Friday, September 27, 2019

To Tiny

Neva endured a bit of heartbreak this week, thanks to a sweet little cat named Tiny.

Erin and TJ have a few cats on the farm, but they’re aloof. This one, which had come to live here only a few days before our arrival, was adorably different. Apparently she’d shown up at one of the harvest sites, riding in on a grain truck, and Erin had brought her home.

“What’s her name?” I asked, snuggling the kitten when we arrived. She had greeted us instantly. Neva was smitten. 

“She doesn’t have a name yet,” Erin said. “You guys should name her!”

“Let’s call her Tiny,” I suggested.

(A couple of months ago, Neva randomly burst out in childish anguish: “I wish I could be a mommy and drive a car! But I can’t — I’ll never grow up — I’m just a tiny girl!” It made me laugh and from then on, she’s been my “tiny girl.”)

We all loved Tiny, but Neva completely, utterly fell for this kitten. Tiny was the first thing she thought of upon waking and the last thing she mentioned before falling asleep. “What are you going to dream about tonight, Neva?” Tiny. Every day Neva would follow her, sing to her, hold her, and tell her stories. And though Tiny probably wasn’t quite as fond of Neva as Neva was of her, she really seemed to like Neva, too. 

For a week, they were inseparable. Neva became pretty much completely infatuated with Tiny. And then, suddenly, Tiny was gone. Fate, it seemed, had torn them apart. 

We’ve looked everywhere. We have no idea where she is or what she’s up to. We wish we knew. Tiny wasn’t just another cat on the farm; she was special. We don’t know if we’ll ever see her again. We hope she’ll show up again one day, but likely she’s one of those creatures who are destined for other places, and you’re just a happy stop along their way. 

Neva tried to pet the resident cat but all she got in return was a paw-ful of claws. She ran to me with tears streaming down her cheeks and sobbed into my shoulder. “I miss Tiny.”

There’s been a fair bit of pining since then. I wish I could get her a kitten for our own home, but the Wards are Dog People. I know she’ll always remember Tiny- you never forget those things that capture your heart, even for a short time. When I was eight years old, our family spent a Sunday evening with some friends of ours- they had a new little gray cat, and while all the kids played in the basement, I sat upstairs the whole evening holding her in my lap. One day I’ll have a little cat, I thought to myself. 

But we already have a pet, and he’s a good dog. Neva will realize, sooner or later, like her momma, that you don’t need a cat to be happy. Life goes on. 

I hope Tiny is okay. I hope she’s blessed with health and happiness. I hope she’s enjoying many adventures, with her unconquerable soul. And I wish there was a way to let her know how very happy she made my daughter this week. 

Thursday, September 26, 2019


We were *this close* to skipping Glacier again this year. I haven’t been there since 2015, when I was pregnant with Neva. After having her, and subsequently Mac, hiking in Glacier with four little kiddos lost some appeal. 

But all my kids are walking now, and the news around town is that this area is due for an historic winter storm this weekend. Eighteen to thirty-six inches predicted over two days, and dreary cold temps for the rest of our stay. So Erin and I decided rather last minute (the night before) to use up our last beautiful warm day in Glacier.

What a good decision that was. Just... such a good choice. We each must have made that comment a dozen times. Perfect weather, perfect day, perfect company. The kids watched movies for the 1.6 hour-ish drive there. The entrance booth was closed so we got in for free. There weren’t many people there at all- just enough to take some group photos and have a few friendly conversations. OH- and the mountains were breathtaking. Did I mention that the mountains were breathtaking? I would say unforgettable, but apparently I had forgotten, since 2015, how amazing Glacier is. Beyond description. 

We went through East Glacier Village to Two Medicine, hiked around there for a while, then exited via the St. Mary entrance. Lots of incredible views on foot and from the car.

We hiked four or five miles with the kids. One day, I look forward to really exploring that amazing park, but for now, we travel at their pace... which is really beautiful in its own way. At one point, William took the opportunity to hold my hand. He didn’t seem to want to let go. When the trail narrowed, he volunteered to walk in the brush next to me so we could continue to hold hands. I really had to have both hands for Mac, and I could tell Will was disappointed to have to separate. How long will my big boy want to hold hands with me? When we finally got back to the car, he signed contentedly, “Can I take off my sweatshirt? I’m so warm, I can barely not even feel any little part of cold.” Erin and I looked at each other and cracked up. “Well put, Will,” I said. 

Mac enjoyed running as fast as he could (“ray, sick, go!”- always over the most uneven, root-covered, or muddy stretches), jumping as often as possible, throwing endless rocks, and attempting to wade into any puddle, stream, or lake he found. THEREFORE, he spent much of the hike on my shoulders. The hiking frame carrier would’ve been nice- alas, it’s in MI, in my laundry room. 

Neva did very well. She became quite adventurous; the winding trail has that affect on you. She desperately wanted to wade in the river, like the big boys in their waterproof boots, but succeeded only in soaking her shoes and socks. I scolded her: “Neva, I told you not to wade in the water! Now you have to walk back in wet shoes.” She was so sad; I instantly regretted making hiking the punishment. This is supposed to be fun! She rallied, though, and walked so cheerfully after that, that I relented and gave her a piggyback ride (Erin had taken Mac at that point). My reward for this was hearing her make up songs about fighting bad guys,  singing them softly into my ear. She fancies herself quite the warrior, apparently, and her songs are equally hilarious and precious.

Barrett gathered an impressive collection of “pieces of the mountain,” which he stored in his winter hat. He proceeded to swing this rock-laden hat around by its strings, with much enthusiasm, unwittingly putting anyone in danger who dared venture within a few feet of him. He really meant no harm, and none was done, and he definitely got a good arm workout. 

Erin is the best hiking buddy. Best buddy possible- period. Positive, energetic, and definitely necessary- I needed another pair of hands for hiking and she was amazing. But just in general, I have loved spending this time with her. Next year, as she and TJ are planning to foster, she’ll likely have kids of her own. I hope I can be as helpful then as she has always been to me. And gosh- I will remember this day so fondly. 

(Will, holding my hand)

(Waiting on Auntie and Mac to catch up. I wanted them to sit quietly and soak up the peace of nature, but they kept cracking up.)

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Rock City

We went to Rock City, today- Erin and I and the kids. I laughed so hard as we drove through random fields looking for it after Google Maps led us to an unfamiliar farm. You can’t see Rock City on the horizon- it only appears as you drive up close enough to park. We kept losing the faint two-track as we drove, Erin steering up and over hills only to suddenly overlook a steep dropoff or a lovely view of the river- but not Rock City. “Whoa, don’t drive us over a cliff,” I kept begging, holding the door tightly. Meanwhile, the boys in the back seat were having a blast making lots of noise. “Thanks for not being annoyed by my kids,” I joked, but before I had finished my sentence she had already begun to say, “Oh Maegan, you’re not annoying me,” and then we both cracked up again, because I was being truly annoying with my fear of heights. 

Ultimately we returned to the road, where our cell service became available again, and tried Apple Maps this time. Bingo. Google had taken us to the opposite side of the river. Twenty-five minutes later, we arrived. A forty-five minute trip had taken closer to an hour and a half, but you can’t complain when you’re stuck in the car with your favorite people. 

Rock City is an indescribable place. The rolling hills that you’ve been gazing at the entire drive suddenly break away into a canyon that looks like it belongs on a different planet. Sandstone pillars are a climbable maze that occasionally drops away into a freaky cliff. (My palms grow clammy when one of the kids stands peering over the edge.) Far below, the river is bright and the early autumn trees are vivid. 

Will and Barrett found fortress after fortress in which to hide Barrett’s precious “dragon egg” rock. (His obsession with reptiles follows him everywhere.) Neva searched for a dragon egg of her own; sadly, none that I found for her were “pink enough.” Mac demanded to wear the backpack, which made his balance that much worse, and he insisted on jumping off every surface. We explored until Mac and Neva began to fall apart, and I volunteered to sit with them in the car so the older boys could continue climbing with Auntie. While Neva napped and Mac quietly climbed around the benches in the Suburban, I listened to the wind howling and read more of my book (A Prayer for Owen Meany).  

On the way home, while the kids slept, Erin and I discussed important and frivolous matters, made plans, and harmonized our favorite hymns. And at one point, the mental image of us rolling over strange fields made us laugh so hard again that I cried. Deep breaths.

It was a good, good day. 

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Happiness is the Grail

Barrett found this rock here in Montana, and this morning I overheard the boys talking about it in serious tones.

"I CANNOT BELIEVE that you found a real fossil, Barrett."

"I wish I could see the real bones."

"Well Barrett, you would need a telescope for that."


“You know, Barrett, a real meteorologist digs up bones like those every day for real.”

Barrett inhales sharply. "William, it looks like a clam, but in fact--" voice lowered, "it also looks like a scorpion. See? See this part coming off? Like a tail?"

"Hmmm." William appears to give it some serious thought. "I don't know, Barrett. Clams lose their balls all the time."

A pause. Some thought. "Yeah," agrees Barrett. "It's probably losing its balls."

I laughed so hard when I told this later to Erin. 

These kids make me so happy. I love spending each day with them. One day they’ll be grown, and we will live apart, and I will look back to these years and be grateful I didn’t spend their childhood chasing my own distractions.

I recently read an opinion that people don't place a high enough priority on happiness. At first, I didn't agree; I thought of our culture, driven by the pursuit of the next thing to bring pleasure- another dopamine rush, another thing to buy, another thing to eat. I thought, “All people do is try to find something to make themselves happy.” I thought of myself, uncomfortable with any negative emotion, impatient to push it away. I thought about the things, experiences, and people that I’ve expected to “make me happy,” and the disappointment that’s followed. Nothing can make you happy. 

I see now what was meant. Happiness is not an external wind that comes and goes. It’s not “having fun” or “being in a good mood.” It’s not dependent on the people around you- how they treat you, or what they say about you. You make it. You find it in your surroundings. You bring it to your mind with a memory. Happiness is in you. 

Happiness, by that token, is in me, and I’m responsible to find it for myself, in my day-to-day, like a hidden treasure. Today I found it in many tiny bits of time- in Neva’s extra-long, impulsive hug, in laying next to Will and Barrett while they explained every scene of Cars 2 to me, in feeling Mac's passionate little kiss on my cheek, and in sitting with my own uncomfortable thoughts and becoming settled within myself. Yesterday, on my birthday, I found happiness in playing with the kids at the trampoline park, being with Erin and Kathleen, and holding Rosie after she ran up to me in the kitchen, excited to see me after several months. There were happy moments everywhere; I just needed to see them. 

So yes, after all, I agree. I haven’t placed enough importance on happiness, but I’m learning. I feel like I’ve been holding in my hands these imaginary scraps of paper upon which have been written all the reasons I can’t be happy. (Content, dutiful, peaceful, maybe, but not happy.) And today I envisioned myself climbing to the top of one of these Montana hills, and holding my hands out into the Montana wind, and seeing those disappointments whip away from me. And then with empty hands, I walk on, ready to hold all of this precious life. 

“What a fine lesson is conveyed to the mind – to take no note of time but by its benefits, to watch only for the smiles and neglect the frowns of fate, to compose our lives of bright and gentle moments, turning always to the sunny side of things, and letting the rest slip from our imaginations, unheeded or forgotten.” William Hazlitt

“I would like to live… open to time and death painlessly, noticing everything, remembering nothing, choosing the given with a fierce and pointed will.” Annie Dillard

“Change is an easy panacea. It takes character to stay in one place and be happy there.” Elizabeth Clarke Dunn

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Thank you, girl :)

Lately, Neva is my biggest fan. Which is nice, because I can really use the love right now. She often impulsively hugs me, rough and tough as always, and says to me, “You’re just the best girl in the world.”

Also: “I just love you the best.”

She’s full of strong affections:
“This is the best day EVER!”
“I LOVE Auntie Erin. She’s SO beautiful.”
(Hearing me absentmindedly humming “O Christmas Tree”): “I LOVE that song.”

When she was a baby, I wrote her a song. Between then and now, I nearly forgot it, but this summer, I scraped it out of my memory (to her utter delight) and now sing it to her every night. “Can you sing ‘Neva-Mae-where-we-say-goodbye’?” And when I’m finished, every time, she sighs. “I LOVE that song.”

Hello, little Neva Mae
Oh I hope you had a wonderful day
And I hope you never feel alone
Mama’s home with you, Neva Mae

Neva Mae, Neva Mae
Oh, what a day
When I saw you for the very first time
Oh, you cried, and you cried, 
But then peacefully lay
In my arms
My little Neva Mae

Hello, you spunky little girl
Oh, I know you’re gonna light up the world
But even sunny girls like you encounter rain
And when there’s pain, 
I’ll be there, Neva Mae

Neva Mae, Neva Mae
Oh, what a day
When your heart breaks for the very first time-
Oh you’ll cry- we’ll both cry-
But then Mama’s gonna say,
“You are strong and you are perfect,
Neva Mae”

Hello, you dear and mighty girl
Why don’t you go and take on the world?
But no matter how far away you roam,
You have a home with me,
Neva Mae

Neva Mae, Neva Mae
Oh, what a day
When we say goodbye for the very first time
Oh, I’ll cry and I’ll cry,
But you’ll smile and you’ll say,
“I’ll always be your Neva Mae”

Yes, you’ll always be my Neva Mae

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

You are enough.

This is what I would say to my child, if he or she felt desperately alone or unwanted:

(I have four children; undoubtedly at least one will inherit my fear of falling short.)

You are good enough, just the way you are. You are enough.
If you never progress in any area for the rest of your life, I still love having you in my life.
Even if you believe you are failing harder than ever, you’re not.
(But even if you were, I wouldn’t care.)
I can’t imagine loving anyone as much as I love you.
I wouldn’t trade you for anyone else in the world.
Even if you feel like all you are is “a thousand problems,” I take them in a heartbeat, because I am crazy about you.
Don’t turn away from the ones who love you most, believing you’ll never be enough for them.
I expect nothing from you. The things I try to teach you- they are just lessons. Not expectations.
You might think everyone would be happier without you. That’s an absolute lie.
I would be devastated to lose you. I’m not sure I would recover.
You, with your quirks and failures and flaws, and all your fears- you are perfect just the way you are.
There’s nothing to “measure up” to- the standard is nonexistent; you “measured up” the moment you were born, and you’ve never fallen short since then.
You are perfect just the way you are, and I love you more than you know. 

Hmmmm. I believe I will start telling them these things now.
Who wouldn’t want to hear, you are perfect the way you are?