of children, work, and dark chocolate.  I leave home (with just a bit of guilt) to embark upon a day that truly feeds my soul.  And we eat a lot, too.  I don’t want the day to end.  As I drove home yesterday, I wished that we had taken a picture together.  It has been a couple of decades since we have done that.  I think, too, that when we meet next time, we will both have passed the half century mark.  We just never know what the year will bring.

Straight across the cornfields between Twombly Road and Lincoln Highway, looking from behind the Peter Rabbit crib sheet that serves as a makeshift curtain in my bedroom, I can see Rose’s farm.  Of course, she doesn’t live there anymore, but I think of her each day as I look out my window.    For all intents and purposes, Rose was my daughter’s counselor.  She was, though, much more than that.  I would look forward to our trips to her office, where I would breathe in the peace of her stone fountain, eat with abandon from her candy dishes (always stacked to the heavens with the best types of chocolate), and fancy myself having coffee with her on a lazy Saturday.  We wanted to buy her farm, and we tried hard to do just that.  Now, looking over the aftermath of a Midwest harvest from my window to hers, I am better able to see the big picture.

I used to fall asleep with the television on.  Some nights, I go to bed earlier than Dan while he works on his music at the edge of the bed.  When we lived at the edge of campus, I was secretly comforted by the din of college students playing music and hosting bonfires even into the early morning hours.  The best part of baseball season is when the Cubs play on the west coast, and I can listen to the late night games on the radio as I drift off.  I just don’t want the days to end.

Endings are hard.  Though I wish the day could continue, I do try to remind myself of the promise that tomorrow holds.

Ethan rushed from his bus one day last week, brimming with excitement as he burst through the front door.  With a new light in his eyes, he announced that he had walked across the railroad tracks with his class.  Twice.  And it was no big deal.

Next year, I will be sure to take that picture with Kim.

Brave

 Ethan is brave every day.  Yesterday, I was brave for him.  I wanted to post the words that I shared with the medical advisory board which voted 8:2 in favor of accepting autism as a condition to recommend to be treated with medical cannabis.
“I am learning more on this parenting journey than I ever expected to learn.  Honestly, I really don’t want to learn all this stuff.  I don’t want to know the side effects of Risperdal or Zyprexa.  I don’t want to have a reason to know them.  I don’t want others to treat my sweet boy with any less dignity than he deserves.  The grip of autism is not selective.  This child is only trying to make sense of his world and his emotional kaleidoscope.  I want him to eat lemon knots; I want him to be able to walk across the train tracks without being gripped by fear; and I want him to enjoy the Christmas lights with the rest of us.  I want him to know that he is a treasure and a great blessing, every single day.

We know that people with autism are often in a state of sensory overload.  Experiences are more intense: louder, scarier, more painful…often intolerable.  I have seen anecdotal studies of children close in age to my son, with similar behaviors, who seemed to get better almost overnight when allowed the chance to have medical cannabis.

With Ethan, there are extraordinary swings of angst, fear, and aggression.  In the other direction, there are flashes of brilliance and uncanny cleverness to outsmart a university scholar on a good day.  The days where the brilliance outweighs the angst, those are the days we relish.  We adore him.  We are exhausted on all of the days, but he has brought to us intangible things that we did not even know we needed.

Ethan, at seven, has been through two psychiatric hospitalizations when the behaviors became too overwhelming.  His therapeutic day school has now called on a behavior analyst to help with his programming.  I learned yesterday at his IEP meeting that my son had more physical restraints during the last calendar year than anyone else at the school.

I’m sorry for everything.  I’m sorry for the railroad tracks, the thunder, the bees, the wind, and for all of the other things that invade your head and stir your fears.

We don’t want him to have to go back to where he is not understood, where nobody sits with him as he falls asleep, and where he is presented with trays of brown things with gravy.  We don’t want to go back to a place where the outcome will be no different than the last time.

Then the moments come, and there is nothing we can do.

My little boy, at seven, has been on at least fifteen different medications.  We have never been sure if any of the medications have had any positive effect, though the negative side effects have certainly presented themselves.  Many children in states with more sensible laws have recovered the ability to function in everyday life by using edible cannabis.  I will never give up trying to help my son.  I feel that it is our ethical responsibility to offer this same opportunity to children in Illinois: the chance at a childhood that is governed by states of calm and joy.

Please offer this chance to my son and to countless others with autism who may not have words to express but who feel so very deeply, every single day. ”

Thanks to yesterday’s vote, we are one step closer.  No matter your thoughts and feelings about this, I want our story to be about standing up for our children, and about coming together to make a difference.  Many thanks to Elliott, my bright star, for being the guiding force.