Birthday Forecast: Snow (a poem for Teddy as he turns 19)

image

image

image

for your birthday we
went for a walk in the snow
under a white sky
shedding bits of Jonas
an inch every hour;

we went to see the
creek, beneath the ice,
and I slid down the embankment,
crouched under the bridge to
film the snowfall and sing
you a birthday message

the song was small and
filled with the sadness of
missing your face for the
first time in nineteen years—
the first time without you on
this anniversary of my becoming
a mother

your dad stood above on
the street in his fluorescent
orange tuque; he said I sounded
like Marilyn singing to
JFK, and isn’t that a little
creepy? to send to our son?

so instead of sending you
a song, I closed out the video,
let melting snowflakes pool
in droplets on my camera like
prayer beads made of light;

every word spoken began as a
picture; each click of the
shutter sighs,
I love you; I miss you;
I’m so glad you were born

Black Crow (For Jeffrey on His Seventeenth Birthday)

image

“You’ll never be sixteen
again,” I said, words misting
like white doves in the air.

I don’t remember
what the weather was like
on the day you were born.
this morning, it snows—
tiny, frail flakes, drifting

I drive away, you still
sleeping

it’s hard to know when
a boy becomes a man,
switching out smooth stones
in his pocket for car keys.
you used to leave the kitchen
table smelling of syrup and
milk; now you enter the day
clean-shaven, all soap
and mint

what do you remember
of the days gone? Do you
recall when a maple seed
held all the world in its
wingspan? when a pine
cone was the grandest prize?
a flat of frozen creek, hoisted
your victory dance? the
trophies you seek now
I can’t hold in my hand.

one black crow in the parking
lot when I arrive. he pushes down
on the air with wings longer
than his body, languid in his
escape.

“where will you go?”
I ask with my white-bird
words.

Image by Dennis. Sourced via Flickr.

31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest: Halloween Ghosts

IMG_7757

IMG_7763

This morning I am awakened by the sounds of the shower from down the hall. Little Jeffrey is up early to report to the high school so the whole retinue can get on the road for another band competition. I’m tired from a late night of working the hot chocolate station for the band concessions during the football game. My arm is sore from the flu shot I got on Thursday, and I slept fitfully for some reason, dreaming of milk and puppies. It’s still dark outside, but I get up to make the boy a good breakfast—he’ll be gone all day and into the evening.

The bacon sizzles and I flip his favorite pancakes while he studies who-knows-what on his phone screen. He feels so far away lately, coming and going like a ghost, moving in and out of the house on my peripheries. I study him studying the screen and I am seized with that feeling again, that terrible sadness that comes with being left behind.

I know the almost-empty is meant to prepare me for the empty-empty but sometimes my heart refuses to budge. The earth is filled with longing and preparation for a sleep that gives new life but my roots long for the sun.

The boys and I have kept this tradition. Every year, before Halloween, we dig out their old radio flyer and march up the sidewalk a mile or so to the Halfway Market. There, we tap on and inspect every pumpkin before making our picks. One for Ted, one for Jeffy, and a small one for the resident dog. Then we trudge back home with our loaded wagon and proudly place said pumpkins on the porch until carving time. This year, with Teddy gone and Jeffrey ghosting in and out of the house constantly, their dad and I picked out two plump pumpkins at Kroger when we were grocery shopping one day. No pomp. No circumstance. We barely got the things carved in time for trick-or-treat.

Last week, I realized it would be the first Halloween with no Ted. So I sent him a care package with some Halloween goodies—a collection of light-up necklaces and glow-in-the-dark stuff to share with his friends. I wondered as I bought the trinkets if it was a waste of money. Surely he will think his mother has lost her mind. “Now if you go out haunting late at night, at least you’ll be visible in the dark,” I wrote, in the Happy Halloween card enclosed. Before I left for the game last night, he texted to tell me to check Facebook for a picture of him and a couple friends sporting some of the “stuff.” “I shared the stuff,” he said. “Some people said nice things about you for sending them.”

It made me smile but I still missed him.

On trick-or-treat night, after all the ghosts and goblins were back inside with bags full of candy, Jeff and I sat outside under the stars a little bit longer. As we sat with Bon, the little girl from across the street skipped over to visit with us for a moment. She had doffed her Cleopatra costume but still wore the remnants of her Egyptian makeup. “I went to every house,” she bragged. And we exclaimed over her fortitude, making much over the huge amounts of candy she amassed. This little sprite always fills my heart and I must fight the urge to scoop her up, pepper her white brow with little kisses. But I realize this would be beneath her. She is, after all, a world champion trick-or-treater.

So I just smile and memorize the curve of her face in the moonlight and sigh as I think how it was only yesterday my boys were small and their short legs were challenged to walk these streets with their pumpkin-shaped buckets full of candy.

And this morning, I make Jeffrey pancakes. And sit with him while he eats, showing him the little watercolor vignettes I’m working on for some friends, reading to him from my bird field guide all the particulars about the blue-gray gnatcatcher.

Before he leaves, he bends over me to hug me tight and kiss me on the cheek.

“I love you, mama,” he says. And then he ghosts away.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series.  I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here. Don’t forget to stop by this post for a chance to win some signed copies of S.D. Smith’s children’s books. And stop by this post for a chance to win The Girlfriend’s Short Stack. 

Almost Empty

A Table that Reaches Across the Miles

IMG_7022

The text came just a week and a half after we drove the winding four hours to leave our eldest to his first year of college.

Will you mail my flip-flops?

I was laying the place settings for dinner, still painfully aware of his empty chair, heart tender from all that elbowroom around the table. I finished placing the silverware on the napkins—forks on the left and knives on the right—and then I sat down with my phone. In his chair.

Sure, I typed. I’ll send them out tomorrow.

Thanks, mom, he replied. And then, silence. A silence heavy with all those miles between us, his empty chair at the table, the closed door to his bedroom upstairs.

The chicken was crisping in the oven and I imagined his feet, languishing in leather sneakers as the last hot days of summer lingered.

Why didn’t we pack his flip-flops?

I’m over at Grace Table today, sharing a story about the hospitality of parenthood. And it includes my pepperoni roll recipe! Will you join me over there? Thanks a million!

::

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series. I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here. Only a couple days left to leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a cool giveaway!

Almost Empty

31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest: Two Natures

IMG_7682

IMG_7686

IMG_7688

IMG_7723

The milkweed pods have rent their hearts wide open, spilling feather-soft seeds into the wind. Everywhere we walk they hover in our midst—silky filament-clad aviators. Bonnie tries to catch them, taking great bounding leaps and biting at the air. But the more she chases, the more she disturbs the invisible current and the higher the seed cluster lifts into the sky. The milkweed seed is surrounded by a crown of silky hairs that act as miniature parachutes when the wind gives flight. These soft halos allow the wind to carry the seed as far or as close as it will. We stand, earth-bound, and watch it drift away.

When we were kids, we would break open the pods and strip the milkweed of her silk. We would stroke the soft tendrils and use them to decorate our mud pies and cakes. I know that if every seed found purchase, we would be overrun by milkweed, which can be invasive. Still, my heart smiles at the thought of the forgotten milkweed seed, growing up out of my mud pie. Perhaps the Monarchs would be happy at this too.

The milkweed is in the genus Asclepias, named after the Greek god of healing. It was named thus because of the many folk remedies it is party to, but as I watch the seed drift higher, I feel a different kind of healing in my spirit. I want to learn from the milkweed seed. How to be so light? How to be lifted by the wind? It’s not in my nature to give myself away like this.

In rest and flight, the milkweed is a thing of wonder. The way the seeds are lined up in neat rows when they are within the pod—like the feathers of a bird—reminds me of the beauty and order that can be found in nature. But when the pod ruptures and the seeds are given to the wind, I am taken by the wild unpredictability.

These two natures—order and unpredictability—have been at war inside of me too during this season. In the almost-empty nest, I have struggled against the urge to hold on—not only to my children and the old ways, but to being at the center of their lives. The more I chase this drifting crown, the further it lifts away from me. Every day is different than the next. I want to grab the rent open heart of my pod and pull its leathery sides together—contain these seeds that cling rakishly by one thin strand—waiting for that devil wind.

But when the wind breaks its thin hold and carries it soundlessly heavenward, the beauty of this sudden abandonment creates tightness in my throat and I know this is the way it is supposed to be.

I must hold hands with wildness and order and let the drifting seeds gather light the way a dewdrop does in the morning.

To listen to this story, scroll all the way to bottom of the page for the audio recording. And forgive my raspy voice? I’m still recovering from this cold. 

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series. I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here. Don’t forget to leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a cool giveaway.

Almost Empty