No Elderberry Tree

“Mom, why are you crying?” His question came from a place of innocence that I feared was about to fade before my eyes, which could no longer contain what I knew.

“Because she loves you,” said the nurse softly, gently, poignantly.

I knew it would be different this time, for so many reasons.

So I’m gonna weep a while…

It wasn’t at all what I had thought. They were words that I had heard, words that resonated and meant something to me. They weren’t even the right words.

Shortly after moving to the farm, we were delighted to discover the elderberry bushes that we had inherited with the land. We learned to make elderberry syrup, elderberry jelly, elderberry liqueur, elderberry vinegar, and, at the urging of Uncle Bob, elderberry pancakes. Elderberries seemed almost magical, promising health and well-being to me and my family in many forms.

I often play a song over and over, for weeks or even months, if it means something to me…if the lyrics strike a chord somewhere inside of me…even if their meaning is far from the writer’s intention. Sam had shared such a song with me; with a line that I had interpreted to include “there’s no elderberry tree….” After the song had made circles through my head, I found out that I was wrong. I had misheard the lyric. I think I needed it to sound just as I had heard it, though, in that space of time. I know there’s no elderberry tree, at least not one that can fix everything. But I think I much prefer to keep believing in the magic.

Oh, the demons come. They can subside.

It was the first time since he had come to us that we had been separated. Every time we talked during those longest and shortest twelve days, he asked if one of the dogs had died yet. He wanted to know how the birds were doing and if the chickens were okay. He asked about the bearded dragon, and even about his brother’s friend’s visiting bearded dragon, whether it was still at the farm. The barn cats, I assured him, were out every night, and the stealthy raccoon had returned with the warmer weather to show up each evening precisely when I replaced the food for the cats. His voice was happy, and he always seemed eager to get back to watching movies and winning prizes alongside his hospital mates.

“I tried really hard to hold in my crying. I only couldn’t a couple times.”

Twelve days.

How could I have known?

This time, I had to enter through a tent where a young woman with mirrored glasses and a mask which nearly engulfed her entire face motioned for me to enter the hospital. From this port of entry, nothing seemed the same. After reporting my child’s name, I was directed to sit on a nondescript, unexpectedly comfortable chair next to the elevator. Voices rose from all directions. Sharp, fast, thick, unintelligible words formed conversations from behind the doors and inside the closets. The glare from the lights bounced towards me in an attempt, I was sure, to flatten me.

These lights, they haunt me like orchids in a graveyard.

Men and women crossed lines before my eyes as they moved to wherever they were going. I wondered if they were coming for me, or if they thought they should be, or if they even noticed me. Time slowed with every breath. I wondered if I would be here again.

I was only for your very space.

I heard a person screaming. A child, not mine.

“Stop smiling at me,” bellowed the child. Then there was more screaming and this time, some very discernible bad words.

The screams turned into the rumble of the elevator. The heavy sounds filled my bones, making them hurt. The doors opened slowly as theater curtains, revealing the towering blue food cart which I had studied previously. Years before, it had been pushed by an old man who leaned heavily to one side when he walked and who always greeted me with his eyes, without smiling. As the cart emerged from the elevator, I saw the same man, leaning similarly, perhaps a bit further, to one side, pushing the cart. I knew his kind soul behind his mask. I heard his voice, though he said not a word.

Time slowed with every breath. I wondered if this would be my last time.

No one could understand all the lyrics: not anyone, ever. How could they?

It’s hard to find it when you knew it.

A masked attendant brought my little boy to me, then, simultaneously announcing that my son’s boots were lost and thrusting paperwork toward me, one piece that she noted was attesting that he had been given back all of his belongings. I wondered about the boots, his muck boots that he wore when we foraged for elderberries in the swampy August dawn.

We stopped at the donut store, because we always do on our way home from this hospital. Maybe it’s our reward for making it out; maybe its meaning is as magical as my elderberry tree, which isn’t really an elderberry tree at all. On the way in to get our donuts, my little boy reached for my hand.

“Mom, you know all those times I said I wish I had a different mom? I kind of regret that.” His words were clear as the sky’s vibrant blue, even through his mask.

Everything that happens is from now on.

Maybe there’s no such thing as an Elderbery Tree, in a theoretical sense. I did make some elderberry jelly last week, because I had more time than usual while the boy was gone. As long as there are still some elderberries in the freezer, though, I am holding on to the hope that one day, I just might find the recipe for what we are really looking for.

XOXO

*Musical inspiration from randomly heard and interpreted (or perhaps misinterpreted) lyrics mostly from Bon Iver (Salem, Towers, Re: Stacks, Calgary) but also from Ben Howard (London) and Keaton Henson (How Could I Have Known?)

Tie Me to a Tree

The six year old practices every bad word he knows in one long stream, shot directly at my quiet request to put on fresh underwear. Three days seems a little long for the same pair of boxers…even during e-learning.

“Home is their haven.”

These were words that I shared more than once or twice over the years, words that, if nothing else, helped me to define the gray lines between home and school, between running outside in the grass without shoes (and sometimes wearing underwear alone…even three-day-old ones) until dusk or sitting frustrated alongside half-inch-thick piles of worksheets at the kitchen table as the sun draws the shades on the day; between having fourteen snacks in a six-hour span and ranging free with the chickens, and following a bell schedule when you really just need someone to say, “it’s okay.” The hard stuff that happened at school wouldn’t have to be a worry once the bus home stopped in the afternoon…until this year, when things are different.

I think my sons’ teachers (angels from heaven, every one) might say that my kids do eat fourteen snacks and run all over (albeit inside the house) during school hours. At least our cameras are on. And we are trying.

“Shit. Hell, yeah.” Sideways glance, just to make sure I am listening.

My grown sons would certainly be aghast at some of the parenting techniques (or lack thereof) in place at the farm these days. I have been studying (in my spare time…yes) about beekeeping. Worker bees produce propolis or “bee glue” to seal up the hive and for other things, too. When a mouse or another intruder makes its way into a hive, it seems the bees “propolize” this enemy, wrapping it like a mummy with their bee glue if it is too large to carry out of the hive. It might be fun to have some propolis, just to keep everyone still enough for me to be able to use the bathroom with the door closed for a change.

“Sure, you can play video games for two more hours…”

Dan and I have decided that the holes in our walls make our house look lived-in. That’s charming, right? We’re not defeated; not yet. But they might as well tie me to a tree. With propolis, even.

People are getting vaccines. A magical sunrise brings the first hint of above-freezing weather, nearly warm enough for the boys to run around the farm in their underwear. A lot has been lost, but maybe that will make what we have left stronger and brighter.

The bees number tens of thousands, living harmoniously in the hive for the benefit of the colony. Home, their hive, is clearly their haven. After a long, cold winter, a global pandemic, the hopeful end of what must be the hardest days, it’s going to feel pretty good to look back on how much we have learned, bad words and all.

New Garbage

She remembered things differently from what I could recall. Seasoned in some ways, I couldn’t see what was right in front of me. Despite our proximity, there was a lot in the way.

Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

–Joshua 1:9

Decades ago now, my volunteer job at a health food shop slotted me in the Saturday evening shift with Nancy. (And yes, that is her real name, because I somehow hope she might know how much she meant to me). I stood at least a head taller than Nancy, who had incessantly pink cheeks and a glorious cascade of waist-length gray and white hair which, even when pinned up, made me stare.

Nancy taught me how to clean the bulk bins of rye flour, green and yellow lentils, and dried cranberries. She led me down the stairs past the old conveyor belt where she explained the steps to putting the store in order for the next day’s business. We swept the floor, emptied the garbage, and cleaned the bathroom. Before my first shift had even ended, I looked forward to seeing Nancy again.

When I had finished my assignment of wiping up the bathroom, I asked Nancy where I should put the dirty paper towels, as we had already emptied the trash bin.

“Oh, that can be ‘new garbage,'” said Nancy.

New garbage. How liberating!

I tossed the paper towels without looking back and followed my wise new friend past the old conveyor belt and upstairs to lock up the store.

One Saturday, Nancy arrived for her shift with her hair cut to a chin-length bob which was, somehow, just as perfectly suited to her and as lovely as when it had been nearly three feet longer. I thought how brave and bold she must have been, and how I would have probably felt too vulnerable to part with even a few inches of my own forgettable hair.

After maybe a year, I stopped working at the store. Nancy and I lost touch over the years. I am not sure why, except for the fact that our routines no longer brought us together on Saturday evenings. She may never know the impact that her words, which she likely did not remember past the moment, had on me. They have served as a metaphor for my emotional release, helping me to see that it’s okay, really, to leave the new garbage there. I shouldn’t have to worry about every little thing. It’s okay to have some new garbage, a little bit of the mess still to remain for the next time. It’s okay to leave a bit of our burdens, a bit of what has brought us here. We have given the best of ourselves: the best for that space of time.

We had traveled the long stretch of highway to my daughter’s school so many times before. The icy aftermath of the winter storm, though, brought ethereal beauty that I hadn’t expected on our late afternoon drive. This time, things seemed softer between us, and I knew there was a whole lot that we were both learning to leave behind.

We reached our destination just as darkness beckoned. It had been a good holiday visit. She hugged me hard; it wasn’t just an obligation as it had often seemed before.

It has taken a long time to begin to feel the strength of trust. The eight-years-ago me may have tried to understand, to mend, or to empty the new garbage.

While I drove through a daze with my music at a volume suited only for driving alone, fog lowered all around. Soon I could not see more than a short distance ahead. I checked the lights. My hands gripped the wheel. The music no longer made sense. The familiar fear made my heart pound.

Just as I began to wonder if my time had come, a semi passed into the lane ahead of me. Surely, it had been sent by the Heavenly Father. For nearly an hour, that truck guided me through the wintry thickness, safely home.

It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.

–Deuteronomy 31:8

The storm, though breathtakingly beautiful, was frightening and unpredictable. The ice still holds fast to the trees, adding sparkle to an otherwise bleak season. In the aftermath of the lingering frost lies damage and destruction, new garbage, and hope…mostly hope.

And to Nancy… Thank you for what you gave me all those years ago.

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.

Strip Me Bare

Last year, they were probably heard screaming through to the second floor of the clinic, and there were fights…battles…battles that they did not win. No one did.

A friend shared a link on social media yesterday, and I read every word, as often I do when this particular friend posts things. If she finds something worthy of her time, I know it will be worthy of mine. What I read was a post on the toll taken by the coronavirus from the perspective of writer and blogger, Helene Wingens; I have shared the link below. The words which spoke great truth to me were these: “Being the keeper of everyone else’s sadness and hurt (even if I am self-appointed) is heavy. So heavy.

Heavy, indeed. These resolute words were a painfully accurate summary of how I, and certainly many others have felt about what is going on around us these days.

As I read, my feelings took me elsewhere, to a place inside of me that evoked a similar level of exhaustion and fear, but for very different reasons. As with any art form, the viewer, the listener, or the reader will find meaning in its interpretation. We will make sense of what is before us from our own experiences.

I never liked getting shots, but what seems far worse is watching my children endure a similar fate. As a two-year-old, Elliott had to have a lead screening for preschool class. I was the anxious and fearful one: a young mother more than half my lifetime ago. I remember taking the stoic boy to Burger King after the appointment. My sense of relief must have been palpable as we ordered our Whoppers and as Elliott donned his cardboard crown.

For these years sprawling into decades of throwing my best effort into parenting children with trauma and mental illness, I have certainly tried to hold the sadness, hurt, fear, grief, and anger of my children. Often, though, it cannot be contained. It flows from me, as from my child, and we drift from one another through trials and misunderstandings, displaced anger and defeat, perhaps even to be washed away entirely, back to nothingness, where we are stripped bare of all that we have.

I took the three little boys for flu vaccines yesterday with the promise of not Burger King but Nerf guns from Target after the battle, which somehow was not even a battle. They knew. The magic of one child’s medical cannabis regimen along with new psychiatric protocols for the others might have a bit to do with how things went this year, but we made it through. Somehow, we have arrived at today. It wasn’t easy.

It’s just a short time here, really, to be full of so much that cannot be understood. Just maybe, we are not fit to try to understand.

Maybe there really isn’t going to be a watershed or a life-altering turn of events. Perhaps things will really begin to get easier. Perhaps we will get used to how things are, and for this they will seem easier. Maybe the hard things that I hold so tightly will not seem quite so hard anymore.

The littlest boy, equally brave yesterday as was his big brother Elliott some twenty-seven years ago, kept his bandaid carefully in place “in case his arm might hurt.” At some point this evening, he was ready to take it off. He asked for my help, because he was worried that it might hurt. As I stripped the superhero bandage from his tiny arm, I knew that then that the true healing could begin.

For my big kids, most of whom have historically cooperated with their vaccines, thanks for seeing me as more than I am, and for believing that I am worthy of your company. I will be ready when you find your way home.

Here is the link to Helene’s writing which inspired my blog post:

https://grownandflown.com/exhausted-moms-these-days/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialflow&fbclid=IwAR2wA_N9PJrFQlWZ56xBkvb4ahgk3KBBQziGbtsP16UYmF-_I6E3xZ4gUcE

re: Peaches

As we pulled up the long drive to my friend’s house, we were greeted enthusiastically by a little girl, the picture of sunshine, wielding a squirt gun and pulling the trigger as she announced that she was giving our car a wash which, indeed she was. We had come to buy a few jars of honey. The elderberries had been harvested for the season, and I needed local honey to make this year’s supply of syrup. We left, escorted out by the sunshine girl, with our honey, and also with a gift of a jar of peaches that had been canned in honey. I loved the way the fruit reflected the amber and yellow hues of the honey inside the Mason jar. I could almost hear the pop of the jar’s unsealing as I imagined how liberating it would be to eat the jar’s contents entirely by myself.

We drove around the back of my friend’s house on the way home, peeking at some of the many, many hives that the family tends. I, too, aspire to be a beekeeper; I hope to harvest my own honey to use for elderberry syrup. For me, the learning curve is great, and so is the accompanying anxiety and self-doubt. I know, though, that’s just how I am.

As I have already spent hours worrying about my future bees, I worry, too, and incessantly, about my children. For those who have come to us through foster care, having already experienced loss, trauma, and a perhaps higher level of chaos than even we have going here, their burdens are great…so heavy for such small shoulders.

Our youngest boy, as with some others who have come before, saves his most challenging behaviors for home. Lately, we have been home a whole lot. The day’s circus act begins long before the time that he has to sign in to his chromebook for school. His teachers and classmates have seen him playing with blocks, doing flips, swinging, and leaving the scene. They have also seen some moments of clarity, when he has retrieved a “brown bear” during the treasured read-aloud, or when he has proudly shown his brother’s lizard for sharing time. When he decides he has had enough for the day, he is done. There is no going back to the screen; at least, I cannot get him there.

Everything that happens is from now on.

I was feeling defeated, sad for a boy who had been through a lot in his small life, and frustrated at the circumstances which are far beyond anyone’s control. When I shared these sentiments with a compassionate teacher, she assured me that we would be okay. I shouldn’t push him to participate, nor should I struggle with this. I should, she said, give myself some grace…which I did.

That made me think about the canned peaches. Once, I did eat an entire Mason jar of peaches, only they were canned in sugar syrup, not honey. They were a gift from a dear seventy-something-year-old coworker at the department store where I worked through high school and when I was home for college breaks. I worked in the “candy and stationery” department; she worked on the other side of the escalator in “china and silver.” When I had no customers, I would sometimes visit Eloise as she rearranged her place settings or unpacked fragile china cups. We shared stories and conversations; she blushed as she offered marital advice (way before that was a thing for me), and I told her of my plans to travel to England (where, she pointed out, many of the china patterns in her department had originated). When I actually did spend a college semester in London, Eloise presented me with a parting gift of garden peaches that she had canned herself. I knew I couldn’t take them on the airplane, though I did consider it, so I ate every last peach before I left.

The other students were settled in with their internships weeks before my position at a children’s hospital had begun. I was agitated, even surrounded by flea markets, eclectic restaurants, and expansive rose gardens, as I longed for my shifts to begin. Looking back, I wish I had been able to enjoy the freedom of idle hours rather than to carry the restless burden of something over which I had no control. Perhaps, too, I could have saved the peaches for when I returned home. But, I didn’t.

I want to be a helper. I want to mend things, to fix what doesn’t seem right. I want to get the jar open. I stood in front of the class of twenty starry-eyed prospective foster parents, designated as “teacher,” when I had so much to learn.

“It’s not about you,” I heard myself say, as I told stories of damaged rose bushes and overturned tables. I wanted to believe that. I still want to.

All your love was down in the frozen ground.

Recently, a therapist gave me permission. She gave me permission, and actually recommended, that I try to release myself from the situation; that I let my child own her own grief, and that I trust that she will work things out on her own when she is ready. So, I didn’t fix it. I had been trying for a few too many years. I would have continued, too, to try, likely to no avail. Rather, this therapist helped me find my place, which is merely walking alongside…not unlocking, but merely supporting as my child uses the key.

Maybe I will know when the time is right to indulge in the honey peaches. For now, I am just going to enjoy thinking about how it will sound when I open the jar.

It’s the sound of the unlocking and lift away. All your love will be safe with me.

*Song lyrics from re: Stacks by Bon Iver

Thank you, my friend, for the honey peaches.

Let Me Be Your Lesson

“Everything is either a blessing or a lesson.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Chicken Gets Her Wings

Love, young love,

I hope you are well.

At least we now both

Have a story to tell.

—Keaton Henson, “Sarah Minor”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah Minor died.

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

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

Sarah, I love you.

A Piece of Crap

I had a dream that I lost little Gabriel, only he was somehow also Moses. We were at a medical appointment at a hospital. He was with me in the lobby, and then he wasn’t. I heard his little voice cry out, “Mama”, but just once. I looked and looked, but I had lost him. At some point, I had left the hospital, without my little boy. I was the very apologetic backseat passenger in the vehicle of an athletic coach of some sort and his child. My eyes would not open, though I was awake. I knew I had to get back to the hospital; that was the only chance I had to find Gabriel. I thought of his sunny curls and of how frightened he must be. Why had no one called me? Who was taking care of him?

I have been dreaming hard lately, waking to remember only what I hope were the most unsettling parts of the midsummer nights’ reveries. If we dream our fears, I should be scared.

At two or three in the morning, when my mind’s chaos had quieted, I woke to a small, gravelly voice. “Piece of crap. You’re a piece of crap…” I waited, having learned through vast experience that little beings might return to sleep if the house remains otherwise quiet in the dark of night. Sometimes, though, they speak again.

“Chocolate milk…” came the same voice, an hour later, a bit more intentional this time, and coming from the mouth of a tiny boy standing one inch away from my head. I had two choices at that point: I could creak down the stairs on tired legs to pour a cup of chocolate milk, or I could forget about anyone in the house getting any rest at all until sunrise. He’s persistent, that little one.

“I hate you, Mom,” he said as he reached for the cup through the shadows of the bottom bunk. After a few swallows he handed me the cup and, thankfully, returned to sleep, or at least to quiet.

Two nights in a row, I had served chocolate milk when they should have been sleeping.

Two days in a row, I had been called “stupid” by two different children, both mine. I could have retorted that I graduated fourth in my high school class of three hundred nineteen, but they would have leveled me with some sort of remark that, indeed, proved their points, and that I also knew had absolutely nothing to do with me.

I wear a mask to keep others from catching the bad things that may come from within. I can’t keep the anger from coming from the mouths of my hurt children, nor would I want to do this. Curiously, though, the youngest here wear their virus masks like champs.

We painted at the kitchen table as we often do during these long days at home. Moses called his artwork “a piece of crap.” Perhaps he didn’t think it measured up to that of his older siblings. He didn’t seem comforted when I told him how beautiful I thought it was, nor does he seem comforted when I tell him how beautiful I think he is when he has declared himself a “stupid piece of crap.”

Sometimes I feel like I am losing little Moses, to the depths of chaos here at home, to the familiar yet unslayable beast of mental illness as his childhood spins out of control. We can’t cover it up with a mask or otherwise. We have good people, and we hope that we are doing the right thing.

I don’t know if I ever found little Gabriel in my dream; I am not sure if he was really lost or if he was just away for a time when I had no control, no way to know. And I have no idea who that athletic coach was or how I got in his van, by the way.

In the end, I believe Moses will be okay, too. I believe that we all will be. We have our masks to wear and our collective wrath to unleash. The uncertainty of the darkness through the long wakeful nights always yields to the sunrise, which reminds us of the greater rhythm. And for those up before the sun, there’s always chocolate milk to make it better. I can hear your voice.

I have been dreaming hard lately, waking to remember only what I hope were the most unsettling parts of the midsummer nights’ reveries. If we dream our fears, I should be scared.

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

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

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

It’s just not that simple anymore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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