At week five, our whistling tree ducks and ducklings remain residence of our now, most times, unused backyard. For all the surprise and attention on these visitors, something has been lost. Freedom for our dog as mentioned earlier, but also the time we used to spend on the patio and tending to our backyard has been massively cutback. The herb garden we started in spring in the spirit of new beginnings, seems to be stagnant in it’s growth. Much neglected outdoor furniture waits to be painted, the grass is brown from drought and watering restrictions, yard art gathers cobwebs from the lack of a breeze; it’s not pretty!
This is not all the ducks fault. Afterall, it is the dead of summer, and the days are often in the high 90s, with the blinding sun bleaching out all traces of color. We tend to go from the car, to work, to business, to the house, with little ‘hanging out’ in the yard during this season in the south. Of course, I speak only for my husband and myself, native northerners, who have acclimated the best we can, but whose summer experiences were quite different as children. I’ve always said that this is an upside-down world. In the dead of winter in North Dakota, Minnesota, and other familiar states…people tend to get ‘shut in’ due to the extreme cold and bitter winds. Windows are sealed, plastic sometimes placed on the exterior windows of older homes, furnaces going day and night, with the hope of spring’s arrival. Here, summers are that way for me, with the hope of autumn’s arrival when windows will open again and I’ll be set free to enjoy unconditioned air and the fragrances of the season. I experience cabin fever in summer.
I know not all Texans live this way. My own children, raised in this summer heat, sit at pools, float the river in colorful tubes, hang out in yards and on the back of pickup trucks listening to music from the dance halls; comfortable in what they have always known. Not mama. I try, really I do, and have found from time-to-time that once I allow myself to just ‘be’ in the heat long enough, I somehow adapt and don’t focus on my discomfort. Years ago, when hiking in the snowy woods of northern Michigan, I was told to ’embrace the cold,’ to breath it in and relax in it’s briskness. It worked, and that wisdom got me through years of icy cold winters allowing me to get out and play! I suppose the same holds true for the heat. If not for the sun, which effects my sensitve eyes, I think I might fair better in this long season. But like all of life, we keep adapting because…we must…otherwise we’d miss living altogether!
The ducklings are adapting to their limited space and must be internally looking forward to taking flight from this little comfortable rut they must live in for now. If only they could clean up their own poop! It stinks, making the occasional sit on the front porch on a hot humid night nearly unbearable. We have been told by animal rescue that unless the birds are in danger, they will not move them. And as much as I have enjoyed watching them grow and explore, I find myself yearning for the freedom to let the dog out with ease and to smell the ‘normal’ smells of summer, not bird droppings.
Before long, in spite of the stench and loss of freedom, I’m sure we will feel a touch of sorrow when they finally do find the strength and desire to leave. In the meantime, they have become very skiddish, hiding under the bush or behind the shrubs, making it very difficult for me to take pictures of them. Perhaps it was the dog scare or it’s the ducklings own sense of ‘danger in the world’ that they must be learning or instinctively know, but they are hidden from view for the most part. It makes me miss when they were babies, just as I miss my own babies now off in their own worlds, on the run, out of reach and sight. Does ‘longing’ for something, someone, someplace, the next season, the chance to fly…change…ever go away? Is there ever a season of pure contentment and comfort? Awww…perhaps the season of love only holds that promise.
Summer is widdling down and I haven’t accomplished half of what I thought I would get done. I wonder if the ducks feel the same way as they sit perched on the rocks in the golden light of dusk, or as they bob and dally in the pond that smells of themselves? Like me, are they waiting for the fresh wind of a new idea to motivate their next move? It will be the school bell tolling that moves me from point A to B, I’m afraid, and the busy commericial world of “back to school’ advertisements that screams at me, “Your summer is over!! Too bad for you that you didn’t use it well! Back to work, honey!” ~No fresh winds of change will blow until late September maybe October, and most likely when I am buckled down in small reading groups and hours of documentation, the ducklings will hear the call, be filled with the spirit of flight, and we’ll come home to an empty yard. I hope not, for just like ceremoniously sending a child off to college or walking a daughter down the aisle, I would like to see them leave and wave a wishful goodbye.
We’ll have our yard back, but it’ll be different. The dog will be happy, roaming the yard and rolling in the remnants of what the ducks leave behind. Yuck! Not looking forward to that! But we’ll feel a loss, I’m sure, not unlike a mother, as she packs the toys and souveniors of a childhood now outgrown when the children have flown, leaving behind a quiet house but an emptiness that is deafening. Always life is a trade off. For now it’s the stink and heat, but we’ve had these little fuzzy wuzzies to watch and wonder at. Tomorrow, well, who knows what will land on our laps! I know life’s seasons will bring more goodbyes, but perhaps we’ll be graced with something else to marvel at; camera clicking to capture a needed change.
Summer for a teacher, like students, is looked upon as a time to get unfinished business done, start projects, read books in waiting, travel abit, take a class perhaps, or nap. Anyone in a ‘school’ profession knows that the school year is so often overwhelmingly demanding and exhausting, that the summer season becomes a time to regroup, rethink, relax.
But, if you don’t have a plan and you still have kids or pets around, then ownership of this ‘free’ time can go right out the door! Though my summer started out with energy and gusto, it has somehow meandered into days filled with running errands, dog watching, driving kids around, encumbered by working around the mayhem of remodeling projects, a diminishing bank account, and succumbing to the needs of others. It’s not mine.
The heat isn’t helping, either. As most of the country is experiencing the drought and excessive heat that we Texans have lived with for years, the fears and complaints about the changing climate add to the discomfort of rainless, sizzling, sun-scorched days. One wonders if it will ever end and the fresh smell of rain or crisp air of autumn will once again breeze through opened windows. It has kept those senstive to heat and sun locked inside, imprisoned in one way or other.
With the ducks arrival, my casual walks in the backyard with my dog have all but disappeared. Though the duck family has their pond and bush, my old dog Frank has given up his ‘freetime’ to the needs of others, missing out on his usual routine of sniffing his favorite trees, leaving his manly mark for the night visiters of opossum and cats, and the simple joy of just sitting in a shaded spot with his nose in the air catching the breeze. He takes long cemented walks, but ‘freedom’ in his own space must feel like a faded dream for him now.
So, we’ve cautiously been letting him walk about the yard, by our side without a leash, and generally he has done well. Yesterday, though, he forgot himself, heard ‘the call of the wild,’ and bolted away making a beeline for the ducks! Panic set in for every beast and mom in sight! He went straight into the bush where the ducks were hiding, ducklings came running out in every direction, squawking and peeping madly. The adult ducks ran out in a panic as they saw their babies go into a frenzy! They flew around the yard, up and down, squawking wildly, seemingly trying to get them all back. Meanwhile, my one-eyed yellow lab, now turn bear or wolf, had captured a duckling deep under the sharp-edged bushes along our fence line. A well-trained dog in general, but in this unleashed moment he would not respond to my commands to ‘come!’ I found myself crawling through the brush, trying to grab him without stepping on scattering ducklings, getting scratched and poked from head to toe. I got him away for the one unfortunate duckling, only to have him bolt away to corner two babies against the back corner behind the compost pile. Yes, I had to climb over the garbage heap to pull him away from those frightened babes with their little heads tucked under their crouch fuzzy bodies. Still, he would not yield.
I don’t get mad at my dog, much. He has been one of the best pups I’ve ever had, and he is getting up in age. He’s an animal, and it was my mistake, in forgetting this fact, in an effort to allow him some time to reconnect with his yard. But, he simply would not obey or change course. When I finally got a firm hold of him, he would not follow me or walk. It was a slow frozen step-by-step, sweat dripping from my brow, arms scratched, heartbeating wildly, as I held his collar and prodded him back to the patio doors. He knew he was up shit’s creek! The tone of my voice, stern and low, sent up straight up the stairs into hiding.
The ducks recovered from their first brush with ‘the beast.’ After cowering under another bush in a foreign corner of the yard, one adult whistling wildly to the other who had taken off in a cowardly move; the grounded adult finally, cautiously walked the babies back home. I put on the sprinklers as a white flag, in hopes that they would feel comforted and safe again.
In retropect, I saw the error of ways. In attempting to fall back into our usual summer routine, I literally opened the door to potential disaster. I have had enough mis-steps in my life to know better, realizing that certain situations, alignments, people, and animals can’t always be trusted. They all have their own agendas. And though it is too late to undo a bad decision, I have learned from it. Freedom isn’t free, as we so often hear. There is always a price.
By late evening, emotions were calmed, little ducklings were back in the water dippin’ and drippin’, the adult ducks perched and on guard, and old Frank was at my bedside. He looked up at me with his one sad eye as if to say, “I’m sorry. You gave me an inch and I took a mile.” I dangled my hand down to pet his soft velvet ears. No words, really, except the usual, “You’re the best dog, Frank.” Our bond goes beyond ducks. Our need for freedom is mutually curtailed. Though we both made mistakes in judgement, for I too have heard “the call of the wild” and have gone running after what I simply wanted or needed, we have come back down to where we are. Adjusting, as we all constantly to, to the restrictions in our lives and the choice to live with them…in hopes of a gentle pet on the head, a soft sense of belonging, and the gift of forgiveness from those who keep us close to their hearts.
Summers may not go as planned. They come and go. Old bonds, new bonds, adventures, simple joys and freedoms can’t be taken for granted. But the heart can always beat steady for those of importance, even after a flurry of heart-beating excitement. Perhaps in way I envy his bold run into the wild, his veins pumping with adrenaline, his spirited sense of wildness. Maybe he did it for me, to break up the duldrums of this long, boring season. Awww…love my old pup ❤
We have been busy. In the meantime, the whistling ducklings have been growing. Babies, particularly if you don’t watch them, change dramatically in little time. We have seen that with our own babies, particularly our son. He went from a robust newborn, to a skinny little boy, then quickly became husky and awkward, sprouted up and thinned out near the end of middle school right before our eyes. I swear, each day he came down for breakfast it seemed he had grown some more! Now, he continues to look different in snapshots just a few months apart, getting taller and scuplting into a young man! Really, it WAS just yesterday when he was my spindly little fella!
Like the mother ducks, my role in growing children has been as protector, nurturer, guide, mobilizer, and comforter. There is pride and marvel in experiencing our little one’s boldness and first discoveries. Yet, there is a sadness, one that I rarely hear women talk about: loss. If you have loved a small child, you know the intense bond that ties you to that child…wrapped in scents, touch, gazing…needing each other. Once your baby starts to ‘become’ and branch out, get taller and heavier, find new interests, the mother is left in the dust, under the nesting bush, in the car without so much as a look back. It’s hard. It hurts. It feels like grief to know you will never, ever, see and feel that little boy crawl up on your knee again, stroke your hair as you read to him, run to YOU with new discoveries. You move back, as he moves forward. It is the way of life, but like so many ways of life…it isn’t easy. In not letting go, you risk losing him completely. Finding that balance of being there and letting go, remembering the lost boy and feeling joy and pride with the young man is your new daily work. Prayers each time your teenager drives away, takes a test, goes for an interview, or on a date; these are the things of motherhood, the silent grief, joy, wishes, prayers, love that continues on and on.
I have been fortunate to have a very devoted son, not just to me but to his father and sister, too. I still get the hugs and terms of affection, but I’m not sure that any of us parents can articulate the strange feeling of loss for “the little boy” or “the little girl” that was once yours completely, and now, really, is more the worlds than yours. No wonder some of us hold on to baby clothes, their little favorite toys and books, smell their blankets still warm from sleep, or the sweet sweat of their necks as the dash out with a quick hug and a, ‘See ya mom!” Parenting, and from my perspective of mothering, is mix-bag of emotions and decisions that can drastically change the course of the most important relationships in one’s life. As challenging as it is, I am eternally grateful that I was blessed with my two chances.
In OUR busyness of being parents, we forgot to put a pail of food out for the ducklings on Friday. For the first time, on Satuday morning we found them walking around the patio. Just like toddlers, letting us know that they needed food! Funny ducks! And stinky, too! We have had to drain the pond, hose down the rocks, and even with that, the ‘zoo smell’ is starting to permeating the whole area around our house, even the front porch. If it smells like this at only two weeks, what can we expect in a month? We aren’t really sure how to handle it, and just may have to consider having them moved (if someone will do it!) to another location. Sigh. Yes, as cute as they are, duck poop is starting to smell-up the romance of this venture! Realities usually do.
Our mother duck must know that her ducklings are threaten when some one stands in the yard, as she comes out all stiff and strutty…asserting her role as protector of the fold. Does she grieve at a loss? We don’t know. But, surely she can feel their little bodies growing bigger, leaning heavier on her wings…pushing her out of the way for more food, more air, a dip in the pond, leg room, a chance to fly!
Letting go of their littleness and embracing their sense of self and independence seems to be a mother’s job in all of nature, a re-occurring theme in our changing lives.
I can’t recall a time when I didn’t love hearing my birthday date, July 6th, said aloud! Doesn’t everyone feel thatway? I don’t think it matters how old one gets, just hearing someone say your date can transport a person to, hopefully, some of the happiest moments of their lives. My birthday was often celebrated on July 4th, adding a little patriotic flavor to my identity! I was a star-spangled girl! It was summer, and we were freer to just run in the sprinklers and dance on the lawn. Birthdays meant a homemade cake, a song just for you, a few goofy sister-made cards, and a happy mother with a good meal usually served in the basement, for it was the coolest room on a hot July day! Presents, usually small and personal, were a bonus.
On one birthday, while our family was vacationing in our rugged mid-Michigan cottage, my beloved grandmother came up to the woods on a surprise visit. She brought with her the softest, most beautiful pink baby doll that I had ever seen. I loved dolls. I recall my elation at holding that box, wrapped in delicate pink flowered paper, and at holding that baby doll that I would tenderly love for many years. On another birthday, 17 years ago, I went into labor and bore a robust baby boy…another beautiful birthday bundle that will be loved forever. Presents come in all packages, just like knowledge and wisdom, you may not know when it will arrive or how it will be wrapped, but it’s yours!
Birthdays, beyond the presents and cake, tend to make a person wish or reflect, maybe make a resolution as they move forward. I have my resolutions. But more than that, I have been awakened to the truth of time and what is real. The days of big dreaming (like what I want to be when I grow up?) are pretty much over. There is no going backwards, either. Menopause, so dreaded and joked about, is as important and troublesome as any other stage in life. It’s a vehicle, sometimes a terrible ride that leads us to clarity and a better understanding of who we are. It is a seasonal gift, an awareness of one’s own reality and the paper it’s wrapped in.
I have learned so much in my 55 years of life, and still so many questions remain unanswered. Thank God there are still mysteries to unravel! Aging can be difficult, but in a society that glorifies youth and perfection, I am still proud to announce my age. I’ve earned the number and discounts!I’ve always disliked the ’29 and holding’ birthday comment. I WAS 29 (and pretty darn cute), and I WAS 39 (with a newborn baby), and I WAS 49 already. I’m good with 55. I earned it! I figured I survived growing up in a big middle-class family in the 60s, walked with confidence and boldness through the 70s and the feminist movement, was ‘green’ before organic was cool, marched, picketed, sang, wrote, and debated enough social and political reform to save a nation. I’ve driven thousands of miles and can read a map better than any GPS, was the ‘fastest runner’ already, and have felt the thrill of performing, applause, and publishing. I don’t feel any need to revisit or relive those triumphs and rocky roads. I don’t have to prove anything. The gift that passing through menopause gives is this uplifting removal of pride and defensiveness about what you have done or who you have become. I’ve taken many of these cues from my 82-year-old mother who ‘rolls with it’ better now than she ever did when she had great legs and energy to turn a house upside down on cleaning days!
I’ve earned a four-year degree and have used my knowledge to help others. I loved and lost more times than I can bear to count, been broke and, no doubt, will be again, been too far from ‘home’ with no way back, have raised three children through the high school years (good God, really there should be some type of an award or grant for that!), been on my knees crying out for help, and been the voice that has soothed others out of darkness and confusion. I am loved, have a proud legacy to leave with my children (and a few great recipes), and have an intelligent, loving companion for the next 30+ years who I know will wipe my ass when I can’t! It’s been tough and wonderful at the same time. But wrinkles on my neck? Laugh lines? A belly? Forgetfulness? Really? Ha! Small beans! Such problems are trivial when we consider the bigger picture. I could dwell on the degrees I haven’t earned, the places I haven’t seen yet, the loves that have been lost, the opportunities missed. But what’s the point? I know that I have walked a path that no one else has ever step upon, my own life experience, that has molded my world into just what it was suppose to be, and it’s lovely acceptance of my truth.
On this birthday the picture is sweet, the gift is clear. The presents have been coming in for the last few years through the challenges of ‘mid-life,’ wrapped in everything from romantic flowery fabric, sandy shoes, garbage bags, panty girdles, long phone conversations, bi-focal lenses, and tissues stained with tears; safely wrapped in the arms of my devoted family. I have been in the season of change and now I celebrate these gifts, these lessons that have helped me develop an appreciation for my life, the whole lot of it! Just like seeing that pink baby doll from my grandma, I am elated and filled with joy at receiving this gift of wisdom! Menopause, appropriately named “the change in life” has indeed changed me. Not for the worst, as society would have us think, but with a better understanding of who I have become and where I am on this brief journey.
I feel bolder than I did at 17, but not as foolish. ~ Empowered, but not as controlling. ~Freer, but not as wild. ~Beautiful, but not as seductive. ~Passionate, but not as angry. ~Older and uncertain about what the next years will bring, but not as frightened. ~Just smarter and ready to do what I must to ensure I’m a vital part of this life I’ve built with my family. As I bask in summer celebrations, I feel blessed on this mid-life birthday and wish for nothing more. Though a little crinkly-papered package to open is always a sweet surprise!