Last fall I got lost in the woods and swamps near where we live. With light fading, and the realization that my children would soon arrive home to an empty house, I left the bike I had been stubbornly carrying through the swamps beside a tree. I knew I would never see it again. I needed to get home and not much else mattered.
I do not have an innate sense of direction and rarely know which way is north. I could see the sun setting in the west, but as I had no idea where I was, it didn’t tell me which way to go. All I could be sure about was that by going in one direction (as opposed to circles) I would eventually hit a road. Once on a road, I would know finally know the way home.
Recently, I found myself rather irritated by another human being and in a position where my opinion about this human was being sought. (Due to my lack of patience and an unfortunate deficit of inborn humility, I am ashamed to say that this feeling of personal disdain for other people is something that have a good deal of experience with.) Human mentioned above had not been terribly thoughtful or pleasant in their interactions with me. Better words to describe their approach to me would be along the lines of dismissive, condescending, and largely oblivious to me as a fellow traveller on the highway of life.
I was justified, and therefore longed to spell out in clipped. King’s. Best. English. my. insights. about. the. nasty. human. Unfortunately, I had to admit to myself that the human seemed hurting, and that the hurt might be driving the harshness of the public persona. This has been me also, in other places. I grudgingly wondered if a small amount of mercy were in order. Secondly, and a far from noble reality, I worried that if the person asking my opinion didn’t share my views, that my negative reactions might be reflected back at me, rather than the human who really DESERVED them. I went with soft truthful but gentle. No accusations attached.
I got a note back thanking me and saying that my response had been charitable. It caught me off guard. Even if I got there for not all the right reasons, was it true? I felt like I was sitting with that word charitable floating in the air in front of me. I couldn’t stop looking. I still can’t.
I have begun to wonder what it would be like if I were to become someone who was charitable. If being well defended from the enemies of people who misunderstand me, is actually a missed opportunity to be the kind of person I would very much like to be.
Charitable isn’t the road I thought I was looking for. But there’s a clear path through the trees. No bells. No whistles. No gold stars on a chart. Just a way home, if I’ll take it.
Dear Birthday Girl,
When you were born, I was so afraid I was shaking. Outside I was smiling but inside I was scared down to the deepest parts of me. I wondered if God had made a mistake – not about you, just about letting me be your mom. I wanted you so much the words for wanting you couldn’t get out without closing up my throat and coming out in a whisper. But you were a girl. And a girl was me. And I didn’t have any idea how to be someone that you would want to grow up to be like.
You took care of that part, being so much yourself that I didn’t have to worry about you trying to be like me, I just had to love you. And that was easy.
I’m glad I got that little jean jacket outfit for you when you were a baby. Otherwise, I would have never seen what my kind of clothes looked like on you. As soon as you could walk and open drawers, you tore off anything you didn’t like. Only the frilly stuff stayed on, so I could dress you in what you loved or find you playing naked and search the premises for whatever reject outfit I’d chosen.
Here’s a picture of my favourite present you ever gave me. You made it for me when you were about five, wrapped in tissue paper in a box and you danced while I opened it.
“You’re going to love it. I made it myself.” And then leaping and pointing. “See! It’s a rosary. There’s the beads. And the cross. I got it off the bottom of a toy car. I couldn’t believe it. Doesn’t it look just like a cross?”
Eventually, when summer came and the sun got hot on my dresser, I found out that you had used molasses for the glue to hold it all together. Three years later, the top of the coffee lid medallion is still sticky. It was too perfect to change so I didn’t.
So much you have taught me, my curious, artsy, feminine, non-conformist.
By Sunday we will be three quarters through birthday season. Birthday season is something I should have been warned about. At my high school we had an entire semester devoted to reproductive education. Hours upon hours on basic mechanics and never, not once, ever, did anyone give so much as three seconds to such a thing. My mother, that matron of proud practicality? Also silent. Ten years ago, the fact that she was unfortunately only here for the birth of my first child might have excused her, but I’m Catholic now and that means the little line between death and life on earth isn’t quite so cut and dried. Believing now that death is no match for love and that if anything she loves me more now, there really is almost excuse for the oversight. I’m not holding it against her, but really as my mother – surely she could have found a way to say something, after say child #2, about the importance of NOT creating a birthday season.
It isn’t the number of kids – we’d have been happy to have more if had worked out that way – it’s inventing a new holiday season when there are already enough. It’s having four birthdays in ten weeks. And all. those. parties.
Because we a) live in the country b) are a tiny bit introvertish and c) live in a world where everyone we meet runs madly from thing to thing to thing, birthday parties are the last best piece of kids being kids together. . . at least that’s the kind of parties we try to have. Our kids really look forward to their parties, so that means 4 friend parties plus 4 birthday dinners with extended family . . .all in 10 weeks.
Did I mention that it was birthday season that brought Misty and Shorty here in the first place?
It’s ok, Mom. I forgive you. Besides, I’m already half way through it again this year.
Misty the pony: extremely not impressed that we had her best friend shipped elsewhere. Not interested in speaking to humans. Will tolerate them if she gets to speak to an apple or a carrot.
Anabelle the cow: all the change in the air has made her pregnant self grumpy. She takes it out on the sheep. Grazing for a while, drive them all to the next field. Drive some more. Graze. Drive. My children do this to each other also except they don’t eat grass in between figuring out how to annoy each other.
Sheep (population 12) and Chickens (population 43) are happy and content. If it doesn’t work out to be a writer, I think I would like to be a sheep or a chicken.
Cluster flies (population 1500 plus in house alone): They are in their drunken buzzing phase, perpetually disoriented and therefore bumping into things like me. I love our farm. I love our province and our country . . . but boy do I hate those flies. Self calming now involves not only vacuuming them from the windows, but taping the hose nozzle on the vacuum after every killing spree – – otherwise I can’t stop picturing them inside mating like mad and then flying out in droves while I sleep. I look at the little Japanese beetles (population in house of at least 17 too many). . . who apparently aren’t actually Japanese but do belong to the beetle family . . . and I shake my head at how worthless they are. Like lady bugs but NOT lady bugs and they don’t even eat flies. Pathetic.
Rats (population unknown – closer to 0 than a month ago): seem to have either finally developed a taste for the poison we bought for them, or found other quarters. Either option suits us and the chickens they tried to move in with.
These days my son is almost this and not quite that. His skin doesn’t seem to fit right. Certainly he has no idea what to do with his hands, his mouth, or the repetitive strumming of what we hope are brain waves. For the first few weeks of school this year, we wondered if he would ever be quiet again. Please, I would say through clenched teeth. For just three minutes. Don’t talk.
It is exhausting, that constant chatter of nothing. The kitchen is filled with information bullets undaunted by my pleas for a ceasefire.
I’m joining two bands. I’m thinking about choir. I can’t decide which sports. Maybe volleyball and soccer. Maybe basketball. Definitely not cross country. I like it, I mean, you know, it was fun, but if I can only do two sports – two sports – then cross country’s like not even on the list. And did I tell you that I saw . . . By the way, I’m only packing things for my lunch that you can eat standing up now because we don’t sit down anymore. We go out.
And so it goes. A boy on fire with possibility. Neither fish nor fowl but in clear sight of both. As summer slipped away, so did his inclusion in the many imaginings and games of his siblings. I watched him watching them. Unsure of whether to mad or sad to be leaving the group.
It is much too soon to invite him to be one of us in those precious pieces of adult time devoid of short people. He’s tall enough. I see him watching us too. But he isn’t ready for grown up land and we two who run the place need those minutes. Besides, he talks too much.
Almost two months into school, the chatter has slowed enough to save us the constant nagging concern about muscle strain in his jaws. Yet appropriate levels of noise and motion are demands he finds so unreasonable as to be almost incomprehensible. He complies with a mixture of curiosity, dogged attempts, and then resigns himself to non-compliance in a leap or bang or whoop of energy.
Everyone is in bed now and in the quiet I can hear him and see him for what he is. An off the charts excited boy, scared boy, not sure boy, trying to figure it all out boy, want to do the right thing boy, hoping to fit in boy, wanting to be liked boy, not sure if he is good enough boy, distracted boy, changing boy. Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom. Yes son? Mom, look at me mom. Ok, son, I’m looking. Sigh. Awkward turning. Mom? Yes, son. Could you stop looking at me now?
Oh my beautiful wingless fish and sputtering bird. Soon my boy, you’ll be flying just fine. In the meantime, I guess you’ll just keep splashing in circles cawing madly, tossing rocks at the crows with your shrivelling fins.
I will listen in the silence tonight better than I did during the day and await with joy your waking, where we may once more begin again.
After two weeks of searching high and low, and following even the faintest of leads, a man is on his way with a trailer to pick up Shorty. Although I have been praying madly, beseeching, growling, and otherwise making a nuisance of myself at the gates of Heaven, I now feel like crying. The horse I thought might want to kill me now looks innocent and misunderstood. I am reminding myself that this is how he looked right before I let him out last week and he turned into Happy Days, Fonzie/Get away from my woman, in 3 seconds flat. But I feel sad anyway and my thank yous that he is going are softer and less festive than I had imagined.
This is what having children has done to me. They have squirmed in when I wasn’t looking and set about enlarging the chambers of this grinch’s heart. The living ones are obvious enough. Having been away last week, the hugs to prove how much I was missed have almost cracked bones (mine, not theirs). It’s the lost ones that teach me more quietly. Maybe because they can’t talk. Years I have prayed for the gift of tears on the outside. Some sort of acknowledgement that the tears on the inside are real too. I wouldn’t have known that lost babies who never saw the light of day would hold those keys. That they would know how to sit it out inside the depths of me, kneading with tiny fingers at the hardness of my heart until it softened.
So that is me now. All those years of lip biting and tough talk and I am ready to cry at the departure of a danger to hearth and home. Albeit hiding in the innards of a cute little 300 pounds of small horse. I am a shadow of my former strength. A whisper only now of togetherness.
Still wouldn’t trade those tiny fingers. For anything.
This is one of my favorite pictures. It reminds me that friends don’t have to be the same to love each other.
I don’t know what a first post should say so I won’t try to say it. I went out to the barn today to measure from the withers on Shorty the miniature horse. While there I became overcome with grief at the plight of the horses. Best friends. Separated five days ago because of the screaming in the night and bold attempts to take the friendship to another level. Many attempts have been made to sell ill-begotten male horse. He is currently available for free to a good home, although I foresee the day when we will be paying someone to take him. A monthly installment plan or something.
Out at the barn everyone seemed jumpy. Feeling stupid that I am not a horse person, Shorty and I agreed on approximate measurements, whereby I looked at his withers and measured the gate near him at about where it seemed right. I had asked my husband about letting Shorty out again – how long can a mare be in heat anyway? He said, forget it, we just need to get that horse off the property.
It all seemed so sad and wistful and I don’t know, I just know that after I measured the
gate horse (info for the latest person helping us divest ourselves of said creature), guilt took over. Just for a little bit, said I. The husband cannot help that he has no heart. That his eyes cannot see the poor bedraggled animals. Confused. Wanting normal. Not knowing what to do. Innocent boy horse in barn while girl horse grazes depressed or doesn’t even bother, just stands there.
The rest is a blur . . . I let Shorty out – it being the right thing and all. They said hello rather quickly. Mare Misty turned and it became rather evident even to this equine neophyte that she was in heat in a seriously streaming kind of way. Shorty was rather quick on the draw, proving to the naked eye that in fact his diminished stature is rather no trouble at all to overcome with full size pony.
But this was not going to happen. Not on my watch.
I yelled bloody murder and waved my arms. They took off across the pasture for a little more privacy. Not to be outdone I ran, still yelling so as to ruin the mood, to get a bucket of grain. Thought on the way by to grab a broom. Couldn’t shake the warning from the vet that when she is in heat, he won’t take competition. He’ll come after you and mean to hurt you. So there I am, tearing after them in the field, bucket of grain in one hand, broom in the other. They slow down and I call their names, trying to change the tone. Communicate that we are one happy little family again and here I am out with a little treat. Not sure what even made me think to bring one out. Providence maybe.
Shorty noticed. His slow first steps turned into a dead run, so I dumped some grain on the ground and ran to the other side of the round bale. I wasn’t sure if he’d go for the grain or if we’d still be circling the round bale waiting for him to kill me when the kids got home.
He went for the grain. I snuck back to the barn and managed to get the mare to follow me. Kept my broom though. Finally got everybody back to where they were. Came in the house shaking. Took a while to get my heart to stop pounding out of my chest. Still cannot find a chart that lists how many calories I burned this way.
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