The Kindest of Wolves

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not into thine own understanding.” –Proverbs 3:5-6

“Shut up, you stupid idiot, or else I’m going to punch you in the eye.”

“Hi, Miss K. I love you.” I am secretly just a bit jealous of the spontaneous embrace that my little boy gave to his teacher. After all, I was still recovering from unsuccessfully dodging the sippy cup that had been hurled at my head just moments before. And it was me, not her, that had made him waffles for breakfast.

My child skipped off to join the other four-year-olds at the playground. I watched as he offered his friend, clad in Dalmatian spotted pajamas and cowboy boots, a boost onto the climbing apparatus. “Thank you,” said the polite Dalmatian child.

“You’re welcome,” piped my son, who, apparently, does actually have manners, evident only when he doesn’t think I am watching.

On a given day, it seems as if someone has swapped out my child for a ghoul, a monster, or a demon. He’s a little boy, but he’s also a fierce child who came into this world fighting against things over which he had no control.

“Is that your grandson?” I have been asked this question many times. He’s not, but he certainly could be. I wonder if I parent more permissively than I did in the early days, if I am less aware of my surroundings, or if the often baffling behaviors really are bigger than me.

It’s defeating to be overpowered by someone that weighs one-fifth as much as I do. It’s more than defeating when, after nearly three decades of parenting, I really have no idea what to do. And really, I don’t.

At just the same time that the nation was thrust into World War II, a seedling, called simply “3-35-40”, was being developed in France. During this period of unthinkable devastation, a thing of great beauty was born. This seedling, further propagated after being sent to the United States, became the world’s most beloved rose, called “Peace”.*

I wonder, if I collected all of the hours turned to days, and strung them together into weeks that I have spent sitting in an unforgiving vinyl recliner, waiting for someone with a name tag to make a decision about the next supportive action for the mental health of a child in my care, how much idle time has slipped away in favor of the angst of things out of my control?

Parenting is relentless.

“He doesn’t act like that around me.”

Well, he acts that way around me.

“You’re his safe person. He knows he can let his true feelings flow, and he will be okay.”

Well, I don’t think I like this. It’s tiring living in a cartoon where body parts and random expletives spin in circles over my head, and I feel poorly equipped to tame the wild that has been given me. And when the child is bigger and stronger, when the fight burns hot inside, when the child is almost no longer a child, when I don’t know what to do…when I cannot draw on my vast parenting experiences of pushing strollers in the park, school shoe shopping, rescuing frogs from the basement, and sewing laces on pointe shoes to manage a child who, eyes filled with rage, takes on a strange state of being, writhing, nearly foaming at the mouth, tossing heavy objects into newly-painted walls, and, perhaps the hardest to bear, expresses the wish to no longer be part of our family.

There’s no answer here.

The wolf is revered as signifying loyalty, guardianship, and spirit. A young wolf may leave the pack, trying to fend for itself in search of independence and freedom.**

Pushing away, fighting, searching…

We are here, maybe along for this journey, but definitely not running the show. It’s hard, a different hard from the physical labor of turning a compost pile or carrying a 40-pound bag of layer feed to the barn.

It’s hard, as in “how could this possibly be happening?” and “how could there be any more than what has already been?” and we know it.

I look at my image in the mirror and wonder, bewildered, who is this shell of a person raising, or struggling to raise, these children?

As I turn to the Maker for strength, no longer for reason, my grown son appears through the hospital doors with an iced soy milk latte and a single Peace rose.

It was hours later when, through eyes bleary and body weary from the emotional weight of the recent days, I sent my son a message thanking him for what he had done.

His formative years included many scenes where burdens of trauma and pain were indelible, yet he recalls the good, too. He returned my message of thanks with words that will not be lost on me:

“I was raised by the kindest of wolves.”

When I am called home at the end of this life, I wish to look back with peace, if not understanding, knowing that all of my wolves have returned to the pack, with or without Dalmatian pajamas or cowboy boots.

References:

*www.starrosesandplants.com

**www.pure-spirit.com

Thank you for reading. Kindly share if you have found meaning in my words.

Girl on the Swing

On the day that summer turned to fall, I took my little son to the park. The blue of the sky made the clouds stand out, drawing our attention to the heavens.

There was a college-aged girl on a swing when we arrived. Though I studied her, her eyes never met mine; maybe she never knew. Her gaze was strong and fixed. A hint of a smile crossed her face; the rhythm never broke. I wondered what purpose the swing served for her, what emotions she was stirring as she moved through the air.

Blackbirds, backwards, forwards, fall…

Our connection to the past is undeniable. Though our days ahead can seem full of such hope and wonder, looking back to yesterday, I can remember what happened, and it was mostly good. I pushed the hard parts down to make them go away, at least for a time. In the days that are gone, I had no way to know that today’s burdens would slow me down and make my bones weary.

I was like the girl on the swing; I actually once was the girl on the swing. Not the same girl, and not the same swing…my swing was in the South of France.

Blackbirds, backwards, forwards, fall…

There is so much I don’t understand, so much I can’t say; there are so many words I cannot write, not ever.

The air carries a heavy burden even in its invisibility. I am afraid to walk through it, to break it, for fear that it won’t be contained. Though it is everywhere, I often cannot see it before the darkness takes over, threatening to engulf me in its wrath.

I am consumed; I am spent. Let the day begin.

Blackbirds, backwards, forwards, fall…

When I was a small girl, when the bell tolled for summer, the first thing I wanted to do was to swing in my backyard. I believed, and part of me still believes, that if I were to swing high enough, I might be able to wrap all the way around the support bar at the top of the swing set. I have flown so high as to nearly disappear into the clouds, but I have not yet made it around the pole.

Blackbirds, backwards, forwards, fall…

When you came to my door, the stories were big, almost daunting, though you were very small. Without words, you told me things that I shouldn’t know. You guided me to places that I didn’t want to go. Still, there was so much hope.

In the beginning, I thought that we could do it together, that the rest didn’t matter. You’ve grown, and we’ve grown, though I often am made to feel smaller than before.

During my week spent at Aix-en-Provence as a twenty-year-old, I walked through the storybook pages of cobblestone streets, lined with cottages…jewel-toned shutters open to the sunny morning…smell of noisette loaves and pain au chocolat wafting by to further decorate my senses. At the top of the road, there was a clearing, defined in part by what remained of a flagstone wall. In the center of that clearing was a wooden board suspended from a frame by the longest ropes that I had ever seen on what was certainly the most magical, enchanting swing. It was there that I felt the deep laughter and joy of my childhood even as I eagerly anticipated crossing the threshold into adulthood.

Blackbirds, backwards, forwards, fall…

What if you didn’t have a chance to try the magical swing because it was too hard to find? I am pretty sure we can find it together, if you will trust me enough to take my hand.

When we left the park that afternoon, the college girl was still as we found her, still swinging. Perhaps the swing at this little park, tucked into the edge of the university’s campus, held the same charm for her as mine had all those years before.

You can find your swing; it’s not too late. It’s never too late for the magic.

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Inspiration taken from R.E.M.’s “Half a World Away”

A Badass Pollyanna of Sorts

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She’s a vision of a cat.  That’s not a real cat, is it?  Yes, yes, it is.  How can that actually be a cat?  She is so… perfect.  And up on the counter, actually up on the toaster, she sits.  As quickly as she is redirected from the forbidden spot, up jumps Juliet, back to her berth.  Oblivious even to the squirt bottle, she pokes her pug nose skyward and cozies up as close as she can to the crock pot, likely unaware of the cream cheese tortellini within.  Juliet, our dear Himalayan Persian, is uncivilized.  Sweet as pie, and rebellious as Johnny Rotten.

When I let baby Elliott loose to crawl about his uncle’s college apartment floor, he ate a glow-in-the-dark star.  Though it worried me at the time, that incident may have had some impact on his developing mind.  Most people have not eaten glow-in-the-dark stars.  And most people are not as bright as Elliott.

From a place deep within, we are all bursting toward our true selves.  And try as we might, it seems we cannot really alter the soul essence of who someone is.  I’m never going to like pimentos; I am never going to learn to ballroom dance; I will never not be awkward speaking in front of people; and I am most certainly not going to change the minds of my children by imposing my views upon them. Though what I say or do might possibly have an influence on another person’s thoughts or actions, the heart of another being is independent of my perceptions and projections.  I will forever be burdened with trying to do what I think is the right thing (though actually it may not be), and with the feelings of guilt and anxiety that make me wonder whether my actions were justified.

I believe in people.  I have witnessed true, course-changing, life-altering, behavior in others.  Many times I have reached out, and a good number of those times I have been shamed, rejected, or made to feel less than whole.  And I wonder if I am perceived, to those people, as I feel inside…as I am inside.

There was a doll that I wanted with a fervor as a little girl: Joey, the anatomically correct likeness of Archie Bunker’s grandson.  When I finally opened the box and disrobed the baby, I felt a sense of regret.  I felt like I shouldn’t have that doll at all.  As my little son would say, I felt like it was inappropriate.  I wonder why I wanted it so badly.

A game of telephone at a grade school sleepover: a circle made of a dozen wide-eyed, giggly girls, whispering “the message” in turn to the person to the left.  I vividly remember pretending that I didn’t understand and eventually lost my turn; I was pretty sure I wasn’t allowed to say those bad words!

There is an unsung splendor, a mystic wonder in the forbidden.  It is up to us to sort out the feelings borne from our choices.  Some seem worth the risk.

I was sent home for wearing navy blue corduroy walking shorts (clad with mini green whales); this resulted in the only detention I remember from high school.  I wanted to wear my new shorts, and I knew it was against the rules.   Chewing gum was strictly forbidden at the Catholic high school.  A devil among angels, I found a way to hide my Wrigley’s Spearmint in my cheek so no one suspected a thing.

The rebellion was in full swing in college.  I was gifted (honestly) a fake ID by a sorority sister that had been mugged.   Not once did I have to grovel to gain entry to The Jungle on New Wave Night; I was handed my golden ticket by someone who had recovered her stolen identification.  I mastered her signature and flashed my prize with confidence on those Tuesday nights.  When the police raided the bar (looking for underage entrants), we scurried  to stack ourselves in the bathroom stall until the coast was clear.  Always with great relief, I would return to my club soda.  I was not about to order alcohol from the bar, but I am pretty sure I did not consider the idea that possessing a fake ID was likely a higher crime.

I had a rare college job that was more of a haven than a place of employment.  I worked at Record Revolution; the smell of Gonesh incense ($1.87/pack) still lingers in my soul, to be sure.  I sat up on the counter, with no shoes on, and ate croissant sandwiches with muenster cheese and mustard (from The Dill Pickle next door) while selling records to people.    I’m not sure if I sat on the counter in front of the Chief; I wonder what, if anything, he would have had to say about that.  Doing what you truly love is liberating to the soul.

Most of my days are spent in jeans and nondescript shirts, probably because my primary job is to wipe stuff.  I do, though, have a long-standing love for vintage clothing and well-worn, comfortable pink things.  On one of my trips home from college, my dad eyed me quizzically and referred to me as “Laura Ashley to ashpit.”  But it was still me on the inside, just the same.

I woke a few mornings ago to a collaboration of snoring and wheezing in the bed beside me.  The wheezing, at least, came from the four-year-old bedfellow who, until his adoption was finalized, was not supposed to sleep in our bed.  So many nights in his young life, this rule was broken as we, his foster parents, kept vigil and shifted him in his dreams to open his airway, so he would not breathe his last breath. Sometimes, we have to make choices that hardly seem like choices at all.

As the song goes, I have been encouraging my girls to speak bravely and honestly.  This has, on occasion, backfired into a license for tongue whipping episodes of talking back, certainly not what I had intended with my plea.  I hope, though, that they understand that they have voices which deserve to be heard.  As I have approached middle age and as my passions dictate, I have begun to practice saying what is on my mind.  Though a quiet voice can speak volumes, there is a place for words; words that, when spoken, reveal some level of injustice.  I walked away from a job when the ethical issues overshadowed my purpose as a teacher.  If you cannot make it right with yourself, then perhaps it is not right for you.

When the time comes that you meet your one true love, you fall deeply for how that person lives his or her life.  We fall again, with each of our children, and all of their differences.  My babies come to me from many different places.  I cannot be sure if any of them, with the exception of Elliott, has a glow-in-the-dark star burning within.  I am trying to embrace the choices and the behaviors, no matter how bright or nonsensical they seem.  We are all here, shoes or not, pop music or punk rock, jumping onto the kitchen counter to bask in the warmth of the crock pot (or parking oneself on the counter of Record Rev back in the day) baring our vulnerable souls, standing for what we believe.

I wonder if Juliet will ever learn her boundaries.  And I wonder if she did, would part of her unique charm be lost in the compliance? And through our struggles, confusion, embarrassment, and rebellion, the little bits of magic that shine through bring us to realize that allowing ourselves to be who we are…who we always have been…is, after all, the right thing to do.