FIVE years + TWO years SIX months + TWENTY-TWO weeks
I wanted to write down
exactly how I felt
but somehow the paper stayed empty
and I could not have described it any better
I took the long way home the other day, purposely passing your old house—the one on Ludwig Road. And as I stared out my wound-down window, driving at a suspiciously slow pace, I noticed a foreign pile of freshly cut timber. And when the next 5mph view came into focus, I saw a bare spot in the backyard, where our special willow tree once stood. The “new” home owners (the ones that are not you and Dad) cut it down, and neatly stacked our memories into a mound of firewood.
I know it’s “just a tree.” But long ago, you planted that willow with the intention of watching it grow as our family did. So it always seemed yours. And here was yet another reminder of you that had to disappear, like your clothes or your car or the deleted contact number in my cell phone.
As soon as I turned onto the next road over, I increased my speed with added pressure to the gas and cried, loud and hard. The open spring air whipped at my face and cooled my tears and caressed loose wisps of hair that had fallen from an all-day ponytail hold. I could feel my heart as it beat against my chest, thudding along angrily at the thought of what was gone.
I understand you’re more than what’s physical. But it’s hard to believe you were ever here. It hurts too much to think that you once created the microcosm that was us—the ones who lived happily on Ludwig Road—and then just disappeared at thirty-nine years.
I feel like you were a little girl who got cheated out of her life…who didn’t get to finish raising her children…who didn’t get to fully reap the crops you and Dad grew together. And those thoughts have never eased, have never softened. They just make me want to dig my heels into the grounds of motherhood that much more, and be all you were and would’ve been, plus me.
And that’s what boosts my maternal powers.
Everett is set for kindergarten in the fall. I turned in his registration packet and had a little conference with his lovely preschool teacher, who reported that he’s on track with letters and social skills and the tools needed to step onto that school bus at the end of summer. She said he plays with everyone, both boys and girls, and while making his daily bathroom trip, consistently stops to say hi to the secretary.
I’ve been becoming more and more aware of just how much he’s changing, like in the way he’ll consciously choose to call me Mom instead of Mommy, or how he now understands his Dad’s sarcasm and will slip in a laugh at the perfect time. He needs me less often and rarely wants help and sometimes when I watch him zip his coat and slip into boots and walk out the back door, all while saying, “I’m going outside!” I wonder what happened to my baby.
He can transform all he needs to, I just hope he maintains his sweetness—I hope its the guiding principle throughout his life. Because right now, it is. He can call me the short-hand version of mommy, and in Target, I’ll gladly shop across the aisle that separates the big boy section from the babies/toddlers like some imaginary river that every mom must eventually expedite across, but cannot watch his inherit goodwill disappear into the depths of maturity.
Ever since I became a mom five years ago, I’ve navigated newborns and babies and toddlers. The terrain is ever-changing as a parent, and foreseeing the future with a school-aged boy feels foreign, and I’m not ready to welcome it head on.
It’s like I’ve got one foot in rough, unsure waters, while the other is dipped in a comfortable stream of the two-year-old polly-pocket that is Marion. I’m straddled between the growing ages and changes of my children, learning how to surrender and accept it all.
Even though she’s half-way past two, Marion just had her second year check-up, which was first postponed because of Covid, then my forgetfulness. We learned that she’s in the 5th percentile for weight, but is healthily proportionate. Her small size absolutely defines her, but in the best way.
Marion embodies all things “girl,” like watching Frozen and wearing dresses and is very interested in watching her mom get ready. She stays in my bathroom the entire time I blow dry my long head of hair, now and then saying, “My turn!” and I’ll feather the hot air through her curly tot locks. She’ll watch me put on makeup, apply body cream, tweeze a stray eyebrow hair—it all enthralls her, and sometimes I look down and catch her in a trance, with blank eyes and a wide mouth, absolutely absorbed in my mascara application.
I still remember your similar self-care routines, and the way I’d unconsciously observe your ways, even as a teenager. I remember how you’d twirl wet hair into a towel after the shower, so you could sit unencumbered at the vanity and lightly paint your face in Mary Kay makeup. Or how you habitually plucked your eyebrows in the car visor mirror, because you swore it gave the best natural light for blonde hairs. I remember the cocoa butter cream you’d apply after a shower, and still buy the Suave bottle to somehow channel you each time I use it, now with Marion staring at me, patiently waiting for a small share on her cheeks.
She wants to do what I do. And it’s uncanny to fathom that she’ll grow up believing what her mother did—the way I dress, the way I do my hair, even the way I talk to people—will presumably be what she deems “right,” just as all your ways were once the only ones I ever wanted to become.
The last time we talked, it was late November, and I closed the entry by telling you that I wanted to get pregnant in the spring, when I got my long-awaited chickens.
Both plans have come to be; not only do I have eight baby chicks, but I’m growing another in my belly.
So I guess while I’m standing in this analogy of waters—learning Everett’s new ways and steadfastly raising Marion, I’m circling back to the still pond that is pregnancy, waiting out the next eighteen weeks and acknowledging the time that remains until I’m crowned as a mom of three.
We tried for this baby earlier than expected. The more I watched Everett and Marion play together, the more I wanted another one…the more I just wanted to begin the inevitable and grow our family. So Chris and I began having many conversations about it, and I wrote this in my pen and paper journal when trying to decide what to do:
December 3, 2020
While frying eggs and buttering toast this past Sunday morning, as the kids sat and watched Home Alone, Chris and I discussed getting pregnant this month. When I told him my fertile window was in view and the opportunity was approaching, he started spreading butter faster, breaking his crisp bread with the flat knife. “Let’s do it, babe!”
He wants to “get it over with.” To have three bundled together, and then be done.
But I clearly explained that just because we might have another baby soon, doesn’t mean its the last. I made sure he understood we can’t rush this just to be done, because what if, years from now, our family doesn’t feel complete? There’s no way to predict these things; I just need that door of possibility to remain open until I’m ready to slam it shut.
And as he took a bite out of that buttered toast and looked at me while politely saying, “Sounds good!” in a tone that sounded like he’d just agreed on what to order for a take-out dinner, I noticed the way a patch of his eyebrow hair was beginning to swirl upwards, the way his Dad’s does, and wanted a baby. I was sure of it. And I felt my insides gush with excitement and nerves but the ignition was turned, and there was no going back. We tried that night.
I know it sounds funny—I’m smirking as I’m writing it. And while they’re much, much tamer, I’ve always loved his Eugene Levy-esque brows, and the way they somehow remind me of his sweetness—of the gentle lineage he comes from, of the great man he continually becomes.
If I get pregnant soon, it’s because of that eyebrow hair. And because he truly wants another baby.
On Christmas morning, I woke up extra early to take a pregnancy test, even though a few days before, I had a negative result. This time, I was expecting it to be positive because of how I felt, and when I saw the double pink line, I nodded my head, like I was agreeing to the stick that it was right.
I quickly wrapped it and handed the light box to Chris after the kids had opened Santa’s gifts, and ever since that moment, when this baby became known news, I completely left myself and seemed to hibernate like a dormant perennial in winter.
First it was the physical symptoms: the dry heaving and throwing up morning bile and a constant heaviness in my head. Thankfully that all stopped around eleven or so weeks—the same as my last two pregnancies. But as my body continued adjusting to its new roommate, the electrical wires that connect my brain to the outside world, never circuited back to life and I remained underground.
So for the past five months, I didn’t journal. I didn’t meditate. I didn’t stretch my body. I didn’t do any of the things that uplift and steady me. I was vacant and empty and had nothing to share, and pandemic isolation only added to the intensity. Every day home was exactly the same, and if I got a load of laundry folded and kept up with the kids’ needs, I was exceeding what I thought to be possible.
Each time I opened the computer to write to you, I typed in circles. I could never finish an entry. So it all remained blank, which now with the ability to look back, seems appropriate.
Every ten week span feels like achieving a mini-decade of time: first it was getting to ten weeks, then to twenty. And now, as I chip deeper into my “twenties decade,” I can feel myself slowly improving. And like the swift pivot of this beautiful spring season, I’m beginning to awaken again, and the flowers behind my eyes are blooming into perspective, shifting everything into a more positive lens.
My interior lights still feel faded, but that’s understandable—I’m quite literally dividing my energy to our growing baby. But I’m back to appreciating self-care, something that cannot be done in total darkness. And that feels like a stride forward.
At the beginning of March, my father-in-law drove Everett and I up to a farm in Ohio to pick up our eight, day-old chicks. Instead of having them priority shipped, we decided a quick road trip to be a better option, and Everett took the day off school for the special occasion. The three of us talked and laughed and made rest stops and filled a normal Monday morning with a memory I’ll never forget.
The chicks are now eight weeks old, and they’ve brought the kids and I so much joy. Everett loves to hold them, and will nuzzle his face close to our favorite and most friendly chicken, Sally Salmon, and whisper, “You’re my best friend.” Marion tends to run away if one singles her out and tries following her, but she likes feeding the whole flock and plays around the coop, picking up sticks and crawling over fallen trees.
I’ve watched every chicken-related video on YouTube, first trying to educate myself on how to take care of baby chicks, then what size coop to buy, which types of food and supplements are best, and all about preventing a dreaded predator attack.
While “the girls” (as we call them) were growing into their current size, indoor chicken-living accommodations kept evolving within my house, and it was a relief to finally get them outside in the spring weather, now that they have insulating feathers and a beautiful coop to call home.
Keeping the coop clean is a daily morning chore, but it seems that if I keep it tidy, the job doesn’t become too overwhelming (the same goes for my house). Every other morning, I scoop the poop that was dropped overnight. And then I sprinkle in fresh pine shavings, baking soda, and spritz a mix of essential oils all over the coop’s floor. Every two weeks or so, I shovel all the bedding out, and begin the layering process again. The internet if filled with limitless amounts of “coop cleaning methods,” and I’m sure I’ll learn as I go, taking a tip or two from each blog site I read. And winter upkeep will look much different.
Whatever the case, the chickens and even the coop itself, fill me with a such a sense of pride and accomplishment. Remember when I would write to you, trying to describe in words, what it would be like to have property and a private house in the woods and the added bonus of chickens? And here I am.
These little creatures really are a vision come real. Who knew eight little birds could somehow unofficially stamp our land with a pass to the homestead life.
It feels good to have something I enjoy so much, be a hobby you would’ve had zero interest in. Can you imagine keeping peeping chicks in your spare bedroom? Or feeding dried mealworms out of your hand, as bird beaks repetitively pecked at your palms?
And I don’t know why that exactly makes me proud—I guess it somehow proves to me that even though I re-created the life you once lived, with the house and kids and home life, (we were even the same age when we built our houses, same age when pregnant with our third child), I am still existing on my own. I fully understand that the woman I’ve been becoming since seventeen, wouldn’t resemble who I am now, had you lived all this time.
Now that I’ve finished this entry, I don’t feel sad anymore about your willow tree; I just had to work through the feeling and wrangle with it a bit, until some sense squeezed through. And it has:
When we moved into the new house back in September, I asked Dad to buy us a willow tree, so I could plant my own and watch it grow, and now, after the drive-by on Ludwig Road, I trust it will permanently remain here, on our beautiful piece of land, never having to leave or be destroyed. It will be the heartbeat of our backyard and house. And it will always personify you.
My tree will do what yours got denied…just as I will to carry on what you were denied in death: the ability to mother as deep as I can.
And may that new, sacred willow, always remind me of that.