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.


There’s a Chicken in My Car: October Baseball and Other Rarities

She wanted to know what she should bake; she was taking suggestions via Facebook.  My friend Chrissy is a self-proclaimed therapeutic baker.  She’s also a foster mom.  She goes to court, she comes home, and she bakes.  And lucky are we that live close enough to be her neighbors.

Foremost in my mind as the first hints of chill return to the air are Cranberry Bliss bars, which are a couple-times- a-season delicacy from the Starbucks drive-thru.  She asked.  I have never eaten a cranberry bliss bar while watching baseball.  By the time those types of treats are in season, we are heralding the fall season and preparing to deck the halls. This year, though there is a rustle of leaves on the ground and my little boys have already been wearing their new Halloween costumes, I am still listening to balls and strikes being called over the radio.  That’s not what usually happens, but I cannot be more grateful.
“I can bring you some of these right now.”

Right now.  That’s not what usually happens.  But I am so grateful.

I have an angel friend who has, on a whim, brought me an entire freezer full of meat that she “happened upon.”  She once handed me a tiny screwdriver, part of an eyeglass repair kit, when my daughter’s glasses kept coming loose.  Another time, she came to my house with a latte and a six-pack of Cranberry Bliss bars which, she claimed, were on special.

I had become so enamored with my hummingbirds that I hadn’t even thought that they might not be here to stay.  It had been a while since I had gotten a glimpse of my magical friend flitting near the ruby red feeder which hangs outside the kitchen window.  Then came my hard realization: the hummingbird is not coming back anymore, at least not this year.

That’s it.  There’s a season for all of this: baseball, hummingbirds, and even Cranberry Bliss bars, unless you are Chrissy, and you can bake them whenever you like.

“When is it time for me to play real baseball?  I think that’s what I am going to be.  I was thinking of being a boxer, but I decided I wanted to be something happy, so I am going to do baseball.”  He knows.  I loved this flow of spoken thoughts from my little boy.  He knows: baseball is happy.   When it’s not time for baseball, though, we need other things to keep us going.

When we learn things we wish we didn’t know, we are, in a way, forever changed.  We can’t go back to where we were before, because there is nothing there.  What lies before us may be unfamiliar, but it is where we are.

No matter who wins the World Series, I plan to enjoy the ride along the way.

Chrissy brought me three boxes of glorious cranberry bliss bars and pumpkin scones that day, and I sent her home with a dozen chicken eggs.  I know I got the better end of that arrangement.  Perhaps she was baking as therapy, to make herself feel better, but she certainly brought some light to my day.

She had left less than two minutes before, and my mouth was already stuffed with cream cheese, white chocolate, and cranberries when her text came in.

“There is a chicken in my car.”

I doubt there’s a season for having chickens in your car.

My friend Juli stopped by this morning.  She was coming to collect her baby carrier that I had borrowed.  “Would you like some applesauce and pie filling?”  Would I like some applesauce and pie filling?  How is that even a question?

Though her chore list was probably longer than the distance between our homes, she took the time to deliver a box containing home canned pints of applesauce and quarts of pie filling.  When apples are out of season, we will be happy, and we will be reminded of our sweet friend.

As I watched Juli drive away, I wondered if there might be a chicken in her car.  I half-hoped there was, because that would mean that she would come back.

I just might put my feet up, sneak the best baked goods into the living room, eat applesauce from the jar, and watch the Cubs continue to work their way to the World Series.  All the while, I am going to remind myself that even when things are beyond understanding, blessings abound.

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.


Happy:  Chickens as Teachers

Though I much prefer a simple afternoon in the garden to one spent at the Magic Kingdom, I still believe that a trip to Disney World is a sort of childhood rite of passage.  Having frequented the park with my family as a young vacationer, I have fond memories of drinking Orange Bird slushies and chasing down characters with an autograph book alongside (and in the safety of) my sister and my girl cousins; all of us were wearing pigtails and were dressed in matching striped polyester short suits.

Two days wasn’t long enough.  I had read and prepared all these months; I even had my homemade isolation brooder ready to meet the needs of sick chickens.  When it happened, though, no number of books or trips to Farm and Fleet could have been enough to teach me about the sadness in that moment of time.   Of course it could…it would happen.  All the sources warned us: death is just part of the nature of chicken keeping.

We must have been in our early teen years.  I’m not sure my sister Karen, two years older than me, was  excited about family vacations anymore.  Karen was instinctively masterful at everything she did.  She was fearless, admirable, and a true path-blazer.  There we were in Fantasy Land with the rest of humanity in a confetti-like swirl of mouse ears,  ice cream, and caramel corn, with the tinny sound of “It’s a Small World” rising above the crowd.

It could have been anyone, and it wasn’t her fault.  On the crowded plaza, Karen somehow collided with a knee-high toddler, accidentally knocking the child to the ground.  I still remember the glares…the gasps…the scorn of onlooking adults who viewed my sister, in that moment, as someone devoid of compassion.  I saw a vulnerable side of Karen, my hero, as her fairy green eyes widened and brimmed with tears.  I wanted to help her, to absorb some of the pain that she certainly must have been feeling.  I didn’t know how.

On the second day, Happy died.   She was the baby’s chick, and he wouldn’t understand anyway.  Maybe that would make it easier on everyone.  I thought it would be a good idea to burn her remains in the barrel outside.  I was hoping to avoid stirring up further trauma in case a wild something would dig up Happy’s remains.  If we burned her, I reasoned, her ashes could be part of the soil of the farm.

“I want to hold her.  Please,” insisted Aaron who, at six, looked barely bigger than the small chick that was wrapped in a soft cloth diaper, a gentle reminder of the sweetness of very early childhood at our home.   His tears streamed without barriers, from a place of grief that I had mistakenly thought might not matter as much because it was his baby brother’s chicken, not his, that had died.

“Can we bury her in the ground?”  Somehow, children know what they need.  We wrote a little note for Happy and tucked it, along with her swaddled little body, in an empty granola bar box.  Dan dug a hole deep in the ground between two evergreens, and we marked her grave with a wooden block.

I took Aaron with me to the grocery store that evening. He seemed uncharacteristically pensive, and then he announced that he missed his other mom.  Aaron, my Safe Haven baby who had been called only “Boy” when he arrived at my door, was missing his birth mom.  Though he had never visited or even seen her, the longing was real.  The loss of a tiny pet chicken had stirred this primal wound.  I could acknowledge this, and I could tell him what I knew, but there is much left unsaid and unanswered, for all of us.

The day the chickens came, I had a visit from Bernadette, my high school friend whom I have known for 35 years.  The brightness of her soul and the gift of her friendship even through the distance in physical presence has been a source of comfort for me across college years, early motherhood, and the trials of our mutual transitions from our nests.  We had spoken of our losses and lessons as we shared bagels and cookies and introduced each two-day-old chicken to the brooder.  In your shared experiences,  you become part of that person, and they become part of you.

I received a message from my daughter’s birth mother today.  She thanked me for being a good mother to her daughter.  This is a gift that I never expected to receive.  This love, these burdens, these unexpected life lessons are powerful, more so than I could have imagined.  Holding the grief, the hurt, and the confusion of another, acknowledging it just so they know you are there, must be enough when it’s all we have: the connection, the common ground, the acknowledgement, can make softer what we don’t really understand.  When I don’t know why, surely it is helpful to have someone to sit by my side.  That must be much bigger than any words.

When I returned to the Magic Kingdom with my own family, the Orange Bird was gone.  Strappingly romantic heroes courting sparkly, flowy-haired princesses with waists the size of pennies had all but replaced Daisy Duck and Thumper.  The magic wasn’t the same as when I was a little girl, when I rode Space Mountain for the first time with my brave sister.  It was still magic, though, for my little ones, because this is all they knew.  I miss that Orange Bird.

And though we miss Happy, we are grateful for the powerful gifts she gave and the lessons she taught during her brief time with us. We are learning that we can’t always be with those that we love, but that we can feel more deeply through our experiences.  Maybe we truly don’t know what we miss until the realization comes in the form of our emotions, seeping through the tears of vulnerability to a greater understanding of ourselves.

Our chicken keeping adventures are already much more than pictures in a book.  The reflections into ourselves offered by another, the power of true companionship, and the acceptance of the things about which we have no control will be lessons as valuable, and even more, than the experience of gathering that highly anticipated first fresh egg.  And that’s magic.

Chicken Anxiety

In twenty days, ten two-day-old chickens will be waiting for me at Farm and Fleet.  My chickens, highly touted and long awaited, will be coming home.  They will lay fresh eggs for our family, they will serve as my partners in the garden, and they will be the realization of my first vision for Ihm Home Farm.

My teeth would begin to ache when the hour approached.  It was nearly impossible to pay attention to Sister Roberta’s geometry lesson, however riveting it may have been, as my mind bumbled along images of note cards… reciting words that I had spent into the wee morning hours committing to memory for next hour’s sophomore speech class.

I have never been comfortable talking in front of a crowd of people.   Thirty uniform-clad teenagers, attention at half-mast, and one robust nun who counted points off for every stutter or “um,” was certainly considered a crowd as I stood at the front of the class to face my fears.   Knowing my subject made my presentation easier but did nothing to calm my nerves, quiet my shakes, or make me enjoy high school speech.

For many years I have been dreaming of chickens free ranging on our property.  Now, the chickens are on the way, and with this vision has come “chicken anxiety.”

The familiar current began running through my body as the caller ID proclaimed “State of Illinois.”  This would likely mean one thing: a new foster placement.  All of the things that I had been meaning to accomplish or prepare “in case” loomed before me as one unattainable “to-do” list.  I forgot to get the lice remedy after the last one ran out, we have no more bananas, I was going to paint the dresser in the girls’ room….  I am overwhelmed with the thought of trying to pull things together for a potential new beginning.  I could cross off a few things from my list if only I could stop pacing.

My oldest son, Elliott, who has pretty much always been far wiser than me, once said that anxiety can serve us well; it can keep us motivated.  But will it help me do right by my little flock?

I am worried about my chickens.  I am having trouble deciding which feeder to use, and whether I should use sand or pine shavings on the coop floor.  What if I am not able to keep it clean enough, and what if the eggs could make my friends or family sick?  Should I feed my new pullets medicated starter feed?  What if they get sick?  What if something gets in the coop?  What if they get mites?  Do I need to clean my boots each time I visit the coop?  What if my chickens eat the wild bird seed?  What if they fight among themselves?  Oh, wait, I think I may be able to handle that one…

As I have worried myself through my years of fostering, I know that I now feel better equipped to understand and take on situations that I may have felt differently about without some practical experience, and without having lived through some pretty unsettling scenarios.  Now I understand that the eight-year-old who is relieving herself anywhere but the toilet may be controlling the one thing that she actually can control.  I understand that the stash of candy wrappers and empty juice boxes shoved forgetfully out of sight between the wall and the bed are a function of a past where there may not have been enough to eat.  I know that investigations are part of this journey.  I understand, too, that I may never be the first best mom to some of my children, and that trust, in the world of foster care, is never a given.

Stacks of chicken books, trips to the feed store, advice from chicken-keeping friends, hours of perusing the online chicken group; all of these have given me much to ponder.  And still, there is the anxiety.

This late winter, two of my dear, longtime friends lost chickens to predators.  They adored their chickens and, I know, did their very best to care for them every day.  Sometimes, though, there are detours.  The bus stops where you didn’t plan to get off.  The worrying that we do steals away our gifts of this given moment.

Both of my friends are still keeping chickens.  I made it through my high school speech class, though I am still uncomfortable in front of a crowd.  We have even been through an investigation and have come out on the other side.  Though there is much that I do not understand about the children that come to stay with us, I can appreciate that their behaviors have meaning, and that they have come to teach me, if I am open to learn.

I hope my chickens will be able to tell how happy I am to welcome them home.  They will be scared, confused, and maybe even feisty.  But they will be mine to care for, for however long.  I hope that by the time I have gathered my first few eggs, my chicken anxiety will have subsided.  At least, that is, until I begin to worry about how I will tend to them in winter.

If I don’t pick up my chickens in twenty days, I will never know what chicken keeping will bring.  I will only continue to dream of the day that hens would populate my yard.  If I let my fears stand in the way, I will miss the moment.  If we come to the table with what we have, I do believe that must be better than staying behind.

Please keep a good thought for my chickens and all those who have gone before, for students that have anxiety about giving speeches, for all of the children waiting to know what their futures hold, and for all of our fears in hopes that they may become our opportunities.

Foster Parenting 101

My first son slept “like a baby” from his very early days.  As a well-rested young stay-at-home mom, I sometimes found myself making a bit of noise outside the nursery door by about nine in the morning, when I was ready for some company.

My second little boy did not follow this pattern, as he woke many times through the night for his first three years until, curiously, his baby brother, also prone to night waking, arrived.

I really didn’t mind getting up with the babies.  A mostly quiet house in the dark stillness of night offered a sense of peace, even serenity, which restored me much as if I had slept a full night.

I guess my little boys prepared me, but only in a small way, for the endless night wakings that were to come.  Now, the imagined demons in the night reach their accusatory hands toward me, and anxiety speeds through my insides as I wonder, “Am I enough?”

The dull ache in the hip of my nearly half-century old frame gives me pause as I move to the room at the west end of our farmhouse, listening outside the nursery door.  I am working hard at sleep training with this little one, because those every-two-hour wakings are no longer exactly enchanting.  I had read Margaret Wise Brown’s “Little Fur Family” (my miniature version bound in pretend fur) before putting him down tonight, and I am hoping the mother bear’s advice to “sleep warm in your fur, all night long” will do the trick.

Other than possibly my little fur-bound volume, though, there is really no book for any of this.

Over the years, people have asked many questions and made plenty of statements about fostering.  I am convinced that the vast majority of these questions and comments come from a place of curiosity, from well-intentioned people that are genuinely interested in our family.  I have decided to share some of these questions, along with the responses that I have to offer.

“Are they yours?”

They are my heartbeat; they are my priority.  They were born to another woman, and while they are with me, they are never completely mine, yet they are, without a doubt, my children.

“Why doesn’t she live with her real parents?” 

Many things relative to foster care are confidential.  It is not up to me to disclose this kind of information to the lady in line next to me at the bagel shop, but I can give you an idea.  As parents, we have much in common.  We love our children, and we work hard every day to do our best for them.  Sometimes, though, something happens…something unfortunate, something tragic,  something unexpected.  We may be just one “something” away from being unable to care for our own little ones.

“I could never give them back.”

I was reading through some of my old college files the other day.  Though the vision I had for myself twenty seven years ago is similar today, there are some detours.  I had seen myself pursuing higher education, with plans of fostering and adopting swirled together with one noble, starry-eyed wave of a magic wand, ending in a whole gaggle of little children.   I never made it to the PhD.   I did get the big family, but by no wave of a wand.  Rather, through the grief and pain of terminated parental rights, abandoned babies, and lives overcome by addiction and mental illness.   My family has also experienced the joy of working with birth parents whose children are returned home.  We don’t “give them back.”  We support them and love them as their fate is determined by the actions of others.   And yes, it is hard, whatever the outcome, but there can also be indescribable, unfathomable joy, and that truly is magic.

“How many are you going to have?”

If I had a crystal ball, I don’t think I would look.  At least, not yet.  No part of this is up to me.  We spend our days, and a call comes about a baby sibling to our son.  I wonder if I should pack up the bottles for good.  With my older children on the brink of adult life, I know the richness of motherhood, and while I learn so much from others, I sometimes forget what I used to know.

“Doesn’t this impact your marriage?”

Of course it does; however could it not?  We are destined for this, just as all the stars are numbered, there is reason and meaning behind all of our connections.  We could not do this alone.  Times are best when we work together.  After twenty-five years of marriage, we have learned ways to support one another.  Dan can tell when I have had too much; he knows when I am on the verge of tears, and my arms are sore from holding a writhing eight-year-old.  He gently takes over, and I can spend some mindless minutes peeling carrots.  I know, too, that if he slips upstairs to play his keyboard for a little while, this time will fill his soul so that he may be energized for the next round.

“Don’t you worry how this will affect your other kids?

I worry that my two-year-old will hear words that I hope he never repeats.  I worry that my daughter will learn certain things well before she should.  I worry that my children will see me cry, or that they will feel like I don’t have time for them.  I even worried about the cat when she was the subject of a bad experiment.  Then I see the collective joy of my little son and his baby brother as they chase each other around the kitchen.  I see the little sparkles shared between my girls as they talk about things that girls talk about.  I see in my grown sons a sense of compassion and understanding that can only come from having experienced this side of life.

We do this, plain and simple, because that is why we are here.

Today was a sunny Sunday, close to thirty degrees, and I felt only slightly guilty for calling an officer to help me install a car seat for our one-year-old.  I waited in my van outside the police station, and as he approached, I noticed that he looked slightly familiar.  I wondered if he was one of the many officers who had come to the scene during one of the four times this year we had to call for help for an out-of-control child.  He had done this many times before.  He flipped the seat over a couple times, adjusted a few latches, gave me some safety tips, and gave the car seat a final tug.  At one point, I looked sharply at this young policeman, beckoning him to pull up the details to my story.  He didn’t.  He did his job.  He was pleasant, kind, and unassuming toward the almost grandmotherly woman that needed help with the car seat for her baby.

There really are no answers to these questions.  We do what we do because out of all of this brokenness and sadness, there is a light.  I have seen it.  There is another day, another sun, and another chance for hope and healing.

There is, indeed, another story to be written.

And for now, “Sleep, sleep, my little fur child…”

The Rainbow’s End

 Last summer, I spent at least ten hours in my garden every week.  It was the first time in all my years of gardening that when the leaves began to fall, the air turned cooler, and the blooms were mostly spent, I was able to put away my rose gloves and best weeder knowing that I had tended every square inch of this sacred space, and confident that, at least for now, my work here was done.  This summer, with the anticipated move to our farmhouse, the addition of a new foster baby to our family, and our struggles with the demons of mental illness, I have spent less than ten collective hours on my knees among the thorns, weeds, and unmatched solace of mother nature.

Sometimes, when I am thinking too hard, I wonder why I love the great game of baseball.  I look forward to listening to the radio every day, and I am secretly thankful for a late night West Coast game or even a rain delay, for I know that this means more time to anticipate, more time for the chatter of broadcasters, and, perhaps, a little something to distract me, to soften my reality, hours into the night.  At times I wonder, though, what it all means.   What really is the point of following baseball, day after day,  year after year?  And then, I remember how much joy this pastime brings into my life, and I think that maybe it doesn’t really have to mean anything at all to be worth something.

After a quarter century of parenting, I have earned an unenviable badge of honor: I have had two children in psychiatric hospitals at the same time for ten long days this July.

“Maybe if you were kinder to her…”

“Maybe if you were more firm with her…”

“She’s so sweet, and so charming!  I don’t see the issues.”

“Maybe if you just…”

Unless you have lived with a child with reactive attachment disorder, you really have no idea.

There are some thoughts that I won’t let myself entertain.  What would it be like?  What would be missing?  What would be lost?  I can’t think of what might be different or better, because there are no regrets.

“I’m never coming home.  Don’t call me; I’ll call you.  But I want my stuff.”

Armed with the watered down remains of yesterday’s latte and my Google map to Chicago Behavioral Hospital, I know I am not ready.  This is hard, hard stuff.  There is no book about it.  The pit in my stomach is not just because I, among the most nervous of drivers, have to travel the highway to meet my daughter for visiting hours.

I don’t know what to expect from my little girl, my frightened child, who is now nearly an adult.  What has she said? What has she yet to say?  Will her words come from that hurt place in her heart, from the place that knows only how to say things to keep a safe distance from those who care for her?  Will I once again feel the need to stand in my own defense as she casts, time and time again, the bitterest verbal stones?  Can those first, early wounds ever really heal? Do these patterns, these ways of walling herself from those who love her best, come from multiple caregivers and the abrupt disruption of early relationships?  Is this even worth wondering about?

There is no medication for reactive attachment disorder.

As she struggles to free herself from the pain inside, she knocks us down, time and again.

“She’s a teenager.”

“She’s hormonal.”

“Typical siblings.”

Attempts at comfort by those who mean well.  Yes, she is all of those.  And that makes it even scarier, for her, and for us.

These ramps and arrows confuse me as I navigate into the city.  So, too, do the messages that come from the lips of my child.

“Mom, I know I need to work on some things.  I do miss you guys.  I hope I can come home soon.”

The storm seemed to set in to the rhythm of my steps as I made my way to the car.  I braced myself for the drive home, which somehow did not seem nearly as daunting now that my visit was behind me.  The sky was certainly ominous; it seemed I would be driving right into it.  There was a great, bold flash of lightning against the stone gray sky, and just then the road curved to point me to clear skies.  The rain was light, and though I was too distracted to look for it, I knew there must be a rainbow somewhere.

I know, too, that whether or not I can find meaning on a given day, there will be a day, nonetheless, and I can listen to the game on the radio.  On that day, during that drive home, I listened to the Cubs win a great game.

Dan had taken some of the little kids on a bike ride, and I was able to steal forty-five minutes in the garden while the baby slept in his stroller.  My Bonica roses had always been glorious in their midsummer bloom, welcoming guests to our home with their fragrance and sweetness.  This year, though, there was just one lonely bloom in a thicket of thorns and dead wood.  I had already packed my rose gloves for the farm, so I braved pruning them to a just a few inches with some old work gloves.  My hands are sore, but I am hopeful the flowers will come back as before with new found strength.

And I know we are going to be okay.