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.