Ode to My Child’s Teacher

You have been my child’s teacher, and I am grateful.

For a span of nearly twenty-five years, children of mine have had the privilege of being taught, nurtured, cared for, and loved by so many extraordinary teachers, men and women who have helped to form these young beings into who they are.

My nearly grown son stopped by the farm earlier this week. He was about to leave on a business trip, but he made time to deliver a bag of apple cider donuts from the nearby orchard. I had been harvesting watermelons when his car pulled in; I have a bit of time now to work on the chores that have piled up for too long, as the littlest boy is now at school for a few hours each morning.

My son drove off just before the bus returned my preschooler to me. Time has a way of turning our boys to men even as we spin around to tend to the things that fill our days.

In the early years of motherhood, we hold our little ones close. To them, we are the whole world. The doors open, though, and there are influences that reach past our own fingertips, influences that help to form these tiny souls into who they will become.

And that’s where the teachers come in.

I am busy with the things of adulthood; I have waved to my child as she looked back at me through the school bus window, and I hope I held a thought of gratitude for the teacher who was moments from receiving my teenage bundle of attitude, unrest, and great promise (who just happened to be wearing pajamas).

Because you have always worked to forge a partnership with us, and to find something good in difficult circumstances, even when actions and behaviors were beyond understanding; for your tenacity, I am grateful.

Perhaps the nature of my family makes for a good longitudinal study of some sort. At the very least, it has allowed me to see over and again how the great love of a teacher can make a vast difference in the life of a child.

You made me feel like I am a good enough parent, through my tears and frustration, when life’s forces were bigger than me; for your support, and for your kindness, I am grateful.

For seeing past my child’s dirty fingernails, for praising him for his careful coloring, and for asking him to tell you more about his special train engine; you have done these things, and you have made a difference.

For helping my little boy to see that he is magic and brilliant even as he struggles with below-grade-level work; for your compassion, I am grateful.

For giving my daughter the time and space that she so desperately needed to be ready for learning, and for lifting her up so the burdens she carried were just a bit lighter; for your understanding, I am grateful.

I sometimes wondered how we would ever make it through the day. Then I turned around, and a whole year had passed. The year turned to decades, and I see grown children whose lives reflect the gifts they have been given by their teachers through the years.

I love those cider donuts, especially at this time of year. I ate three in a row that morning, right from the bag.

Perhaps it’s the time of year: transition, gratitude, thanksgiving as all around me are fields in the throes of harvest. I am grateful for the little things, which really might be big things. I am grateful for my children, for what is before me, and for you, the teachers that have given so much of yourselves for so very long.

I am grateful beyond any words I could write, and I hope you know that as you offer your hand, once again, to my child.

Thank you.

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See Ya, Buttheads

It was the wax bottles, the Maryjanes, the sixlets, and the caramel bullseyes, along with a vast array of other vintage candies that held my attention until I looked to the direction of my son. We were at a downtown sweet shop, and he was engaged in conversation with a young girl who looked to be about his age.

“What grade will you be in?” asked the girl.

“I’m already in fifth,” he answered.

“Who’s your teacher going to be?” I don’t ever remember a longer spontaneous conversation between my son and anyone else.

“Well, I’m in a special school, and I am already in fifth grade because I went to summer school.” Ethan spoke without emotion. This was the first time that I had heard him volunteer this information, and I am not sure if I was relieved by his matter-of-fact delivery, or saddened that he recognized the difference that separated him from another fifth grader.

“Oh.” The girl turned her attention back to the television screen. She must have deduced that since they would not be in the same class, the conversation was no longer worth pursuing.

I can’t tell where one cloud ends and another begins.

Maybe it doesn’t even matter anymore, or maybe it never did.

I’ve been hit in the head with a size 10 toddler light-up boot one two many times this summer. I am ready for something.

I’m getting coffee, and you’re not. I am not really mean, and I certainly hope I don’t qualify as an idiot, whatever that is. Is that self-care, going through the drive-thru for coffee? I think it qualifies, and I think I am not obligated to buy cake pops for all of the trash-talkers in the back seat. They, of course, think differently.

I don’t talk to the clouds for fear that they might talk back.

Aaron spent many hours at the orthodontist’s office as a baby and toddler while his older siblings had their turns in the chair. On this day, he was going, brothers in tow, to see the doctor for his own orthodontic consult. We sat in the chairs in the waiting room for a few minutes, and then a bit longer. When Aaron’s name was called, our ill-behaved, complaining parade filed past perhaps a dozen teenagers, all in various stages on the path to straightened teeth. Some of them were accompanied by parents or companions. None seemed to be accompanied by little brothers, at least not cantankerous, impatient ones.

One brother carried on (loudly) about how long it was taking. Another performed full-body stunts on the dental chair. The third just kept running away, until I offered to take him back to the lobby to see the waterfall. On our way out, he proclaimed, “See ya, buttheads!” to the captive audience of orthodontic patients whose mouths probably hurt when they laughed at him…or maybe, more likely, at me.

School started this week, and with it comes a highly anticipated (by me) break from our summer rhythm (or lack thereof). Here I am, with three hours in front of me. A blank canvas, no obligations, and embodied inspiration that has left on the school bus.

I think I miss them.

Olive is such a silly chicken. It’s hard not to love her best, with her downy fro, her frantic postures, and her unmistakable charm as her feathers fall in her face and she accidentally collides into absolutely anything in her path. I wonder if she is lonely, if she longs for someone to explore the farm with her. Earlier this week, she seemed to have found a friend. One of the Cream Legbar hens, the type that is supposed to lay sky-blue eggs, had joined Olive in her usual hiding spot under the roost. By midday on the second day, I shooed the two young hens from the coop. It was a perfectly sunny day, and though I was delighted for Olive that she had found someone to keep her company, I thought they should get some air.

Olive’s friend had trouble standing. Her breathing was labored, and her eyes were half-closed. I separated her from the flock and tried to figure out the best way to help her. Olive looked on, likely wondering why I had taken her friend from her. By nightfall, the Cream Legbar was gone. She had settled under the roost not to keep Olive company, but to seek refuge from herself. Maybe, deep in her chicken heart, Olive knew this. Anyway, I know she was grateful for the company, however fleeting, and I’m sure the Cream Legbar was grateful for a companion to see her to the other side.

We’re trying to find our places here. Maybe they are determined from the beginning of time, or perhaps they are made clear as we grow, evolving as we do.

The sinister tides of trauma and mental illness overwhelm me, engulf me once again. Mine or theirs? I cannot tell.

Maybe the time spent in the waiting rooms, struggling, frustrated, and confused, helps us find what we’re looking for, even if we don’t understand what that is, as we stand (possibly wearing light-up cowboy boots and eating caramel bullseyes) at the threshold of a new relationship, a sacred friendship, a new school year, or an unexpected journey.

And if there were never clouds, how would we ever appreciate the rarity of a clear blue sky?

I wonder what color Olive’s eggs will be.

Am I Good?

There’s true magic to outshine the first bloom of an orchid when, through self-study, patience, crossed fingers, and a bit of fish emulsion, buds emerge on nearly-two-years-barren stalks, only to show themselves in quiet succession with breathtaking beauty, sugar plums in shades of violet and pink, worthy of the most compelling dance of the Nutcracker Suite.

I think I could hear music coming from the little pot on the windowsill; I think I could see the blooms dancing, until my eyes were opened.

“You’re the worst parent.”

Springtime, though not without the graceful unfolding of ordered beauty and renewal, holds its share of struggles. As the snowdrops and crocuses burst forth to herald a new season, also awakened is the force of hurt and anger which has little mercy for those standing in the way.

Just three feet tall and a spritely vision of wild happiness (until he turns tempest), my smallest boy puts his boots on all by himself. He has had plenty of practice this long winter. They are nearly always on the wrong feet, and he likes it that way.

“I don’t need any help, especially not from you.”

My longtime friend loves chickens nearly as much as I do. He has been incubating eggs and hatching them. Just a few days ago, and perhaps against the advice of most chicken experts, he assisted in the hatch of a few of his newborn chicks. He had been worried that the shells were too thick and that the babies could not get out on their own. I wondered about those little chicks through the night, and I know my friend wondered, too, if he had done the right thing.

“All made it and are good.” That’s the message that came through from my chicken friend. He was brave and did what he thought was best. And now, three tiny Marans have made it to their brooder.

Through the uncomfortable blanket of fear and insecurity, we make the choices as they are handed (sometimes not very nicely) to us. We step up, we stumble, and we rise to our weary feet once more.

That’s the message I hope to one day hear: all made it and are good.

Do I help him switch his boots to the right feet? “I’m good,” says his three-year-old self. Yes, my boy, you are.

There are eight blooms on my glorious orchid; a ninth is poised to open. The blooms were very long in coming but as rich in beauty as ever a flower, or anyone, could be.

Nothing Left to Give

It’s going to take some time.

I hope it doesn’t take forever.

I must have been in second or third grade, and she was a year or two younger than me. On the rare times that I saw her in the school hallway, I thought she looked older. Without a doubt, she was wiser.

“It’s a type of cancer in her brain, and the medicine makes her feel sick. It makes her hair fall out.”

It has been a cold, dismal winter. Dan came home early from work one afternoon. “I’m going to tap those maple trees.” The temperature had begun to rise above freezing during the day, and he did not want to miss the best window for tapping.

I wondered when she would be better, and when her hair would grow. I was curious about her long hospital stays. She came back to school again, and this time she wore a fabric scarf on her head. Her face was very pale, but I thought she looked pretty, and I hoped she was healing.

Our schoolmates held a fundraiser, and we collected enough money to buy an Easter basket that seemed to be tall as a mountain. I went with my mom to pick it out. A trophy of pastel beauty, brimming with prize eggs, gold coins, sparkly suckers, a giant solid chocolate rabbit, a pail and shovel in anticipation of summer days, and…best of all…a plush pink bunny with satin ears and a big white ribbon, perfectly tied around its neck.

This is probably how it’s going to be.

I’m not sure there will be an end.

There’s something so very big that has a way of clouding almost everything, obscuring the little surprises and making the good things a little less good, a little harder to see.

She was going to be so excited. I had trouble sleeping that night; my starry-eyed eight-year-old self was bursting with anticipation. This was going to make her so happy.

It’s going to take a long time, much longer than it has already been.

I’m afraid it might not happen.

I don’t know what she needs. It’s not what I thought she needed, or even what I had hoped she would want. No one knows, because she doesn’t know. And maybe she never will. I like to think she needs me, even when she is sure she doesn’t need me or anyone else.

We hung sap buckets from three silver maple trees just north of the barn. I felt a tempered excitement at the prospect of making the first batch of maple syrup in the not too distant days.

Something, some things, happened before our days even began. For that, everything that followed had to be different, affected by what happened. The happiness can still, I think, be happy. It’s just different, and maybe a bit more guarded.

We arrived at the girl’s house in the late morning. I thought I might split apart with excitement as we approached the door. My mom let me carry the giant basket, and I could feel my heart pounding with the eager footsteps inside the home. Someone fumbled with the lock. Was the girl going to be the one to greet us at the door?

I didn’t expect what happened next. There was a sharp cry, and the girl burst into tears and hollow screams of pain. She had caught her hand as she tried to unlock the door to let us in. When the door finally opened, we saw only the girl’s little sister and their mother, who spoke apologetically and appeared caught between wanting to graciously accept our gift and needing to tend to her sick, and now injured, child. The little sister stared at the fancy basket; her eyes were wide as saucers. I hoped the girl would share. I wished that I had something to give the girl to make her feel better.

I felt a little like crying on the way home. I, perhaps selfishly, was disappointed that the girl did not delight in the basket that we brought her. She couldn’t; not then. There was something much bigger getting in the way.

The girl didn’t come back to school anymore after Easter vacation. I secretly hoped that she had been able to enjoy the suckers and the chocolates. Surely she loved the magnificent pink bunny. We learned that the girl died before the summer came.

My girl will, I hope, find her own sort of happiness, despite the big stuff that tries to get in the way.

On a property full of barren trees, sloppy puddles that freeze in the night and never quite go away, and the aftermath of last year’s garden, sweet sap begins to drip, slowly but steadily from the old trees that had been all but forgotten. This is a gift to herald the sweetness of days to come, a gift that has found its way from deep within, when it seemed there was nothing left to give.

Frostbite 

I didn’t even want him.  I certainly didn’t expect to love him.  It wasn’t until he was at the mercy of another, in danger of demise, that I realized how deeply I loved him and how I would fight to save him.

Four new baby chicks will be coming to the farm this spring.  By the end of the summer, these new girls should be laying eggs alongside our other hens.  

Hens lay eggs.  Roosters don’t.

I was careful to repeat my request several times to the gentleman that was taking my order: “all females…two of each.”  This time, I chose a hatchery out of Ohio as the birthplace of my chickens.  It didn’t seem to be much of a factor at the time, but last year, when I picked up my “reserved pullets” from the local feed store, I also chose a few extra from the “I’m pretty sure those are females, too, bin.”  I guess that is where things went wrong, or at least took a bit of a detour.

We usually kept the door closed to the main bathroom at our old house in town.  This sometimes confused people, as there were several similar doors in a small corner of the house.  Each led somewhere, but we thought our guests would benefit from a telltale sign on the bathroom door,  so they could be sure.  I found a small vintage wooden sign with a raised image of a little child on a chamber pot.  It was perfect, and nobody ever asked where the bathroom was again.   

When we moved to the farm, I brought the little sign along and attached it to the guest bathroom door.  It looks as though it has been there forever, although it hasn’t.  

It had been a pretty good day until, at some point, something didn’t happen the right way.  There was warfare of the sort of whatever was in his reach being catapulted at whoever was in striking distance.  Thankfully, the afternoon’s biggest casualty was the relatively new Oscar the Grouch garbage can which now slumps slightly sideways and no longer closes properly.

Nobody would know that my little  sign had previously announced another bathroom in a different house, and that I had simply mounted it here using double sided tape.  Nobody knows where it’s first home was, and if there were many places between.  

People that I don’t know certainly remember the little sign from one place or another, but nobody knows it’s whole story.  In some ways, now, the story of the bathroom chamber pot sign starts here, with my family.  We cannot properly honor what we don’t know.  Still, though, we can know that there was something before, perhaps even a long, hard, road,  which cannot be separated from today.

Wendell has not been his usual self since he was attacked, innocently enough, by the dog.  He had always been a great protector of the hens, but he had also been inquisitive, guardedly social, and the first chicken running to check for leftover cat food when allowed to range free.  He let Aaron tote him around, and he only used his “power of intimidation” when he must have really felt at risk, as when someone ran at him while wearing red shoes.

Now, though, there is much more to his story.  Yes, he has a few black spots on his comb where the harsh winter left it’s mark.  But deeper and not visible to the eye, is that which cannot be seen but is very much there, and that which changes everything.  

I am on guard now as I gather eggs or throw feed, and the children must be aware of where Wendell is at all times.  Wendell moves to attention when I enter the coop, and he watches with a new hypervigilance my every move.  And I am just a bit scared of Wendell.  Several times, now, he has flown up to me in fight mode.  I feed him, I take care of him, I love him, and still, I am afraid.  

The black spots tell of frostbite.  Something happened.  But what about when we can’t tell, when the pain of past trauma is deep and, though it affects my child’s every step, nobody really knows.  There are no words or warnings, no tangible reasons, just emotions.  And there is a story, never to be told.  

This morning’s sky was as bold an azure blue as ever I had seen; it looked like some sort of surreal stage curtain draped behind the used-to-be white farmhouse on what might be the last unbearably cold day in this long winter.  Beauty could still be found in the bitterness.  We, along with the chickens, have made it through the worst part of this season.   The chickens have survived their first Midwest winter, but not without a little evidence of frostbite.  

The “chicken experts” advise carrying an aggressive rooster around to ease his combative behavior.  Likewise, we carry on, continuing to support our children through their own angst and battles, with reverence to the unknown, and while looking  forward to the new season which will, inevitably, bare its freshness when we need it most.