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!

Trying to be a Farm Girl

My nine-year-old and a couple of his buddies were loading into our car after baseball practice. Before I had started the engine, he surprised me with what he had to tell his friends:

“My mom’s going to play stupid ‘Follaton Wood’.” He neglected to tell his teammates that he has been asking for that song each time we had been in the car together lately.

I wonder…when exactly do I fall from being a light to the darkness? When does the outside circle open, only to become a force with much to contribute to what that child will become?

I am abruptly reminded that no longer am I alone at my child’s center, at least not around his people; at least not in this situation.

Does he really think our song is stupid? Did he really mean that?

Do the words and influences of others change who we are?

Maybe it’s just a flippant remark, but what if our words impact another in a way that we could never even know, in a way that could alter a part of who they are?

I was called to pick third same boy up early from camp following a behavior episode. In trying to understand what had happened from an outsider’s perspective, my emotions clouded my reason. In his fit of anger and physical angst, my little boy related to me that he was told by staff that they could “control” him. To me, this was dumbfounding, as in our life of chaos and uncertainty, I have worked hard to make certain that my children know that though they cannot control the behavior of others, they are the only ones that can control their own. These words triggered my son into a further state of confusion and rage at the camp. Through my reflections I can understand that the camp staff wanted my son to know that there were rules to be followed and that the counselors were in charge, but the delivery of those words sent my son into a place of helplessness. The incident haunts me, and causes me to wonder if the words that I have so often used to instill courage and confidence have caused him fear in the arms of the outside world, where I was not there to guide and defend.

When my sister’s friend pointed out my awkwardness as I showed her the routine I had so arduously perfected to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, my dreams of performing with the American Ballet Theater smashed with the same unfortunate end as the chicken egg that I dropped on the floor of the coop this morning.

I wonder if my words have ever kept someone from dancing for the rest of their lifetime, or even for one song. For my child, I hope that he will lift others with what he chooses to say and do; that he that he will be able to include rather than exclude; that he will be a person that makes a difference; that he will grow up to be kind; that he will choose to include rather than exclude.

When I was a lonely young mom, I raised my hand to greet a neighbor that was waving enthusiastically in my direction, only for her to tell me that she was not waving at me, but at someone else in the distance.

We never know how our words or actions will affect someone else.

I was almost fifty when I finally began to understand crop rotation.

Blissfully planting my tomatoes in the same two square feet every summer, I had never really given deep thought to why my first effort, many moons ago, had been my greatest yield.

My gardening has always been a seat-of-the pants endeavor. I liked it, so I planted it. If things got crowded or if a plant did not do well, I moved it to a different spot. There wasn’t a book that taught me what I longed to know. Rather, my teacher was experience, sometimes with multiple trials over time.

I guess parenting has been a bit like that. We try. We give it what is our best effort at the time. Sometimes, often, we fail. We do what we know. Then we try to learn more, and we do it all over again.

Maybe I shouldn’t have planted that vine right there. Perhaps I should have fed that apple tree at an earlier time in the season. Perhaps I should not have let my daughter go to that party. Maybe I should have collected my son from camp that day without questioning a thing. Maybe I should have just let them eat ice cream for the second time today. After all, I eat it whenever I like.

We’re on our fourth year of keeping chickens. It’s going pretty well. I hadn’t thought that I could fall for a chicken, much less 34. I may not yet be a farm girl, but I am pretty sure I am officially a chicken keeper.

And…I am pretty good at drinking well water from a garden hose…does that count for anything?

While my chickens learn instinctively to retreat to the coop at dusk and to lay eggs in their nest boxes, I am not quite so lucky. There are many things that do not come naturally to me. Give me a little time, though, and I will do my best to learn. I will try. But I still won’t be able to dance. And those words, that admission, is actually a little bit liberating.

I won’t stop trying to be a farm girl. I hope I’ll get there some day.

As we neared our destination, one of the friends piped up from the back seat of the car: “I kind of like this song. It’s pretty good.” I may or may not have turned the volume just a bit higher, and in that moment, I didn’t have to say a word.

🐥❤️

“Follaton Wood”, by Ben Howard, is very much worth a listen.

Fore!

I thought that maybe if he could hear the urgency in my voice, it would somehow snap him into submission.  I hoped that he might carry out at least a tiny detail of his morning routine.  I should know better by now.  But there is always hope; there must be. The eventuality of the last … Continue reading