Posted in (Actual) Empty Nest, Fragile Life, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Mother to Crone, New Mother, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

Mama Fox

mother fox
Your days are numbered as a mother and so you might begin early to ready yourself for its dull-edged ending.

There are, of course, rehearsals built in along the way. Recitals. Practices. Nursing, for one. “Is this the last?” I’d think. “Is this the last time?”

So many holy moments.

Newborn eyes.

Breath like green-apples.

Last fall, in the early weeks of my empty nest, a Robin began building multiple ones along the rafter on our front porch, a fools work, day after day, because most of these nests were untenable on the beam, and tending to so many, she never finished a one, and was she even pregnant in September or had she, like me, gone a bit mad in the loss of her vocation.

When I was a girl of 10, living in Colorado, 2,000 miles from the sea, my soulmate left me, never to return, and I too went a bit mad, searching for her in backyards and under cars and up trees, arriving home with scratches and another cat in my arms who wasn’t my beloved Licorice, she who I’d loved and tended since she was a kitten.

My plan this past year was to empty the house, to lighten everything. “I will not live in a museum of our family,” I said, but what I truly meant was that I couldn’t bear to live inside the emptiness, echoing the absence of the lives once lived here.

What I did instead was the opposite. Each week, I visited the second-hand store stocking my home with odds and ends, dishes and knickknacks and books I still haven’t read.

The year that Licorice left had been my 4th year apart from my grandmother at the sea. We spent the entire summer together, she and I, ahead of that 2,000-mile divide. On the August day that I was due to leave, she had to tear me from her bed. When I returned for a short visit with my family the next summer, I discovered that my she had given all my things to the summer sale at the Yacht Club–including all the stuffed animal “friends” won for me on the boardwalk by my grandfather or uncles or family friends.

I hated her some for that.

All these years later, I suspect the presence of my belongings made my absence too palpable.

Which brings me to the baby foxes which is where every morning delivers me, in this, our third spring with the den just off my writing door (though maybe they’ve always been there, and it’s taken me this long to look with softer, sideways eyes.)

This May was the earliest I’ve ever come across the pups, and last week their eyes were still newborn-like, though in the five days since, they’ve already changed.

In just a few more weeks, they won’t stay put if I come close, or only one or two of the most curious will, and after that the communions will be fewer still, and I’ll wonder each time, “Is this the last? Is this the last? Is this the last?” until that day when the rock outcropping above their den outside my writing door remains vacant, and the only sightings come by chance, at the edge of the field and the woods or passing each other on the driveway after an early morning or evening walk, or being watched from the path behind the shed as I hang the laundry.

By then, I won’t know for sure if it is a pup or a parent I spy.

It was the mother herself who I saw first this spring or I should say: she let me behold her and she remained there on the rock outcropping after the pups scattered, staying still as I photographed her from a distance.

I came across her again over the past weekend when I went looking a little too close for her pups, waking her I suppose from a well-deserved nap, and she lept up, startling me, but she didn’t leave the outcropping, and instead paused at the top while I remained still at the bottom, and we gazed into each other’s eyes, in a soul-drenched moment out of time, reminding me of all those I shared with Licorice as a girl, one with the mysteries of mothering and life.

(Early June 2019)

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Posted in (Actual) Empty Nest, Adult Offspring, Fragile Life, Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Round Two, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

Ode to the Youngest, About to Leave…

Grown children leave and come back in a game of cat & mouse with our hearts.

Road trips. Fox love. YouTube clips. Listen to this song. Try this latte, sushi, cookie. ”Hug?” (him)

He came for the Outlets. I came for the Sea. Both of us underemployed, trying to find our way forward, untangled. You go first. “Hold hands?” (me)

From behind sunglasses, he can tell I’m rolling my eyes or maybe it’s the tilt of my head, the jut of my jaw, the language between us so subtle, so fine tuned, as if I’ve said aloud: “You cannot wear them on the beach.” (He leaves his sneakers in the car.)

I was born barefoot beside the sea. He was delivered in the bathroom of the little farmhouse beside the brook at the foot of the mountain.

I’m surprised by his knees beneath the steering wheel, belonging to a man instead of the boy with whom I’m gallivanting in Maine for the day.

“What do you think of this suit?” he asks, of number 4, in slate blue, while I thumb this poem (?) on my phone from the stool I found beside the dressing-rooms.

Immersed like this in distinct pleasures, we have almost forgotten about…”The baby foxes!” which we say at the exact moment over lunch because the day, turned sunny, would find them lounging on the rock outcropping off the back door.

Almost immediately he offers the same consolation that I am about to speak: “It’ll be good for them to have the den to themselves for the day.”

It’s like this with him, 5 years at home alone with us after his older brother went off to school, simpler, sweeter, easier, like it was the first 5 years alone with my firstborn.

You first, I say, silently to my baby now. Let go of me. I’ll be okay. Not right away. But I have a whole lot of life to lead ahead of me too.

And also this:

It’s been a privilege sharing your childhood.

Thank you.

(Early June, 2019)

Posted in (Actual) Empty Nest, Fragile Life, Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments

Vacancy

Part of what made them so easy to spot this year is that there are so many–6–while previous years litters were half that size. Of course, now that we expect them to be there, we start looking (and listening) come spring. With 6, the odds are good that at least one will be defending–out loud–her stick, his spot, their sibling resting place–belly, back, head; but if we didn’t know any better, we’d assign these sounds to the return of the birds rustling in the bushes, and, in fact, it isn’t until we first see the pups that we know the sound belongs to them.

Over the course of a month, they’ll mature and begin venturing from the den, becoming increasingly stealthy like their parents, only seen by chance or desire–theirs. In the earliest days, in late May, however, I could almost always come upon them, at least two or three, napping, atop one another, under the ferns at the foot of the rock outcropping above their den just off our back door.

But things are swiftly changing. Their eyes are clearer. They navigate the boulders without tumbling. They use their paws to scratch at the dirt. They explore flowers and sticks and berries with their teeth. They practice foraging which will soon lead them further and further from the den and my open view.

I missed seeing them entirely yesterday. I left early and I wasn’t around during the hours when they are most present on rocks. When I went looking for them in the evening, they must have been out with their parents or tucked in for the night. What is so striking is that there are times when they are so readily available, that I could spend an entire morning or afternoon beside the den watching them or I could return at any hour for another fix of new life.

Other times, like yesterday, the rock outcropping is vacant as if the whole thing was a dream.

The empty nest feels a lot like that as I wander from room to room.

One day last week, in the eerie absence of pups, I got up close to the place where they crawl back into the den between the rocks.

So many times, I wished I could follow them. Or at least, send a camera inside after them.

Theirs is such a contained world. The rock outcropping off our back door is their front porch. The overgrowth of bushes and trees encircling it is like a livingroom. And there’s even a backyard—between our garden path and the woods behind our house.

I imagine it is a sweet place to grow up, particularly safe from other predators given that the den sits just beside this dwelling with 3 welcoming two-footers, and we pass it daily to hang the laundry, to take an outdoor shower, to garden, to get something from the shed.

Once, in a previous year, I watched from my writing desk as my husband walked past the den from the shower to the laundry line completely unaware that the pups were there watching him go by.

Family life, like early summer, has such an expansive and timeless quality to it, which is why I suppose the ending feels like a punch in the gut.

Maybe this explains my abiding affection for the Mother this year, she, who has, two times now, remained still so that I could gaze at her atop the rocks; and didn’t she gaze right back at me, the two of us looking into each other’s eyes for some time.

Well done.

Well, done.

Posted in Adult Offspring, College, Fragile Life, Insight, Milestone Moments, Mother to Crone, Nuts & Bolts, Takes a Village, Twenty-something, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

No Guarantees


There’s something about a college graduation.

I can’t put my finger on it.

Last weekend, at the farmers market, I came across another college graduate and she told me about her plans to return west to start her career, and I walked away weeping.

I’m grateful for sunny days. For sunglasses.

I think it’s time. Maybe it’s time. Time passing.

Teens becoming grownups. Everything changing, reshaping.

I had come to the Farmer’s Market from yoga so maybe I was especially tender. I feel awfully proud of my son’s graduation, but I’m not sure why. What did I have to do with it?

I actually felt called out when the commencement speaker said: “Thank your parents,” especially as I looked around at all the richer parents or harder working ones or more sacrificing ones–those who put their kids through school while ours did it on his own.

And then I remembered all the trips I made to be close by when he was going through something that I couldn’t quite figure and then all the times I helped him navigate through alternate routes and detours and segues. I remembered all the encouragement and returns and goodbyes and trips to the airport. The fights. The pillow talk. The persistence. So much persistence.

Maybe I feel used up.

Maybe that’s just right.

I gave it my all, I did.

He seemed so happy on his graduation day and that made me happy. It still does. He was so full of himself in the way that every one of us should be at such a moment. Inflated. Buoyant. Light. The whole point of me was to be ballast. Weight. Homecoming. Backboard. Less and less relevant.

I always feel better when I write into something that I don’t quite understand even if I don’t understand it much better afterward.

Just showing up for myself is something.

Like I showed up for him.

Like we’ve been showing up for this nation.
For women.
For immigrants.
For Muslims and Jews and POC.
For the underpaid. The uninsured.

No guarantees.

Posted in (Actual) Empty Nest, Adult Offspring, College, Fragile Life, Holidays, Home again, Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

Cutting Teeth

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Kelly Salasin, May 2018

I suppose every mother has her sweet spot.

There are those who get pregnant in an instant,

and those who feel better than ever when expecting,

and those who deliver with ease.

There are those for whom wearing a baby night and day is just right,

and those who delight in the ever-shifting expressions of a toddler,

and those who are made whole by the emerging consciousness of the preschooler.

There are those who can manage the ins and outs of homework and lessons and birthday parties and playdates,

and those who know whether to lean in or pull back as hormones shift and stakes heighten,

and those who can pivot from manager to consultant providing just enough space and just enough support for young adults to emerge.

There are even those who go on to develop healthy, reciprocal friendships with grown offspring.

~

From Thanksgiving to the New Year, this Empty Nest of mine has been awakened in new and mysterious ways leaving me unable to place my own sweet spot (though I was once particularly fond of the preschool mind.)

And then they all departed, again–my oldest and his partner (until the next holiday perhaps), and my youngest on the 1:00 train for a few days in the city ahead of returning to school full time.

I wandered the empty house, and then lay down on the couch, absorbing the silence, until I found myself, like a teething baby, drooling.

I often wonder if I made the “right” choice. Perhaps if I had remained in a demanding career or at least made more money (both of these fit together nicely), I would be riddled with less self-doubt or at least less space to consider it.

While they were home, I left them all, in an ice storm no less, to meet up with a young friend who since we last met became a mother, and I found her in a kitchen soothing an 8-month-old baby girl who was cutting her first teeth.

“Teething,” I said, “That was my hardest time.”

I watched as my friend juggled cooking and setting the table and conversation while tending to her child—diapers, feeding, play, comfort—revealing a depth of connection between these two beings, as if it was always so.

It’s the absence of control, matched with the emotional impact, coupled with the unpredictability and absurd variability, that slays me, particularly now, when I have such little reference for my role and so little clarity of how to do and not overdo.

Is this the little girl I carried?
Is this the little boy at play?

As the sun sets on another day, on another month-long school vacation, and on the first half of my 50’s, I have forgotten who I am.

Sunrise, sunset, Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears.

One night, after everyone went up to bed, I took to the stairs, tucking my head under the railing while playing the soundtrack from Fiddler on the Roof to an empty room.

What words of wisdom can I give them?
How can I help to ease their way?

I looked out across the kitchen table to the French doors and recognized that new paths were emerging while the sweetness and burden of the path once shared necessarily fades…

Now they must learn from one another
Day by day.

Posted in Fragile Life, Insight, Mother to Crone, Nuts & Bolts

Voting: HOW TO

There are so many things important to me when choosing a candidate.

Character is key as are issues related to those most marginalized in society.

Years ago I remember overhearing my son explain to house guests why I couldn’t accompany them on a day trip.

I was on a grassroots organizing call around health care with President Obama. My youngest thought it was just the two of us on the call: Mom and the President of the United States of America. My older son had a better understanding.

“You don’t have health care!” our guests said, concerned.

“We have it,” my older son said, “But Mom wants everyone to have it.”

Gun Sense is another one of those issues that deeply affects the marginalized in society, whether it’s people of color, women (50 a month killed by intimate partners) or most painfully–children–killed–at schools and in homes–by their peers–when guns aren’t properly stored.

As an adult I feel morally responsible to take action with regard to these deaths. Voting is one way I do that.

Vote on November 6. (Or vote early.)

Posted in (Actual) Empty Nest, College, Fragile Life, Insight, Mother to Crone, Round Two, Teens, Twenty-something, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

Autumn 1st


After the truck pulled away with my youngest, I decided to sit on the front porch and soak up the day’s ending, and so I brought out the wool blanket from the couch and wrapped myself in it, and watched as the sky over Neringa Pond colored pink and purple and red.

After a while, I felt a chill descend, one whose icy fingertips I hadn’t felt since spring, and so I jumped up and ran back inside for the scissors and slipped on my garden clogs and dashed out the back door where the last of the light over the mountain lit up the stone wall, as the moon rose high above it, and I remembered: Full moons bring frosts.

I was in search of that last gladiola, the one that I had noticed earlier in the week when I’d been out soaking in the tub. I had long thought them finished for the season but I noticed then a new promising braid had appeared on the stalk. And wasn’t it now in bloom, and didn’t I find two more, and take all three which I would never think to do back in August or July.

As I turned to walk back down the stone path to the house, I stopped to admire the tall, cheerful faces of the zinnias–rosy and orange and red, and I cut some of those too, and then some quiet periwinkle-colored cornflowers bending shyly in the back (leaving the soft pink ones), and nearby in the shady spot some velvety silver plants, along with some painted daisies from a pot, and something else I don’t know the name of, because it was my oldest son, this past spring, who dug these flower beds when he was home for Mother’s Day, and filled them with manure and seeds and bulbs, returning again on Father’s day and for a week in July, planting more, while I complained about the extra weeding and watering (not to mention the debris) that he left behind in his wake.

“I worry about my gardens when I’m not there,” he told me on the phone from Burlington where he is finishing his degree. “You can’t imagine how that feels.”

“I think I can,” I said without mentioning his months in Central America or Morroco, Bulgaria and Spain.

And maybe he made these gardens off his mother’s office door beside the fox den because he could. Or maybe he made them because she is too practical for flowers. Or maybe he even imagined her pleasure when she’d look up from her writing, or when she’d pass the beds on her way to and from the outdoor shower. And maybe he didn’t know what a comfort these late blooms would be when all her children were gone, or maybe he intuited the exponential ending this summer brings.

Back when he was just a boy standing barefoot beside me in the midwife’s office, I turned to see his face, and I said: “Don’t worry Lloyd, you’ll never have to feel any of this.”

Mary was removing the stitches from the tearing at the baby’s birth that Lloyd, just two weeks shy of his 5th birthday, had attended with his father in the tiny bathroom of the farmhouse that we rented for 7 years when we first moved to Vermont.

His response was touching and rebuking and still unnerves and informs me almost two decades later as he wrapped his little arms around his belly:

“I felt it inside.”

Lloyd was home again a few weeks back for his father’s birthday–the three of their birthdays arrive in a row with barely more than a month between the first and the last, and not much left in me by the time that last one rolls around–on the anniversary of my mother’s passing just after the baby was born and the stitching removed one by one.

In between visits, he calls, especially when my texts and messages and photos and links have stockpiled in his inboxes.

“Were you writing about me?” he asked last week, referring to the piece I’d posted about a break-up.

“Don’t be silly,” I said. “You broke up with me when you were like 12, announcing that you’d never cuddle with me again, but reminding me that I still had your little brother.”

By the time I arrived at the back door and freed a hand to let myself in, I looked down to see my arms filled with flowers, and once inside, I picked up my phone without setting them down, to capture them in their gathered state before arranging them in a vase.

And that’s when I remembered the vegetables, and I ran out the front door to cover them in the dark, harvesting what I could see of the ripe cukes and tomatoes, unable to locate what remained of the basil.

Once back inside, I set to arranging the flowers but instead of tidily dividing them among the rooms of the house to make the most efficient use of joy, I stuffed them all into the largest vase and placed it at the center of our home, on the large round kitchen table, which we never quite filled as a family of four except when we had company, and where my mother’s tarot cards sat waiting, having completed my son’s Autumnal Equinox reading just before he left to go back to school and now awaiting my own.

Just then a familiar sound piqued my attention; a sound I hadn’t heard since summer somewhere in between the boys’ August birthdays—and this is how the first day of autumn ended…

An empty house, a bright bouquet, the call of the fox (which may have just been the sound of the aging dishwasher, completing its cycle.)