Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Three Sizes Too Big

Hawks have nested in our trees, and each morning when I sit out with my coffee on our deck I hear their insistent screeching. I gather that I am supposed to find these birds of prey majestic, broad of wing, cutting clean, graceful swaths through the hot July sky, but I do not. I find them ugly, heads too small for their bodies, and they always seem to be fighting with each other, for dominance, I presume.

And this, their real offense: killing all the pretty songbirds who used to visit us until I begged my husband to stop refilling their feeders, because we were only accelerating the killing time of the rapacious hawks. He gave me a look (he often does), as if to remind me that nature was never once kind, that the ecosystem abides by the law of big preying on small, which I know (I am not stupid). My heart, however, is stupid.

"Have you found dead birds?" I asked him the other week.

"Oh, yes," he returned, rather too cheerfully for my taste. "One every other day or so."


I have been most consistent in my life about rooting for the underdog. Even as a very small child my brain would undergo contortions so as not to leave anyone or anything out. I rotated through my dolls so that none would go unnoticed. I ate everything on my plate so that no food group would feel left out. My mother derived great mirth for years over my worrying about the peas on my plate. "No pea left behind!" she'd chortle, and when she did I'd wince, and remember anew that her heart, while adequately serving its purpose of beating her through life, had not grown three sizes that day, or any day. Which was not a bad thing, to my mind: I would have preferred to possess a more regular heart.

I used to wonder if my sensitivity to tiny details would preclude focus on what really mattered, but now I do not. As it turns out, there's room enough to care about everything.

Times like these cause me real pain. This summer has been an awful one, the ascent of Trump beyond all reason, the racism in my country that has heated up along with the weather to a fine, sharp point, the needless deaths of black men and police officers (all races) alike. I feel powerless to fix what's wrong; I'm not even sure where we'd start.

Hell, I can't even fix what's wrong in my own back yard. I'd banish the hawks if I could. There's a hornets' nest growing under one eave of our garage. Some local beekeepers will remove it, but only when the nest has grown large enough (volleyball-sized) to allow them to take useful numbers of hornets. Each day I check the size of the nest, and frown. It is still baseball-sized. My husband has been stung once: will my children be stung? 

I sip my coffee, listen to the whine of the hawks, glance over at the empty birdfeeders, no nuthatches or cardinals in sight, and not for the first time I curse my stupid heart.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Late July Haiku

On breezes sheets sail
Bound for the crescent moon, bound
By their clothespin jail.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Packing List

I stare at the list, which is absurdly long. I did not bring half of these items when I started college. Is the list ridiculous, or sensible? I don't know the right person to ask, and anyway, I would feel embarrassed requesting assistance in figuring out something so trivial. I have worried the page by creasing it back and forth: folding it down, unfolding it, folding it down again.

All I know is that I do not want to do this. By this I mean think about what to buy and how to help my son pack for college. Or maybe I mean let my son go. I liked how things were at our house. I enjoyed parenting two teenagers. I know!


I've been thinking about what makes a good life. Is it doing no harm, or it is more than that? Is it sharing the best part of yourself with other people so that you can leave the world a bit better than it was when you arrived on the scene? With the graduation of my older child from high school has come, daily, the panicky breathless feeling that accompanies your stomach dropping out when you are surprised by a quick descent on a roller coaster, or on a plane. The loss of an identity that has shouldered the past eighteen years. (Yes, I know I have another child. Truly, I have not forgotten him.)

Perhaps more than others I have needed this identity, because for the longest time my life's ambition was to reverse my own childhood, to make it right, as it were, by showing myself that despite not being properly parented I could be a proper parent. Despite.

Being faced with the slow leak of the role that may have saved my life has left me unmoored, at the very least, and, yes, sad. No matter how much I want my son to fly away on sure and steady wings, I cannot deny this profound sadness its space. Nor can I deny the insistent whisper at my ear: "What next?"


The anxiety around the packing list is only a mask for the real question, that "What next?" My son will start college, and if we have forgotten something, I'm quite sure that he will let us know. As we live two or three miles from his freshman dorm, it will be no hardship to get him whatever we missed on move-in day.

But still I sit, folding this paper, making it smaller and smaller, willing it to disappear.