The River Runs Quickly

It’s 2:00 in the afternoon and Little Foot and I are sitting on the back patio – he in his Little Tikes swing and I on a patio chair. All is hauntingly quiet outside but for the light panting of Thing One and Thing Two sprawled out on the cool concrete below us and the sporadic rustling of leaves under the rosebushes from the chickens scratching for bugs. Every few seconds they chatter.

I have mentioned before that Little Foot is a baby who thrives outdoors. Right now, in his swing, he’s got one foot dangling and relaxed while the other foot’s toes, slow and steady, fan open and then curl shut…and then open and then curl. Over and over he does this: open and curl, open and curl. What is he processing? What rhythmic thoughts are ebbing and flowing through the uncharted shores of his mind? Open and curl, open and curl.

His mouth is pinched shut and his eyes are scanning the clouds. He doesn’t blink. His tiny hands are gripping the rounded, plastic edges of his swing that is only barely swaying back and forth. They’re not gripping tightly enough to make his knuckles white, instead, I imagine they’re just tight enough to make him feel secure. His toes are still going: open and curl, open and curl.

I sit back in my chair and stare in the same direction as Little Foot. The clouds are a wool blanket of bland, light gray, and it’s hard to tell if they’re drifting. They must be, because their dimension changes from ash to steel to white-ish to cement. The change is so gradual, however, that I can’t tell how they’re moving. They just are.

I look back at Little Foot and my movement must have caught his attention because he snaps his gaze in my direction.

“Well hi,” I say locking eyes with him.

He watches my eyes for a second before shifting his gaze to my forehead and then to my chin and then back up to my eyes. He smirks – the kind where the mouth just sort of tenses up but the eyes change. I think this is what they mean when they say, “his or her eyes light up.” They do this thing – this shift that’s barely a shift but a shift nonetheless – into happiness. Lighting up? Not really. More like, seeing the space in joyous reciprocity. Letting love in and letting love out. A happiness exchange via subtle smirk. “I see you and I know you see me – and here, I am happy.”

We hold this wordless conversation for a few more seconds before Little Foot turns back to the clouds. His foot, the same one, falls back into step: open and curl, open and curl.

There are literally one thousand other things I could be (and should be) doing right now. I’m imagining my endless to-do list. I’ve had a load of damp laundry in the washing machine for two days that I’ll need to rewash before moving to the dryer. Since the weekend, there’s been a pot soaking in the kitchen sink with barbeque sauce stuck to its edges that I just keep refilling with new, soapy water. I keep forgetting feta cheese at the grocery store. Where is my phone? Ugh, my phone. I sometimes wish I didn’t have one. It’s like having someone constantly knocking at your door. All day that thing goes off. And all day I think about it. I am stressed about how many text messages, emails, facebook messages and so on and I haven’t responded to yet. But I’m also a stressed because I don’t know where it is right now and what if I’ve missed something?

I’m tumbling down the deepening pit of procrastination I am continually creating when I realize that I’m quite warm. I’m warm because the clouds have completely disappeared and the sun is performing its afternoon beat down once again. When did this happen? I look at Little Foot and he’s watching the chickens that have emerged from beneath the shrubbery and are pecking through the dry grass.

I missed it. I missed the transition from cool clouds to sizzling sun. I missed whatever it was that coaxed the chickens into the yard. I didn’t even notice that Thing One and Thing Two had moved – their panting ceased. Even the quiet has stopped – there are several cicadas calling to one another across the tree tops and the A/C unit on the side of our house is up and humming.

This backyard scene has completely changed from strangely silent to busy sounds and I don’t know how we got here. I missed it all. I want to ask Little Foot to tell me because there he sits, observing absolutely everything. Processing. Right-clicking and saving into some folder of his subconscious. I am in awe of his absorbing and unshakeable focus. Open and curl, open and curl.

In my internal dialogue of “should of, would of, could of done this, that, and the other,” and my apprehension that I might miss something going on in cyber space, I missed an entire shift in the world around me all while my eyes were wide open.

That’s something about parenthood that I am discovering – how much I don’t want to miss a thing. Everyone keeps telling me that it goes by so quickly – and they’re right, it does. It’s exciting but also quite scary. It’s alarming how quickly the coolness from the clouds can be burnt off and destroyed by the unrelenting sun and how some might not even notice that.

A.A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh) has a great quote: “Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.” And it’s true. There’s no reason to try and rush everything – to be the fastest, the funniest, the most popular, the most successful. We’re all on our own paths, making our way somewhere. Rushing through it all isn’t going to do any good. All it’s going to do is cause you to miss the scenery along the way.

As for Little Foot and me, I think we’re going to spend a little bit more time outside and unplugged. I want to see the sky the way Little Foot does. I want for both of us to see every flower and critter and puddle that we pass along the way and I want to hear his questions and comments because sooner rather than later, he’ll be on his own path. He’ll be floating down his own river and I want him to have the best, most scenic and beautiful journey.

Gray clouds creep once more across the sky, blocking the deep heat. I pull Little Foot out of his swing and prop him on my hip. I call for the dogs and we wander out beyond our backyard and onto the back parts of our property. Bunny and Tee greet us with snorts and tail flicks. All of us, this motley crew of mom, baby, big donkey, little donkey, Thing One, Thing Two, and a few eager chickens pace around together from plant, to flower, to tree, to barrel, just to observe. I can’t wait for Little Foot to start asking me questions about them. But then again, I don’t want this moment to end. We’ll get there someday.

Let It Be, Sway With Me

It is indeed the donkey days of summer here at the ranch. Our grass is a mix of sage, green and crispy, fried onion and the once towering rosebushes that line our yard now look more like roasted cauliflower. The end of every road tempts us with a mirage of rippling water. Even the spiders have become lazy by foregoing their usual intricate burst of web to settling for an obnoxious strand or two here and there just faint enough to get caught on your arm or face as you walk by.

Moving into mid-August, we’re reaching a point of hopelessness as to whether or not there will be climatological relief any time soon. That’s all anyone can talk about – the unrelenting heat. I suppose that’s the silver lining: we can all find union and oneness inside our communal desperation for a cool front.

Little Foot is especially over the heat. He’s a baby who loves to be outside. He’s so infatuated with the outdoors that if we go near our back door and he catches a glimpse of the sun and we don’t walk out onto the driveway, he throws a fit. Combine this with the fact that his first molars are beginning to break ground and he’s developed a bit of a separation anxiety when I’m not right by him, and – voila! He has become the most adorable ticking time bomb who can go from zero to velociraptor in a flash.

It’s 6:00 in the evening and King Ranch has just come home from work. I know this because the rusty wheel on the gate squeals, the donkeys bray, and the dogs bark. I am normally ranch-life-romanced by this domino effect of homecoming alarms, but on this day, my cup of sounds runneth over with a red hot lava of impatience and despair. Little Foot has been testing out his skills as the lead singer for a baby screamo band for much of the last several days with periods of happiness in between; usually when he’s managed to crawl to the things in the house that could be dangerous to him – i.e. the 7 foot tall bookshelf that my panic-knee-jerk-reaction-flip-book-of-dire-consequences has shown me will topple onto him the second I turn my head.

King Ranch enters the living room where I am holding a furious and flailing Little Foot and upon making eye contact with him, tears begin to well up in my eyes. He drops his keys on the table, scoops up Little Foot, and heads back to the nursery singing “You are my Sunshine.”

I begin to weep.

Unsure of what to do, I slip on my shoes and head out into the pasture.

I am worried about Little Foot and why he has recently become so inconsolable. I’ve been told it’s a phase. I’ve been told it’s growing pains. I’ve been told it’s his teeth. I’ve been told it’s separation anxiety. I’ve been told I should let him cry it out. I’ve been told I should give him medicine. I’ve been told I should be patient. I’ve been told I should go to the doctor. I’ve been told, I’ve been told, I’ve been told and all I have started to hear is that my gosh, I am a horrible mother.

My stomach is churning in upset and I’m crying uncontrollably when suddenly, Bunny is beside me. She snorts and presses her nose into my chest.

I rub the damp in my eyes away with the back of my index finger, much like Little Foot does when he’s sleepy, and place my hand in between Bunny’s ears, her mohawk between my fingers. She snorts again and rubs her nose against my elbow. Tee has wandered up and he leans his weight onto my left leg. I place my other hand on his back.

I’ve mentioned before that I like making eye contact with animals. I do this often with both of our donkeys and I think it’s made us more connected. But right now, Bunny is making eye contact with me – not the other way around. She’s moving her head in ways so that she can see into my eyes and it is overwhelming. I’ve never seen her eyes take this shape – as if she’s engaged some muscle in her face that has widened the middle part of her large, brown eyes and I swear, it makes her look concerned. No matter where I look, she snorts and moves her head so that she can see me.

I put my finger tips beneath her jaw bones and place my forehead against the space between her eyes and we hold this for some time. She is slightly swaying side to side and I start to sway with her. She is making me feel seen.

The gate clangs and I turn to see King Ranch and Little Foot coming out into the pasture. King Ranch is smiling at me and Little Foot’s bright blue eyes are marveling at the wisps of clouds turning pink from the sunset. Tee flicks his tail and trots to them. I turn back to Bunny who has backed up just a bit. She snorts.

Little Foot notices me and he smiles a crooked smirk.

“Hey there, little monkey,” I say as I walk towards my boys with open arms. Little Foot flails his hands and I embrace him. We sway for a moment, too, my cheek against his.

He’s happy right now. His little breath is calm…and calming. I tickle his ribs and he giggles an airy giggle.

We stay outside for some time, King Ranch, Little Foot and I, watching the sky turn purple. It is quiet but for the chatter of our chickens and the flicking flaps of various grass bugs. It doesn’t feel too hot out right now – it’s actually quite nice. Bunny and Tee graze nearby as we mostly look at the sky.

It’s times like these that I default into blame-and-fix. Find the blame and right the wrong. And right now, I’m feeling silly for being so upset. For losing my cool. And I’m feeling guilty for running out here to escape.

But really, there is no blame. There is no fix. There just is.

Little Foot is not sick. He is safe. He is healthy. He is just an ever evolving human suffering from the confusion over the newness of everything. He’s learning how to function. How to be. Indeed, this is a phase.

I am suddenly very aware of the unique ability to fully feel – whether that’s joy, excitement, and love, or fear, hopelessness, and pain. Feeling is what makes us alive. Sensitivity is what connects us to one another. And it’s okay to let feelings run their course sometimes. That’s what Little Foot is doing – learning feelings.

For reasons that are probably a combination of society and my own personal anxiety, I often feel like I must shut down negative feelings when they start to boil to the surface. I should be polite. I should just be happy.

But being happy isn’t as important as being honest. And in this moment, I’m concerned about Little Foot. I’m stressed about what to do. I’m confused about how to proceed. I’m feeling vulnerable because of societal scrutiny and this makes me upset. And I think it’s okay to feel those things. I don’t need to push them down.

I think that’s what Bunny was trying to show me – that it’s okay to be confused and sad. That in this stress and chaos and upset, there is nothing I am doing wrong. It’s merely a raw and vulnerable moment. If Little Foot were sick or in danger or suffering, that’d be a different story. But that’s not the case. He’s just learning and growing. There is nothing I can fix (or should fix) through some wave of a wand. It just is. Just sway with me. It’s okay.

After some time, we go back inside. Inevitably, Little Foot throws a fit as we try and get him to sleep, but he does eventually drift into slumber. I pat his little back and King Ranch puts his arm around my shoulders. We look at our sleeping boy and I am proud. He’s more incredible than I could have ever imagined, fussing or no.

Whatever this time of temper is about, it is okay, we will figure it out. On the ranch, there is unconditional love. Love when we’re happy, and love when we’re not. That’s all we need to do. Love. Accept. And let it be.

Coming Home

King Ranch, Little Foot, our two dogs, Thing One and Thing Two, and I have been on the road back home to the ranch for the past 5 hours after a quick weekend trip to Houston to visit my family. The drive isn’t a bad one, especially when you’ve got good company and good music. We’ve made this same drive several times beginning in the early afternoon and we always pull up to our house just before sunset. It didn’t take long for King Ranch and I to really feel like this – this venture onto long, two-way country roads with slow speeds and fields full of hay for sale – was coming home. The exits become less frequent and the cars turn mostly into old trucks and travelling big rigs – that’s when we know we’re close.

The sky is pink lemonade blanketed with silhouettes of trees as we drive along the final gravel-covered country road that leads to our ranch. We pull up to deep-pink crepe myrtles sprinkling tiny flower bits like snow-fall as the dog’s tails thump against the inside of the car because they know they’re home, too. King Ranch hops out of the passenger seat to open the gate.

The rattle and rusty screech from the small wheel on the gate scooting along the loose gravel of our driveway has become such a welcoming sound. Bunny must hear the squeak and rattle of our homecoming because she begins to bray way out in the pasture and shortly after, Tee screeches even more loudly. I pull into the driveway as the dog’s claws start scratching wildly in anticipation of being let out. In the rearview mirror, I see King Ranch. With my foot pressed down on the brake, I study his movement for a moment – his shoulder blades rounding as he uses his upper body to pull the gate shut. Not once does he stumble in the gravel. That’s something about King Ranch – he’s incredibly graceful. He’s a man who doesn’t do anything or move in anyway without purpose. He is a soft-spoken man, but a well-spoken one. In the same way he moves, he speaks – with purpose.

Thing One suddenly bursts with a bark and I snap back into the present, noticing my cheeks are warm. I shift the car into park and turn off the ignition, keys jingling. I love silencing the car after a long trip. It’s satisfying.

I step out of the car and dear god, what is that smell? It’s a wet, hot, heavy, and dense slap-you-in-the-face-smell. Black magic death burn from the bitter depths of hell!

“Honey?” I call to King Ranch, “Do you smell that?”

He doesn’t have to answer because his face says enough. I pull Little Foot out of the back seat and he is rubbing his eyes, not quite crying. We follow our noses around the driveway and the garage when suddenly, “Here’s the smell,” King Ranch says, standing in front of the chicken coop.

With our noses in our inner elbows, we see it – a pile of perfectly still, black feathers in the back corner of the coop.

“What happened?” I ask.

King Ranch shrugs with a concerned look and ducks into the coop as I wander around looking for the other chickens. One by one, they bounce out from the bushes making staccato, glottal sounds. So far, there are only 5 (remember, we had 7 chickens). Of the 5, one of them is missing most of the feathers on the back of her neck as if she’s been tossed around like a chew toy. Terror has happened here.

King Ranch climbs out of the coop with his arm over his nose and says, “I think it was attacked. It’s all torn up.”

The sky has turned a deep indigo as King Ranch opens the garage to retrieve a shovel. With Little Foot on my hip, I peek into the coop from a distance. The pile, from my stance, is a dark shadow of defeat. These are free-range chickens. They only go into the coop to eat. So I start to imagine and wonder why this chicken has died here.

Moments later, King Ranch uses a large shovel to remove the carcass from the coop. Feathers of all sizes slowly float off of her, leaving a soft, shimmering, black trail to her final resting place.

We’ve been here before, King Ranch and I. Several weeks ago, we lost our egg-laying chicken to a hit and run out on the road. We’re equipped now to deal with the death of a chicken. But I can’t get over the terrorization of our chickens by whatever it was that trespassed here while we were away.

I imagine that this deceased chicken crawled into the corner of the coop because that’s where she felt safe. She surrounded herself with warmth, familiarity, and coziness in hopes that it would make everything okay. It’s all she knew. She went home.

Don’t we all do this? Come home? Whether that’s to our physical home with a roof or rather a habitual and familiar state of mind – don’t we retreat to our safe spaces when we’re scared or hurting?

When I was a freshman in college, I was sitting in an auditorium-sized Intro to Psychology class with around 150 other students when the TA who was leading the lecture clicked to a slide in her slideshow that bullet-pointed behavioral examples of individuals with different types of anxiety disorders. I had not been paying too much attention when at some point she said something along the lines of, “living in constant fear over things that haven’t even happened” and I immediately became present to her commentary. She went on to describe the feelings of hopelessness that these individuals often experience as well as lack of concentration, unrealistic views of arbitrary problems, panic, trouble sleeping and all kinds of other symptoms that I felt she was reading right from my ingredients label.

I began to panic. And then questioned my panicking. And then panicked some more.

The room seemed so small, suddenly. And very hot. I gathered my books and bolted out of class. I think we still had somewhere around 30 minutes left.

As I stumbled along the cobblestone sidewalks feeling the sweat gathering between my forearms and book covers, I started to cry. And then I started to run. I felt like everyone I passed was watching me. I felt like they must have thought I was completely absurd. My cheeks were surely bright red from the combination of panic, crying, and embarrassment.

I started playing all kinds of scenes in my head. Asking questions like why I hadn’t retained any friendships? Why was I afraid to go to parties? Why did I think I was so ugly and unworthy?

I didn’t even go back to my dorm room. I went straight to my car. It was a black, 1991 Pontiac Grand Am and there were ants living in my dashboard so that when I blasted the A/C, ants would literally fly out of the vents.

I drove home. It was a little over an hour drive to my parent’s house, so the sun was setting when I showed up. Being a Thursday night with no prior plans, my mom was startled to see me walk through their front door.

“Jess, what are you -” she said.

“Can we talk?” I asked.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, standing up. “Are you okay?”

I began to cry. She hugged me. Tight.

I went home. It’s all I knew.

King Ranch comes back to the house with an empty shovel and sees me standing there with Little Foot in my arms and with tears in my eyes. He drops the shovel, wraps his arms around the both of us, and tells me it’s okay. I begin to weep.

I keep thinking of that chicken and imagining her desperately seeking shelter in the corner of the coop and I hope that once she got there, she did feel safe. I hope that being in that place is what made it okay to let go.

We all go inside and King Ranch pours me a glass of red wine and grabs himself a Miller Lite. Little Foot is crawling around on the floor, stopping every so often to chew on his finger. I start to imagine that this will be the place that Little Foot will come home to when he’s lost.

We are, after all, home. Here at the ranch, we’re home.