Ends and Beginnings

Dear Readers,

As is quite common at the end of the year, I find myself replaying all kinds of memories as I reflect on the past 12 months. I am imagining what life felt like a short year ago, what I’ve learned, what’s changed, and what could possibly be happening one year from today.

I think of last New Year’s Eve when Little Foot was a little week old. King Ranch and I were little week old parents with hardly a clue of what we were doing. My mother-in-law was in town as a week old grandmother learning for the first time what it’s like to hold your kid’s kid and how there wasn’t ever a love she’d felt like it. These week-old roles were all so new to each of us and the only way we navigated through it all was on the efficient resource of love and support. King Ranch must have hugged me more that week than he had in the years before. I must have kissed Little Foot a thousand times. King Ranch’s mom cried more than I’d ever seen. Tears and touch spoke louder than any words ever could.

I think of my best friend, the Unicorn. The smile that spread across her face the first time she met Little Foot was one I’d never seen. She’s always had a lovely Crest-worthy smile, but it was more pronounced and effortless as I placed Little Foot in her arms. She didn’t know what to say – much like the morning that Little Foot was born and I stumbled over some sounds, the Unicorn just over and over gasped. Her eyes glazed over and she hugged him up close to her chin. She finally muttered, “Who are you?” and looked up at me as she winked.

I think of the phone call I got from King Ranch saying that he’d just completed his interview with a company north of Fort Worth and that he’d been offered the job. There was excitement and pride in his voice that I’d been waiting to hear for a long time. The offer was nothing but promising. I was at my parent’s house with Little Foot at the time. When I got off the phone and told my mom, you could see the perfectly equal parts of her reaction: joy and sadness. She was a yin and yang of joy for our new opportunity but sadness that we’d no longer be on the other side of town. Admittedly, I felt the same way. I remember my mom and me hugging each other tight – tighter than we had in a very long time. I remember that her hair smelled like coconut. Words didn’t do much that day – tears and touch did the talking for us.

I think of meeting Bunny for the first time – learning that the seller of the property was planning on leaving her behind and wondering how on Earth someone could just walk away from such a beautiful creature. I squatted down and looked into her deep brown eyes and I knew that even though I’d only known her for minutes, I could not say goodbye to her. She looked right back into me – her eyes a welcoming million miles. The seller told us that she was usually shy but with me, she leaned all her weight into my side as I patted her fuzzy and surprisingly large head. I never told King Ranch this, but before we left that day, I whispered in Bunny’s ear this: “We’re coming back for you, honey. This is still your home.” Knowing she couldn’t understand my words, I know for a fact that she saw my tears and felt my touch. As King Ranch and I drove away, Bunny brayed loudly. I knew I’d hear that sound again very soon.

I think of the first yoga class I taught at the new studio near Fort Worth. It’s a small studio with an intimately connected group of women. I was an outsider, nervous,  and unsure of the expectations of the members. I couldn’t tell you what I taught in class – I only remember making a point to rub the shoulders and back of every single participant in class at some point. I wanted them to know that I would be there for them. I didn’t have the words. How do you tell someone you’ve just met that they have nothing to be self-conscious or insecure about when they’re with you? They didn’t know me or where I came from. So I touched them all and did my best to pour my warmth and appreciation for them down through my fingertips. They don’t know this, but I cried the whole way home that day in gratitude because I believed that I’d found my first local friends – and that made North Texas a little more like home.

I think of the first time Little Foot said, “mama” and meant it. I was in the kitchen sauteing peppers and onions for vegetarian tacos while Little Foot was rolling around in his baby walker. Over the sizzling, I thought I heard a tiny voice say, “mama” but I couldn’t be sure so I placed the wooden spoon on the counter, crouched down to his eye level, and pointed to myself.

“Who am I?” I asked.

Little Foot smiled and flailed his arms.

“Who am I?” I asked again.

Flail.

“I’m mama,” I said. “Mama.”

Smile.

I started to stand up when suddenly, “Mamama.”

“Mama?” I asked, pointing back at myself.

“Mamama.” Smile. Flail.

“Mama,” I muttered, picking him up from his baby walker and hugging him tight. His curls became damp under my tears. The onions and peppers ended up being overly cooked that night, but Little Foot and I must have said ‘Mama’ back and forth 500 times.

I think of the day King Ranch called me and told me he’d suddenly been laid off from his job. I remember him saying that he was collecting his things and would be home in an hour. I remember wanting to jump through the phone and embrace him because I couldn’t wait that long to wrap my arms around him and beg him to believe that everything was going to be just fine. After we ended our short phone conversation, I opened the front gate to our driveway and waited for him on the front porch. Little Foot was on my right hip and I held a 16oz can of cold Miller Light in the other popped and ready for King Ranch. As he pulled into our circular driveway, I hurried over to the driver’s side, placed the beer on the edge of the truck bed, and wrapped my free arm around his slightly-damp-with-sweat waist. The three of us stood there for a few moments underneath the pecan trees in a three-way hug. Everything was going to be okay. It would. It will.

I think of what I might be saying next year and realize there’s no way I could possibly know. This time last year, we didn’t know King Ranch’s new job. We didn’t know Bunny or Tyrion. We didn’t know what Little Foot’s voice sounded like. We didn’t know what unemployment felt like. We didn’t have chickens or a compost. We didn’t tag-team all night to take care of a restless baby. I didn’t know that King Ranch could make up a song about anything to sing to Little Foot. We just didn’t know.

In the end, it’s the now that really matters. It’s me laying in bed typing away at this blog that I truly hope people enjoy reading while King Ranch and Little Foot are napping next to me. Their eyes look exactly the same when they sleep. It’s knowing that Bunny and Tee are out in the yard paling around – realizing that this time last year even they didn’t know each other.

It’s the rise and fall of each breath. It’s the warmth underneath this blanket. The blessing that is life one minute at a time. The letting go of worrying so much. The letting go of ‘what ifs’ and ‘shoulda/woulda/coulda.’ It’s staring into your loved ones eyes not caring about the mistakes they’ve made and knowing that they don’t care about yours.

What’s different than this time last year? Absolutely everything. Every single thing.

What have I learned? In a nutshell – I’ve learned to love more deeply than I thought possible. I’ve learned to be more present. To appreciate the simple beauties in life like a baby breathing, a tighter hug, and a slightly different smile. I’ve learned that a few breaths from time to time, especially when things are hectic, can make a huge difference. I’ve learned that even in the wake of chaos, life is so overwhelmingly fabulous. Our mere existence with one another is such a wonderful opportunity that I just don’t want to take for granted.

What will we be doing this time next year? Only time will tell. And I guess I shouldn’t bother myself with wondering – it’s not like I could predict in any certainty.

I do know that there will be love – for King Ranch, Little Foot, Bunny, and Tyrion. There will be love. The rest, I hand up to time.

This entry will end the ole’ Ranch Life’s Donkumentary Volume I. 2016 will bring Volume II and God knows what that could possibly entail. I hope you’ll all tag along with us.

I wish you all a Happy New Year. Stay safe. Stay present. Stay strong.

Love,

Jess

It’s Always Darkest Before Dawn

It’s just before dawn a couple days before Christmas. It’s not quite raining outside – it’s more like a consistent, cold mist. A soft, yellow glow pulsates through the room from the faux-flickering candles my mother-in-law has placed in all the windows as part of her Christmas decorations.

It’s just before dawn and I’ve already been awake for some time. Little Foot woke up around 3 in the morning and instead of returning him to his crib when he fell back to sleep, I snuggled him tightly to my chest. I have one hand gently on his upper back feeling the ebb and flow of his sleepy breath while my other hand is resting on top of King Ranch’s who is deeply asleep next to me.

It’s just before dawn and I am crying. I’m not sobbing or heaving, but a constant stream of tears have been leaving cold, wet trails down my face. I’ve adjusted my head so that the tears drop off of my chin instead of dampening Little Foot’s curls. I’m crying because at this moment exactly one year ago today, we were within the hour of meeting Little Foot for the first time.

It’s just before dawn and I’m remembering King Ranch’s strength on that night and morning a year ago today. I’m remembering that despite the fact he hadn’t slept in over 24 hours and I was a hot mess of emotions, pain, and fear, King Ranch smiled every single time he looked at me that night. It wasn’t a pity or forced smile. Not even once. It was an ‘I’m with you’ smile. A ‘you’re beautiful’ smile. A ‘you got this and I got you’ smile. I sink my fingers between King Ranch’s – he doesn’t flinch.

It’s just before dawn and I smile because I’m thinking of my mom. The night Little Foot was born, my mom told me that she paced the hallways around my room over and over and stopped every nurse she could find to get an update. I smile because I can see my mom – her little sweat pants and tennis shoes pacing around and around. She gets this face when she’s excited but nervous: it’s not quite a smile and not quite a frown. It’s tension. Her tongue is probably crammed against the roof of her mouth and her teeth are probably clenched shut. But her brow isn’t furrowed when this face happens. Instead, her eyes twinkle behind perma-tears. I giggle a bit and think about sending her a text.

It’s just before dawn and I’m trying to come up with a word to describe the feeling that washed over me the moment I laid eyes on Little Foot for the first time. I can’t find the right word. I just remember seeing his eyes and crumbling. I remember that I couldn’t talk, but managed instead to make some sound that was between an ‘ooh’ and an ‘ahh’ as I reached out for him. I remember that at that moment, the world would never be the same – not just for King Ranch and me – but the whole world. The whole world shifted a tiny bit that night. I remember being torn because I wanted the world to know him, but I also wanted him to be only mine for a little while longer. The nurse placed him on my bare chest right after he was born. I swear that in that moment that our skin touched for the very first time, our two souls reached out of our two bodies and embraced one another in an electric explosion of trust, connectedness, and immeasurable love. I can’t come up with the right word. The right word, I believe, lies somewhere in between bliss, joy, magic, infinity, alabaster, neon, and squee.

It’s just before dawn and indeed, it is darkest before dawn. It’s as if the night is giving us just one more moment to rest and prepare for what is always, always, an unpredictable day. This night one year ago, the world had no idea the light that would be entering it just after sunrise. Every single day for the past year has been better than the previous. Every single sunrise has brought surprise.

It’s just before dawn and I think I found the word: gratitude. I am filled with gratitude for this past year. I am grateful for my loving husband. I am grateful for my beautiful baby  boy. I am grateful for our families and the unending support they’ve extended to us. I am grateful for the opportunity to love this deeply. I am grateful for the breath that is moving in and out of all of our lungs. I am grateful. I am so grateful.
Happy first birthday, my beautiful baby boy. This world is so much better with you in it. And your mom and dad are so grateful.

When You’re the Best of Friends

From time to time, I’ll run across articles that feature different species of animals who have become unassuming best friends. I seem to recall once reading about a chimp and a duck being inseparable. There was also a tortoise and a hippo who latched onto one another. Here at the ranch, we have our very own surprising duo that only within the past few weeks has emerged: Tyrion the mini donkey and our almost one-year-old, Little Foot.

It started when Little Foot was ready to walk away from the safety of our house’s carpet and tile to the more technical terrain of the pasture. King Ranch and I put the most adorable black and red baby cowboy boots on his confident feet, carried him out to the middle of the property, and set him down.

He stood there for a moment with a curious grin on his face and stomped a few times while saying, “dat-un.” King Ranch and I stood on either side of him taking turns saying things like, “it’s okay,”and “you got it!”

With a flail of his arms, Little Foot was off. He glided over the grass like he’d been doing this walking thing his whole life. We followed him around and around the property watching him stop every few steps to poke at pecans or pick up small sticks.

While this was going on, Bunny and Tee stayed exactly 10 paces behind us. Every time Little Foot would bee-line in a different direction, they would too – their ears straight up and eyes wide. It seemed as if they were as blown away, confused by, and impressed with his walking skills as we were several weeks ago.

A few times, Little Foot U-turned and headed straight for them to which they responded by scattering away and repositioning at their safe 10-paces behind him. King Ranch and I were so tickled by this.

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The next day, we repeated the process: boots, carry, freeze and stomp – only this time, Tyrion followed Little Foot a bit more closely. Little Foot, too, was more interested in Tee. He would stop every few steps, turn around, and reach his hand for Tee’s snout. To our surprise, Tee never really flinched away.

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On the third day, after boot, carry and stomp, Little Foot quickly waddled right up to Tee and placed his hand on his snout. Tee snorted, nudged his arm, and as if they’d planned it, they both walked off together.

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Have you ever seen Disney’s ‘The Fox and the Hound? Do you remember when Big Mama sings the song: “when you’re the best of friends…having so much fun together…you’re not even aware, you’re such a funny pair…?This song has been on repeat in my mind since that day.

Now, everytime we go out into the pasture, Tee stops what he’s doing and ignores eveyone except Little Foot. If we’re outside and Little Foot starts to cry about whatever baby-thing is making him upset, Tee drops his ears back and nudges Little Foot’s back. Even when Little Foot bashes Tee in the face, Tee only responds with tender nudges. It’s like he enjoys any contact – bash or otherwise.

Little Foot looks for Tee, too. When we unlock the gate that leads into the pasture, Little Foot grins and starts kicking his legs. When he sees Tee, he does this unique laugh that we only seldom hear that sounds more like a dolphin croak than a giggle.

This friendship is one that my heart is having a hard time handling. I’ve spoken before about how I’m having a difficult time identifying as a mom when I still seem to have only questions instead of any answers. I’ve spoken about how the love that I have for Little Foot is so overwhelming that I sometimes feel lightheaded. I’ve spoken about how donkeys have become the most surprising and beautiful creatures I’ve ever encountered.

To then take that a step further and see our mini-donkey become enamored with and protective of our infant, while Little Foot is starting to see Tee as some sort of idol to look up to is like two darling universes colliding in an explosion of rainbow sprinkles, puppy piles, and baby socks. It’s just – it’s just so darn CUTE.

This friendship has become a sign, I believe, as well. It’s a sign that 1) we are absolutely meant to be in this place right now and 2) that everything will be okay. There’s a lot of really scary and upsetting things that happen all over the world every day. There are tragedies. There are losses. There is fear. There is hate.

But here and now? There’s a boy and his mini-donkey. And very closely behind them, usually with cameras ready and tears in their eyes, are two parents who have become complete and utter softies that crumble underneath the sweetness that is this unassuming pair.

How lucky we are that our world has slowed down enough to be able to witness the blossoming of what I can only hope is a very long, beautiful, fruitful, and squee-worthy friendship.

Little Foot and Tyrion the donkey: BFF.

 

Nothing is Permanent

In a single week, every leaf on every tree of our property has fallen to the ground and become an inch-thick layer of brown mush. For days, the sky has been a perpetual gray. None of our chickens are laying any eggs. Adorably, Bunny and Tee’s winter coats have poofed out in every direction – their faces round with thick fur.

Fall, this season of fast and not always fancy change, is a reminder that nothing is permanent.

That’s frightening sometimes: the idea of non-permanence. For example, being able to walk around the property now with Little Foot – his steps confidently stomping through wide strides as if he was traveling along train tracks – makes me proud as a mom, but also blue in realizing that movement from point A to point B is one less thing in which he needs my assistance.

The fragility of life itself is terrifying – knowing that any exhale could be the last. It’s especially apprehensive right now because every headline on every news outlet is destruction, devastation, and death.

I watch Little Foot cruise around the property, stopping every few steps to squat down and poke at empty pecan shells or sticks and as grateful as I am with how peaceful and protected his world must feel right now, I am equally as nervous and saddened by the inevitability of life’s viscious reality washing away his tranquil innocence. This age of mind-boggling discoveries in different sounds, open-mouth kisses, giggling at silly hats and complete absence of self-consciousness and doubt is so terrifyingly temporary.

Nothing is permanent.

It’s been a month since my last blog – not-so-coincidentally; it has also been almost a month since King Ranch was suddenly laid off from his job. It wasn’t his fault or related to his abilities at all – it was solely a result of corporate bull shit. His job was the reason we moved out of Houston and to the ranch in the first place. We had just begun to sprout roots here.

Shocking and stressful as this is, King Ranch and I are doing our best to view this as opportunity. There must be something better out there. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the meaning of life and what we do know is that our purpose for being here is much bigger than a desk job. We cannot and will not let this event define us.

Nothing is permanent.

If it wasn’t for King Ranch’s job, we wouldn’t have moved here in the first place. We may have never found out that we quite enjoy the ranch life – even if roosters do wake us up every morning at dawn. We wouldn’t have met Bunny or Tee, or had the excitement of finding eggs in the chicken coop. I might have never seen my Michigander husband in a cowboy hat (and boy would that be a crime).

We may have never been welcomed home by a donkey bray. We may have never learned that a rooster might lie atop the grave of his dead and buried companion. We may have never gazed upon so many stars from our front yard.

Nothing is permanent.

Little Foot is very quickly walking out of his infant days and into his toddler years. This is terrifying. This is exciting. This is difficult and this is incredible. Lucky for us, King Ranch gets to be around a little more for these last few moments of infanthood. Not counting ‘mama’ and ‘dada’, Little Foot spoke his first word the other day: ‘Bsh.’

This is his version of ‘bash, as in, “Little Foot, don’t bash mommy’s face with the remote control.

Bsh. King Ranch was there to hear that. He was there to look at me wide-eyed and say, “did he just say bash?!” and spend the next hour encouraging him to bash things just so we could hear him say ‘bsh.

Nothing is permanent.

We have no idea what the next few months of our lives will look like. And although that’s a scary thought, it’s also okay. It is.

A year ago, I had no idea I’d end up moving to a ranch. A year ago, I had no idea my baby would already be running around and climbing on things and saying his first few words. A year ago, I didn’t know I would love donkeys. A year ago, I’d never eaten a fresh egg.

Nothing is permanent.

A year ago, I had no idea that it was possible to love my husband more than I did then. I had no idea that we could be running on essentially no sleep and still manage to crack ourselves up by making up songs to sing to Little Foot that we would never ever sing in front of anyone else because what the hell do they even mean? We’re not even saying real words most of the time. Watching him become a father has pumped my heart so full of ooey-gooey gum drop love that I sometimes feel like I might die.

Nothing is permanent.

It’s one foot in front of the other right now: literally for Little Foot, but figuratively for King Ranch and I. I don’t know what’s around the bend. I’m scared. I’m excited. I’m anxious. I’m stressed. But I’m certainly not alone. Never in my life have I felt more loved than I do right now. Never in my life have I loved as hard as I do right now.

Nothing is permanent.

Nothing is permanent.

Nothing is permanent.

Thank goodness, nothing is permanent.