Leave Me Alone, age 12

The empty roller bag twists to one side bucking like a resistant toddler demanding a mindful yank to settle it back on two wheels. With one final leg remaining before my return to the comforts of home, I search between the gates for a fresh salad. I haven’t flown in two years and wouldn’t have today, except I had an errand 1200 miles away, a delivery and same day turn around.

American airports reek of coffee, burgers, tacos, cinnamon buns and a stale swirl of garlic from dark corners where crowds gather drinking beers and eating pizza. Upscale dives in small airports, named Joe’s or Mama Mia’s, serve mounds of spaghetti with mixed frozen carrots and peas. Rolling past a restroom where sweaty passengers like walking zombies gulp artificially conditioned air with a twist of hand sanitizer, everyone moves fast here as if late for a flight or in the same race for last overhead slot.

Unable to slip out flow of the crowd to visit the only place with green salads and made to order sandwiches, I twist around, flip a U-turn. Then plopping into a booth seat, my bag seated next to me, I reel, feeling woozy. I haven’t eaten since last night and left the house at 3 am this morning. Maybe I’ll order breakfast, though it’s two in the afternoon. Under the table I drop my shoes onto the sticky floor. My imagination animates the linoleum with hundreds of thousands of germs, spiky Covid balls, so I hover my bare feet until my legs rebel then drop them on top my shoes.

I wonder what my little wildcat is doing? Hope she’s eaten by now. Low blood sugar doesn’t sit well on her. No longer my worry. Let it go. I exhale, channeling the wisdom of a 50-year friend and advisor, “Let her go. They’ll work this out on their own. You did the right thing.”

Did I? No one can know that. This very same friend didn’t want me to rescue my granddaughter as a toddler eleven years ago. Told me to let the system do what its good at, saving children, supporting and strengthening families. In this case, it was my family and I knew better. This family didn’t have it in them, no bones or muscle to build upon, nothing to strengthen. The baby’s father is my oldest and least capable son, and at the time, the baby’s mother was addicted to pain meds. No other family members stepped up. I was it. That’s what I told myself and told my sons, my husband, social services, the lawyer and later, told the child, my granddaughter. She called me Grand-mama, and I called her my little wildcat.

I retired from college teaching to become her mother.  To become a healthy, productive and loving adult, like every child needs, a consistent, loving adult, dedicated and adoring. What if the loving adult is consistent and loving but has issues? Like being abandoned shortly after my own birth by my mother? Yep, we’re two insufficiently attached human beings, working to connect, in spite of  having two bottomless pits of unmet need. By licking her wounds might I heal my own?  That’s what I hoped.

A couple of years later when she was three, postmenopausal for at least five years, I had a full-on menstrual cycle. My doctor laughed, “Incredible.” “One for the books!” “Not surprising at all.” To me it was. I thought I had cancer. “You are nurturing a child. She has your hormones behaving like hormones after childbirth.” We called it our intense bonding experience. When she was six years old, we’d reached our developmental toddlerhood. We behaved like any mother and toddler with daily meltdowns. “No, no, no! Mine!” And that was me! But, seriously, she had meltdowns, too, huge ones and in public, no shyness or pride in that little wildcat, she’d scratch, scream, kick and twist about on the ground after a checker took her apple to weigh it. Then she tossed it across the room after it was handed back. Tantrums look dangerous on a six year old. Healing can re-open wounds. It was loud and bloody and I hated myself for hating her. Not her, her behavior, inappropriately immature at six. But, by then we were all-in, there was no turning back.

What had I done to deserve this? I never asked myself this question, because I’d stepped up, volunteered. I did what good people do, take care of their own. Counseling sessions, swim lessons, daily bike rides, never strapped into a child seat, but zipping along behind me on a scooter or a pedal-less strider bike until she flew past me, then refused to wait for me to catch up. That’s how we remained, her dashing past, never allowing me catch her. She’d noticed I grew slower as I grew older and as she grew older she became a speed demon, a show-off. Whether on a bike, on the water, running, walking or playing cards and at meals, she had to win. My wildcat had to show me how fast she could eat those noodles then how ruthlessly she’d toss the plate in the sink breaking every glass and bowl in the stack. But, most importantly she needed me to stay in the race. I was her person, and her designated loser.

Now, at age 12 and looking more like a woman everyday, she’s winning the race on breast size, hair texture and quality, gorgeousness of skin with feet growing faster than a golden retriever puppy’s. Starting middle school meant leaving our small rural school after nine years with the same kids since preschool to attend a big school with more children she doesn’t know than does. She had a handful of friends in our local school, but some moved others attend a different middle school. Intent on becoming someone new, mountain kids stopped talking to one another. Her version is that she is invisible and no one cares about her anymore. Isolation and disconnection is a common lament for insufficiently attached children. But she was also bucking for change, new social groups and for kids who shared her interests. I watched as she tucked her wildness away, as she grew disinterested in bike riding, running and swimming. She exchanged activity for closing down behaviors like shyness, hesitancy and victimhood.

In woodshop, the class she was so eager to begin that she practiced with tools at home, she begged for help on every assignment. Yet at home she used a belt sander, drill press, chop saw and band saw with confidence She re-built a wagon with wooden sides, a stool and little table. She’d arrived at some kind of crisis point, newly defined herself helpless and frightened and incapable. And with me she hit a barrier, an “I cannot take this anymore” stance. Out of the blue, she screamed, “You always have kept me from my real mother!”

I knew she hated me when she screamed, “I hate you.” Though, she’d said that hundreds of times, but when followed by violent and an outrageous trashing of photo albums, special toys, her doggie bed lamp and tossing her stuffed animals in the trash, I listened with new ears. She cut up her clothes and pulled childhood art off the walls. Maybe this how a wildcat does a hormone-infused developmental shift.  

She hadn’t seen her mother since she was three years old for an hour visit on her driveway. Of course, I expected it would come up one day and now she’s all she’ll talk about. Revisiting her longing, her incompleteness in regular intervals, she re-stimulates my own deep seeded loss from way back. This time is different, more serious for both of us. Am I keeping her from her mother? Like a kidnapper? “You can’t really want to leave our home, me and your family to live with a mother you don’t know.” “Yes,” she said, “I do.”

She doesn’t know you either, I thought, but didn’t say. It turns out that her mother was waiting, hoping this day would come.  She’d imagined this scene, “I’ll have my baby in my arms again.” She cried for joy at the thought. I imagined it differently.

Several states away, in a mobile home, 1200 miles from my granddaughter’s always- home, her mother lives alone and works nights as a dispatcher. “It’s time we get to know one another,” her small image nods on Facetime. “Please, Grandma,” they both begged.

I lived with my great aunt until I was five when my mother married and took me back. We moved 400 miles away and I didn’t see the person I’d believed to be my mother, actually my great aunt, except at Christmas and Easter. I didn’t remember living her for five years. Be it trauma or the workings of the mind of a young child, I lost those years. Though in photo albums I saw the three of us around the Christmas tree, riding my first tricycle and in visits from family that included my young birthmother. It wasn’t until age 30 that I got the whole story from my maternal grandmother. How could I not have known? Yet, there was a re-occurring nightmare of me slapping a hollow blue door, screaming, “Let me out” until I collapsed. Many of the puzzle pieces of my early life are still missing and I suppose I suffer some emotional wounds. The trauma of losing a mother as an infant, then losing her substitute at age five, is likely well-researched cause for concern. I have read about the trauma of loss and the disorders associated with insecure, insufficient and lack of attachment. They are better understood now than they were during my childhood. My family in the fifties wouldn’t have taken anything seriously enough to send me off to counseling. But, I’m okay. I survived my mother’s multiple marriages and divorces, violence, abuse, neglect and survived my working class upbringing. It’s likely that my mother and I never forged an attached familial bond, but she remains a consistent figure in my life, gave me a sister and two brothers and today, in her nineties, lives a few miles from my home. Growing up I may have handled life’s challenges less capably than well-adjusted friends, but I learned by watching, listening and storytelling, also called misrepresenting, lying and sneaky misbehavior.

I loved school and got my first job at age 12. I was determined to be independent, to make it on my own one day and not have a baby before 30. Then life being what happens while you’re off making plans, during college at age 19, I got pregnant. But, with no hesitancy and a clear sense of the future, I had and abortion, and did not become a parent until years later, at age 30, when I deemed myself ready.

My 12-year-old granddaughter has a chance. She has a chance to re-connect with the mother she lost, to sufficiently attach. There’s no guarantee, of course that either of them are up to the task that my mother and I managed to avoid. But, I have a husband, two sons and had a long and fulfilling career as a teacher. I am healthy, well and mostly just fine. My mother and I didn’t find the glue to cement our broken bond. My granddaughter and her mother may not either. But staying, hanging in there, counts. Being there through meltdowns, fights, challenging behavior, lies, tears, fears and confusions bonds us to those who stick around, stand up for us from time to time. Of course, not everything goes as well as we hope or have planned, especially when it comes to our expectations of others. Traits associated with executive function, self-regulation, resilience and self-awareness can lead to confidence and wholeness.

I flip over in bed, reposition my pillow and sleep fitfully for days after I left my wildcat with her mother. I feel as empty as the roller bag I returned home with, the one that once bulged with my big-girl wildcat’s softest and warmest bedding, books, drawing materials, a supply of vitamins and boxes of favorite snacks. She packed her own bag with clothes that currently fit, a few in the next sizes and new warm boots, gloves and a beanie. She’s visited snow but never lived in it. Now it’s time for both of us to practice letting go. I imagine her doing it more readily than I do.

As I shove the empty roller bag, now a huge wrinkled prune, into the closet, I remember a surprise I tucked deep inside, marked “Do not open until your first period,” a kit supplied with hygiene necessaries, samples and choices, a few special pairs of panties like old fashioned toddler training pants, a book about periods, suggestions for celebrations and rituals to do with Mom and girlfriends and a party kit with whistles and streamers to welcome her to womanhood. I’d been ready for this event, her significant moment and imagined sharing it with her since shortly after that day at 15 months old when I sang and rocked her to sleep after she cried herself into a puddle at the patio doors the day her mother left.

I generously offer this this small gift to her reclaimed mother, a special moment to share with our Wildcat as she manifests the Lioness that must surely dwell within. Best to you, Wildcat and your mother.

The Crow

tilt shift photography of birds
Crow nest hidden in forest

There he is again, on the same place in the road that runs through the forest. That crow, feet stepping in place, wings jerking open and closed, picking at an imaginary acorn, a speck in the road grasping then dropping it. Is it a small piece of gravel falling from its beak? He’s wooing passers by (human or other animals) with a treasure, “ Look here. Feast your eyes on this.” For the last two weeks he’s there displaying one tiny object or another, looking in my car window as I watch him. He directs my attention to a spot on the ground or, rather redirects my attention away from something else. He pretends, faking his own interest in an imaginary object, an actor on the asphalt stage. Because he’s there, pecking at nothing, I wonder, what he’s hiding. Where his nest is located. Is his mate sitting on eggs in the oaks there above the road? But, I won’t stop to investigate. I’ll allow him his bait and switch, let it succeed. I drive off every time, as if I fallen for his ruse. I don’t like to eat crow. Okay. Sorry.

Something about that crow resonates. We all pretend. Smile to mask a rough patch, spoke over a friend in class who is about to tell the teacher about a schoolyard misdeed, push a cool washcloth over a hot forehead and get a child to guzzle a cold drink on the way to preschool. A fever? Not today, please, I have an important client. Sometimes pretending covers for what’s real, lies close to an untruth. Is one. BUT, Sometimes pretending masks not yet knowing, covering for ignorance.

As a writer of a true story, my own true story, a story only as true as I reveal, I sometimes mask the truth. I divert the reader, either intentionally or because I may not yet fully understand the truth of a scene myself. Writing and revising, even after several drafts, continues to include diversions, doubts, hidden information, hesitancy and more discovery. Some of these are part of the character’s arc, as the character develops, scene by scene. She grows, transforms, behaves with new insight. But some places in my piece, in my manuscript, unable to hear my own story or read my own heart, I resort to self-deprecation when I, as the writer, am as befuddled as the character was at the time. Impatient with my own incapability. The writer must become wiser than the protagonist in a memoir. The writer of a novel must hold the wisdom of the story and characters, too. Discoveries are part of both. We must understand human nature, motivation, misbehavior and character innuendo and behaviors to demonstrate a character’s flaws, our own flaws. We write our own story as if we are not yet wiser and share a journey to gain some kernels of wisdom. We best offer ourselves compassion, tenderness and appreciation as we hold our own hand through the hard parts of a story. Love ourselves and let the reader in on that love. It is hard for me forgive myself and work my way through some of the hard places.

My Beta Readers, a few selected people who agreed to read this draft and offer feedback on the current version of my story, Fallen From the Nest, 25 chapters 350 pages, have been invaluable in nudging me to consider a few shared issues. Among them was that I lessen the incidences of self-deprecation, leaving self doubt as a motivator for discovery, when overwhelmed and confused, but to love for this struggling grandmother as she settles into her role with her grandchildren and her troubling son. Tell the story with more self-kindness and generosity, love her more. How can I be compassionate with myself when I made so many mistakes? Bad choices? One thing I know is that I’d  be kinder to others in this situation, more generous and understanding. This is where I begin the next revision, wrapped in tenderness for that old me as  a friend. Back I go into the weeds of words and ideas I planted on my own, scythe in one hand and a soft pillow and shawl in the other, a pot of tea for our journey.

Shall I enjoy myself, with laughter, puns, jokes and silliness? Might that help the reader want to spend time with me, like me more, enjoy hanging out? I’ll have to tease the reader, a little bait and switch on the crow’s road, the same one where my story begins. How can I make the reader care for a woman who kidnaps her grandson? To protect her son from losing another child or to protect her own professional reputation. It was never about my reputation. My beak plucks a tiny stone from the road, tells you its delicious, to try some as I sneak back home to revisit myself and write what I discover.

Send love and understanding my way as I dig a little deeper, tease out a thread of tenderness and weave it in and around softening, opening my heart throughout the manuscript. Nancy

black bird
Crow on the road


The Balm of Feet in Dirt

Wyoming…a beautiful river at the base of mountain. Going this summer.
Meditative moment in a field of lupines

“The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.” – John Muir

This day, I will glide and sing. Want to join me?  The natural world has power, more than all of us. We step outside and there it is, go a little further, off the sidewalk, step onto a dirt path, a trail, the air changes, you change,  warmed by a planet beneath our feet, spinning round in the universe. The moment we shed the coat of the heated room, unfold from chair and screen, leave managing food, home and swiping everything clean, we are transformed. One last swipe at the dust thick on pottery once made by hand. Yes, long ago we put our hands to clay, slapped it free of bubbles and shaped it, fell into its trance, immersed our very being, became “one” with a gluey glob of earth, all hands and sensation- lost ourselves in the creative moment. Remember, losing yourself in clay, paint, poetry and dance? Or were those the very moments we found ourselves? Another high school shooter. Oh, once again our world in pain, self-inflicted, salty tears overfill our growing oceans. Head outdoors to unburden. Fresh sensation: birdsong, trickling water, wind in trees, feet on chilly earth, soft, hard or rocky heals. The smells of the moist earth are familiar, comfort, reassure. They are our scent, too as we are of her. Discover duff beneath the trees- ancient layers, trod for centuries by wholehearted wanderers like ourselves. Foragers, renegades, seekers who dared to wonder. Witness the wood rat build her dome of sticks, a bird carry a ridiculously long twig for its nest- watch as she weaves it with intuition and skill. A snake slithers to a stop on the trail risking its very life for a spot of sun. Outdoors we risk discomfort, grow tender with sensation. Commit to the experience. Let all else fall away, step out and keep walking, jog if you can. Feel your way touching bark, crunch leaves, grasp soft or prickly needles, furry leaves and granite boulders. Feel a vibration, a tumbling rage of something beyond. Wonder, seek and praise moments of beauty, notice what elicits joy, live for those moments, they fortify us, strengthen us as we will face, once again, what smolders in wait. We return with renewed presence and grace, clap our soiled shoes together and set them side by side like always. Head back inside renewed and connected.  As a child I was pushed out the door, with the slam of the screen, freed to roam, giving no thought to what my mother did while I was “out of her hair.” Today, after jogging up the roads, biking on rooted bumpy trails have left me in the dust, I walk. Walk and walk and walk. I move more slowly, but see more as the right knee creaks to limber, the left heel throbs, shoulders soften. In a grand outdoor amphitheater, a hawk opens the melody, calls our attention with an ominous whistle above the trees, a chorus of jays squabble in the oaks, ragged, a falling scramble of rocks and listen, its our own footsteps, 3:4 time percussive beat. This morning’s grand composition. On chilly wet days, misty mornings and warming afternoons our feet tap past familiar trees, narrow animal trails and tunnels through brush. We greet a bird, another, that squirrel, then there in the pasture, the same small herd of deer, a sprout of furred antlers, nubs sparkling with mist. Our neighbors. Now they stand and watch, casually bend to nibble grass.We are known.  Thank you to mothers who send their children out the door and slam the screen behind them. “Each step we take keeps our planet spinning. Seek her wisdom. Share yours. Walk slowly and tread softly.” Nancy Congratulations to Anna Shaw for winning my April sign-up contest. Your copy of @52 Reasons for Hope by Cathy Krizik is in the mail. 
Our hands in clay, our hands in sand, mud, water, our hands