Asparagus

He had spun me from what was left of my childhood, turning me toward the rich path of motherhood by his very existence. I made acquaintance with his wise, deep eyes and soft, wild hair. Together, we tried to figure out what to do.

It’s hard to make sense of things, to make them all fit together. I sometimes will the thoughts out of my head, yet they stay,…like souls of those who had come for a time and served a purpose before carrying on with their journeys. The beautiful girlfriend who sat with me to drink dandelion tea, a soulful college student who had come to work with my son, the once lost and found friend who faded again to memory…all have gone. I wonder if they ever turned to look back as they forged ahead.

The morning’s captive emotions burst from my youngest son’s six-year-old being.

“I got frustrated!” His voice broke and escalated as the car door closed. He lamented having had to write k’s and trace lined shapes for his kindergarten work.

I understand. K’s are hard.

By the time we pulled up to the farm, he was incensed. The unsuspecting baseball cleat in his path was kicked skyward as he entered the mud room. He dumped his backpack and headed to the couch, detouring long enough to turn over the kitchen stools to the familiar narrative:

“I hate you. You’re a piece of crap. You hate me.”

The dizzying harshness of his ever-changing moods has taken its toll, rippling forcefully through those that love him the hardest.

The seasons have cycled nearly thirty times. Through trials I have remained on the path, but it looks different now. Though it’s harder to know if I am still going in the right direction, the terrain along the way is wondrous, magnificent, and worthy of the detours.

Before the dawn, the grumbling, tiny voice beckoned for help. He was not in danger; he was merely done sleeping and just didn’t want to be alone. Ever. So, out we went to open the chickens, to visit the bees, and to see what magic awaited us in the garden.

He snapped a sturdy green shoot from the morning earth. He then announced that the fresh stalk smelled weird and bad.

“No offense, asparagus!” He retorted, almost apologetically, as he took a tiny bite with the few front teeth that he still had left.

“Huh. Pretty good,” he declared as he reached for my hand. He offered me the rest of the asparagus which I finished before we made it back to the sleepy farmhouse.

Can asparagus even be offended?

Before long, he had perhaps dropped a spoon or colored out of the lines. The demons came back.

“I have a worse life than you. Remember when I was over by the barn and I got glass stuck in my foot? Did you help me?” His voice slapped me with accusations. The sting was as real for me as it had been for him, so many times, for so many reasons…primal and beyond understanding.

Actually, I did get the glass out. What he knows in his memory, though, is the part that hurt. He remembers what was hard. Those emotions are the ones he calls up when something goes wrong.

It’s not always going to be like this. I hope that when the day is done, he will remember some of the good. I know I’m not going to forget. Asparagus is, after all pretty tasty.

Maybe we’re all just a stop along someone’s path.

Deep eyes wiser with time and hair tamed handsomely for the occasion, my firstborn child sat before his dissertation committee where he reviewed his research over a Zoom screen. The asparagus, which rises from mystery seemingly overnight, has nothing on this boy, this man, who so clearly defines my space on this earth as he moves through his.

Magnolia

It always seemed like by the time I would notice that the magnolia blossoms had opened, the petals had begun to fade and fall from the tree, leaving a disappointing, slippery mass which seemed to scoff: “You’ve missed it again.” This year, though, our tree held its flowers for much longer than I had ever remembered: for nearly three weeks, which was long enough for me to feel the passage of seasons and the true intention of nature, and to appreciate the pink-and-white balletic beauty as I hadn’t before.

There’s a little girl that I notice every afternoon outside the school when I gather my little boys for the day. She looks to be about six years old, perhaps in first grade. Her hair shines as the sun, bright golden ringlets dancing onto her shoulders as she moves. She stands by herself, perched and waiting, and I do not see her face.

Each day, a woman appears from the shadows: the little girl’s caregiver, perhaps, and stands at the edge of the schoolyard, arms outstretched. The girl turns, rises to her toes, and moves to the woman as if she is running along clouds, bouncing, squealing, and emanating pure joy. She reaches the woman, bounding into her embrace as the two seem for a flash of time to become one person. They turn, hand-in-hand, and fade into the afternoon sun.

This springtime, I have officially embarked on my beekeeping adventures. My head is full of podcasts on extracting honey, images of queenless hives and American foulbrood, and the fear that I will somehow let these magical creatures down with my lack of understanding of the mystery that I have stepped into, albeit with noble intentions.

Before I knew, I didn’t know.

I sat by my hives in the morning, watching the foragers return to the hive with orange and yellow pollen stuffed into the little baskets on their minuscule legs even as their fellow worker bees head out in search of more sustenance. As the dandelions have nearly faded, I wonder what my new friends will find, what the next baskets will hold, and what nature’s bloom has in store.

I am learning that historically, some have considered bees to be souls, returning to represent those who have gone. This concept is immensely comforting to me, giving the rhythmic hum of the hives much deeper meaning than the captive beauty of the present, as though the little moments of time will circle eternally, changing form yet remaining the same.

My little son is often overwhelmed by his days. He holds himself together until he no longer can, until it has all been too much, maybe a bit like our new winged inhabitants at the farm. He got in the car the other day and told me that he wanted to get a shirt with a mad face. He wanted it to have words that said, “I hate everyone.” I told him that sometimes I thought I would like one, too. He has been drawing lots of rainbows lately, with cheerful colors on lined paper, made with markers in fine point. There seems a bit of a disconnect between the levity of the rainbows and the unpredictable storm clouds that loom close. I think he’s still figuring it out.

Aren’t we all?

My first stings have taught me that I don’t know, and that I have much to learn. The bees will tell me, as clearly they have, when I have spent too much time pushing myself into the mystery of their world, when it is time to step back, to watch, to anticipate. Sometimes, that might just be enough.

Today, the joyful little girl waits in her usual spot, but it is a different person, a man in a brown sweater, who has come to take her home from school. Still, she runs effortlessly into his arms as before.

Having bid farewell to the magnolia blossoms, the lilacs have now stepped up. Their beholden beauty will soon yield to the honeysuckle vines and rose blooms. The presentation, some years, is different, though the rhythm remains as true as the hum that I hear when I put my ear, just a bit tentatively, against the hive boxes.

Maybe I don’t really need to know. Maybe I just need to wait, to welcome the change that each moment has to offer, and to hope that I can harvest a little honey along the way.

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.

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”

The Long Winter

On most nights before the boys go to sleep, we have been reading the Little House books for close to a year now. I love the stories of honesty and simplicity, of struggle and triumph, of bravery and tenacity. Here at the farm, we love tapping our maple trees, picking dandelions and Queen Anne’s lace for making jelly, gathering eggs, and harvesting what we have planted in our garden. We love exploring the forest and sitting by the fire when the moon is up with the stars in the sky, and the boys love when their musical daddy sings to them or plays music on pretty much any instrument that he comes across. We also love coming in to our warm house which is bursting with the conveniences of today, and where we don’t have to worry about a bear sneaking through a makeshift curtain to torment us (or worse) in our sleep while we wait for Dan to build a proper door.

We don’t have to go back to some of the hard things. We have come so very far.

Last year at this time, as the cold set in, we were planning for a wedding. Our visions were often blurred through the snowflakes, which seemed to come with more strength and fortitude than in other winters. As the seasons turned, the weather didn’t, until the rain replaced the snow and ice. We reluctantly imagined wedding guests wearing rubber boots and holding onto their hats and skirts during what we had hoped would be a midsummer night’s dream.

And it was, because despite the fierce winter, and the spring that really never came, the sun came out to shine brightly on that beautiful June day.

When I first visited the dispensary, preliminary medical cannabis card in shaking hand, I hadn’t considered that there would be so many options. This is so typical for me: I can’t see the forest for the trees. For so many years now, my focus has been on the addition of autism to the list of conditions treatable with medical cannabis, and the attainment of what we felt would be the key for our son, without understanding that there would be more decisions and adjustments to follow. There always are.

The snow was melting, but the ground was yet frozen.

During the past year, our son’s behaviors have become more manageable. We have still struggled, but there has been significantly less physical aggression and combative behavior, perhaps due to maturity, therapy, karma, or some combination therein. The little boys often tried to provoke him, to try to recreate the chaos that they knew so well. It was what they were used to. This, to me, was surprising and unsettling. He would react in harsh anger, fueling the reaction that the brothers sought.

I worried about letting them out of earshot for too long on the farm property, doing what most little boys want and need to do: run free and explore. What if I was unable to intervene in time, if they fought too hard and I couldn’t get to them?

He doesn’t like the taste of the edibles that I chose from the dispensary; I hadn’t expected that he would. He is, though, cooperating. That, in a sense, is our first victory. The strain that we got in pill form had a hyper-focusing effect, which led to arguing and, ultimately, aggression. Though this felt like something of a defeat, the nighttime strain had promoted peaceful, easy sleep. After a bit of experimenting with a hybrid strain, we have a self-declared calm boy who has had the best consecutive three days that I can remember.

I wasn’t expecting the snow in mid October, especially since I was still thawing from last winter. In some ways, it just seems like one arduous, multi season continuation of challenges. It’s beautiful, some days. And there are breaks from the cold, breaks to fuel the next part of the journey.

I wonder if Laura and Mary expected to move around so much during their times on the prairie. If they had known what was ahead, would they have put themselves into each moment, would they have noticed the layers of sunset and the secret bird nests? Perhaps that was what kept them going.

The littlest boy, in particular, has been relentless the past few days, trying hard to make his brother angry by throwing toys, turning off his video game, or sneaking his food. This hasn’t worked as well with the new sense of calm. For this, we are so grateful.

Already, the pumpkins and chrysanthemums are frozen hard into the window boxes, and I haven’t had the chance to cut back my hydrangeas. I may not get to them, but they are magical in their own way, standing resilient with wind-dried, straw-colored blooms.

The winter will turn in rhythm. Tomorrow’s hard things will be different from those of today. We can’t go back. We may not want to, but remembering will make us know just how far we have come.

I will be returning to the dispensary this week for more counsel (and hopefully a hybrid in pill form for our boy) but, clearly, we are closer.

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“These faces of dust and stone are, the dirt and bone of loss.”

–Ben Howard, “London”

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I share these things not to highlight my family’s personal struggle, but in hope that others can relate to parts of the journey, and that we can reach out in kindness and peace to one another. Please share with others, if you are so inclined.

XO

Snow on the Corn and Other Things that Just Don’t Seem Right

I guess you only get so many chances, at least in this life. Nancy, my favorite chicken, went quietly in the early morning cold of All Soul’s Day. She had never really been the same since she had survived the raccoon attack last winter, though she tried her best to keep up with the others in the flock. I could tell she was slowing down. She mostly hung out under the roost in Coop #2, which seemed to be the place for ailing chickens, chickens at low places in the pecking order, roosters that had fallen from favor, and other chicken outcasts. It was also the place where I would discretely drop mealworms and sunflower seeds to let these beings know that though I could not do much for their situations, still they were loved and cared for.

Tonight marked the beginning of a journey which also stamped the end of another. I made it to the dispensary to get our first round of medical cannabis for our son. He had a small piece of chocolate tonight. He didn’t really like the taste, but soon he was tucked in his bed, sound asleep. It is too early to tell if this long, hard path has been worth it, but we are finally on our way. There is a sadness recognizable in this culmination of emotion, perhaps because hope…hope can be hard. Hope, even, can be uncertain.

There are some things I’m not going to understand, no matter how long my place on this earth.

In our foster parenting classes we discussed the concept of expected loss versus unexpected loss. Aunt Marion lived a long life by anyone’s standards, so her passing, at age 100-ish, was not surprising. Still, though, the news was as unwelcome as all of the “what-ifs” that made their way into my head. Her brother, my Grandpa Gene, has been dead for nearly three decades. Dan and I had made the trip to St. Louis with our young family nearly every year, to visit Grandma Evie, so that I could spend time with one of my dearest people, and so the children might know their great grandmother. The trips usually included a visit to Aunt Marion, who did not live far from Grandma, and who desperately loved birds. She was an independent, positive-spirited lady who was a vegetarian and who wore her hair longer than any of the older women that I knew. Though we likely wore her out with our visits, she never bid us an early farewell, and her incessant smiles are marked in my memory. I know that I have taken more from her than I was able to give.

Grandma Evie died near the beginning of our fostering journey, during which road trips were only successful if they were about ten minutes long and involved me folding myself into the third seat to break up fights and to award quiet moments with some sort of candy. We had meant to go for another visit. We had meant to do many things. We just didn’t. We couldn’t. There were cards and letters, but we never made it back to St. Louis.

Aunt Marion died, but also, she lived.

I couldn’t explain the depth of emotion I felt as I gave my child the small piece of chocolate which was to assure his rest, to still his mind and carry him to his winter’s nap on this fall evening where the temperature rivaled the most fierce of any January cold.

There is still so much work to do in the garden. Mounds of golden mulch stand frozen from the days of rain followed by an early deep freeze. The garden gate, still propped open with a log to allow access to the chickens for their harvest time foraging, exposes mother nature’s angry deed. My hard-working cart, full of leaves, wilted weeds, and tired jack-O-lanterns, stands frozen amid the empty raised beds and blueberry bushes which still await their blankets of compost and pine needles. Perhaps there will be more days. Perhaps there will be more time. Perhaps I will have to close the garden shed for the winter and catch up with myself in the spring.

There wasn’t enough time. How did I know when I packed those pumpkins into the cart, that this would be my last day in the garden? How do we know that what we have fought for for more than four years is going to make a difference?

Maybe it’s best not to know we are out of time, until we actually are.

Rest In Peace, sweet Nancy.

Rest In Peace, dear Aunt Marion. I believe I have you to thank, at least in part, for my love of birds.

Occupation

They’re a bit like my children, hummingbirds. We never know how long they will stay, or when they are going to come back. I have made a point to keep my eye on a hummingbird when it comes to the feeder outside the kitchen window; I have taught my children the same, those that will listen, anyway: to take in the fleeting magic until it is gone. It’s a lesson I am still trying to learn. The hummingbird’s time is short, and it is worth one’s complete reverence.

After making fresh nectar in the early summer, I hadn’t given it another thought until just a few days ago when I noticed one of the tiny birds hovering nearby but not stopping to feed. Again, I forgot to refresh the nectar. I have had a lot going on inside my head.

A few days later as I was sorting basil leaves for pesto, a hummingbird brighter green than my garden harvest stopped to take nectar from the neglected feeder. It came back two more times, each time for just a bit longer than before. I felt kind of sad for the bird, because the weeks-old sugar water could certainly not have been what it had hoped for.

Please come back, little bird. I will offer you the freshest nectar, as much as you care to drink.

My adult daughter came to the house as she often does, unannounced, with her boyfriend. I do not discourage this. There were days during the tumult of her high school years where I wondered if she would ever return once she closed the door behind her.

“Ooh! Are you making pesto? Could we come for dinner?” Her eyes had that little sparkle that I loved best.

Though it shouldn’t have, her question caught me by surprise, and I told her that I was leaving town to go to a visitation. Someone would be coming to watch the boys, Dan was taking one boy to baseball practice, and another’s therapist was here, so dinner guests might be hard this time.

“Oh, I think I am going to cook fish tonight.” She was still smiling, no evidence of disappointment detected on her face, even as she was denied the dinner invitation.

Sometime in the string of days that followed, I refilled that feeder with sugar and water and returned it to its spot outside the kitchen window. No one should need an invitation, not even a hummingbird.

On a recent morning which offered a hint of the impending change of season with its crisp breeze, I had a couple hours in the garden, which now seems more of a congested jumble of weeds than the painstakingly planned plot that it once was. It was gratifying and almost effortless to pull ridiculously tall weeds from the rain-soaked earth. The late spring and summer months had brought seemingly endless rainfall with time stolen on the dry in-between days for painting and barn projects, a much anticipated family wedding, summer camps, one child’s surgery, all the regular farm and work chores, and some transitions that were hardly celebratory; all snatched would-be gardening hours and contributed to the wild, unkempt result which now faced me.

My young son wants to be a Boy Scout. Actually, he has been campaigning for this since about first grade, and when the invitation from a friend to accompany him to a meeting came early one morning, he somehow ended up at the Elks Club that night, only to return with an application and yet another skip in his step.

We had a Boy Scout nearly two decades before. I remember a living room full of popcorn, hours spent whittling a wooden car, fingers sore from the lost art of sewing patches, and tents threatened by storms and imaginary bears. Looking back, things could have been much, much worse. The rhythm and expectations had offered a sense of purpose and helped to instill a drive in our older boy that he holds today. Perhaps this will be a good thing for a boundlessly energetic little brother who likely hopes the bears will not be imaginary.

The application was a triplicate form. I filled in the boxes with identifying information but hesitated on the line that asked for my “occupation”. I have been a few different things across the years, but in this moment, the “answer” to what belonged in those boxes eluded me. What was I, anyway?

I don’t want to cry because it’s over. Rather, I would like to celebrate that it happened, and that I was part of it. I would like to rejoice in how it changed me.

This time, the hummingbird stayed for a long while, flitting from one side of the feeder to the other as I held the smallest boy before me on the counter. We watched this moment of magic together, captive by what was clearly the orchestration of a higher power. As it finished feeding, the bird flew off. My little one returned to his toy tractors and I to my breakfast dishes with both of our souls a few drops richer.

There were no wooden pickets to contain my thoughts which rambled as the creeping charlie and the wild carrots inside my garden fence that morning.

Maybe there isn’t a word for my occupation. Maybe there is, though, and maybe it’s the same word that would describe how it feels in those captive seconds while we watch a hummingbird at the feeder.

Something showed itself under a particularly stubborn clump of thatch that had been growing alongside and trying its best to stifle my young blueberry bush. It was just a little plastic tag, an identification marker that had come with the plant when I had first planted it at the farm, when I had chosen it because it bore the name of my son, my faraway scholar, my one-time Scout, my first little boy, my inspiration for all of this…”Elliott” blueberry was stronger than thatch and here to bring me back to what this was all about.

It’s worth the magic. It’s worth the tiny moment in time.

Onward, Scout!