This is her picture as she was:
It seems a thing to wonder on,
As though mine image in the glass
Should tarry when myself am gone.
I gaze until she seems to stir,—
Until mine eyes almost aver
That now, even now, the sweet lips part
To breathe the words of the sweet heart:—
And yet the earth is over her.
Alas! even such the thin-drawn ray
That makes the prison-depths more rude,—
The drip of water night and day
Giving a tongue to solitude.
Yet only this, of love's whole prize,
Remains; save what in mournful guise
Takes counsel with my soul alone,—
Save what is secret and unknown,
Below the earth, above the skies.
In painting her I shrin'd her face
Mid mystic trees, where light falls in
Hardly at all; a covert place
Where you might think to find a din
Of doubtful talk, and a live flame
Wandering, and many a shape whose name
Not itself knoweth, and old dew,
And your own footsteps meeting you,
And all things going as they came.
A deep dim wood; and there she stands
As in that wood that day: for so
Was the still movement of her hands
And such the pure line's gracious flow.
And passing fair the type must seem,
Unknown the presence and the dream.
'Tis she: though of herself, alas!
Less than her shadow on the grass
Or than her image in the stream.
That day we met there, I and she
One with the other all alone;
And we were blithe; yet memory
Saddens those hours, as when the moon
Looks upon daylight. And with her
I stoop'd to drink the spring-water,
Athirst where other waters sprang;
And where the echo is, she sang,—
My soul another echo there.
But when that hour my soul won strength
For words whose silence wastes and kills,
Dull raindrops smote us, and at length
Thunder'd the heat within the hills.
That eve I spoke those words again
Beside the pelted window-pane;
And there she hearken'd what I said,
With under-glances that survey'd
The empty pastures blind with rain.
Next day the memories of these things,
Like leaves through which a bird has flown,
Still vibrated with Love's warm wings;
Till I must make them all my own
And paint this picture. So, 'twixt ease
Of talk and sweet long silences,
She stood among the plants in bloom
At windows of a summer room,
To feign the shadow of the trees.
And as I wrought, while all above
And all around was fragrant air,
In the sick burthen of my love
It seem'd each sun-thrill'd blossom there
Beat like a heart among the leaves.
O heart that never beats nor heaves,
In that one darkness lying still,
What now to thee my love's great will
Or the fine web the sunshine weaves?
For now doth daylight disavow
Those days,—nought left to see or hear.
Only in solemn whispers now
At night-time these things reach mine ear;
When the leaf-shadows at a breath
Shrink in the road, and all the heath,
Forest and water, far and wide,
In limpid starlight glorified,
Lie like the mystery of death.
Last night at last I could have slept,
And yet delay'd my sleep till dawn,
Still wandering. Then it was I wept:
For unawares I came upon
Those glades where once she walk'd with me:
And as I stood there suddenly,
All wan with traversing the night,
Upon the desolate verge of light
Yearn'd loud the iron-bosom'd sea.
Even so, where Heaven holds breath and hears
The beating heart of Love's own breast,—
Where round the secret of all spheres
All angels lay their wings to rest,—
How shall my soul stand rapt and aw'd,
When, by the new birth borne abroad
Throughout the music of the suns,
It enters in her soul at once
And knows the silence there for God!
Here with her face doth memory sit
Meanwhile, and wait the day's decline,
Till other eyes shall look from it,
Eyes of the spirit's Palestine,
Even than the old gaze tenderer:
While hopes and aims long lost with her
Stand round her image side by side,
Like tombs of pilgrims that have died
About the Holy Sepulchre.
Painting: Ophelia by Arthur Hughes 1863 (Public Domain)
In 1860 the United States produced more than six and a half million gallons of maple syrup. In 2019 only about one and a half million gallons were harvested. What’s wrong, Americans?
My husband “sugars off” the sap alone at our house after the one year he slipped out of a church function to tap trees and left the rest of us to endure an awkward after-church potluck and games gathering. As a family of introverts, we (as one) revolted. Soon after our two strong sons disappeared into adulthood and far from the sugar bush. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I’ve had weird luck with broken arms and hands in March so I’m never much help and stand by the fire only now and again to see how things are progressing (I am the main imbiber of the golden sweetness though).
My husband is not 100% selfless. He loves to plan, to improve, to go bigger, to make more, to give away more, and especially how by the second or third week the sun warms the chair he sits in as he listens to the bubbling sap. There is nothing like the smell of maple on the wind. The dogs instantly lift their noses to it when I take them outside on their little rambles. Nala the farm dog used to lounge with my husband until a local marathon runner started jogging by. Nala hates fast moving people and makes it very plain. Nobody likes a big white wolf-dog snarling and hopping at their heels.
In pioneer days the young people loved a good sugaring-off party for sweets and sparking. We do that too when I remember to bring my husband out coffee. Here’s how native New Yorker THURLOW WEED remembered it:
This is a season to which the farmer’s sons and daughters look forward with agreeable anticipations. In that employment toil is more than literally sweetened. The occupation and its associations are healthful and beneficial. When your troughs are dug (out of basswood, for there were no buckets in those days), your trees tapped, your sap gathered, your wood cut, and your fires fed, there is leisure either for reading or ‘sparking.’ And what youthful denizens of the sap-bush will ever forget, while ‘sugaring-off,’ their share in the transparent and delicious streak of candy congealed and cooled in the snow? Many a farmer’s son had found his best opportunities for mental improvement in his intervals of leisure while ‘tending sap-bush.’ Such, at any rate, was my own experience. At night you had only to feed the kettles and keep up your fires — the sap having been gathered and the wood cut ‘before dark.’ During the day we would also lay in a good stock of fat pine, by the light of which, blazing brightly in front of the sugar-house, in the posture the serpent was condemned to assume as a penalty for tempting our great first grandmother, I have passed many and many a delightful night in reading. I remember in this way to have read a history of the French Revolution, and to have obtained from it a better and more enduring knowledge of its events and horrors, and of the actors in that great national tragedy, than I have received from all subsequent readings. I remember also how happy I was in being able to borrow the book of a Mr. Keyes, after a two mile tramp through the snow, shoeless, my feet swaddled in remnants of a rag-carpet.
Thurlow Weed, History of the Town of Marathon
Here’s the way the season goes:
When the days of the thaw and nights of cold are balanced perfectly (days 40-52 degrees/nights 24-32 degrees) the sap starts flowing — for how long nobody knows so you have to be ready!
My husband has a source of free pine which is the preferred wood for boiling. He cuts, stacks and ages it all year long.
In late February we tramp through the snow, falling in when there’s a layer of ice on top, looking for the maples marked for tapping the previous summer. In the old days farmers would sit by their hearths in winter whittling sumac spiles (spouts). to tamp into the bored holes on the sunny side of trees at least 10-12″ in diameter and 1-4ft from the ground. Nowadays you can buy metal or plastic spiles online (but do it early!).
The average farmer in the olden times relied on a good cooper for his buckets. My 4x great grandfather was a master cooper until the drink dulled his skills. A leaky bucket then was very bad indeed. I imagine my poor grandmother doing her best to keep the family in funds with her spinning, but from what I know, the children suffered. Drink sap to play it safe. Sweet water (before it’s boiled down) can give you a bad stomach ache so don’t be greedy!
Millions of sap buckets were required in the mid-nineteenth century and each one was made by hand and sold for six cents a piece:
They were shaped not for finish nor beauty, but solely for utility, and not one unnecessary stroke went into their construction. Almost invariably the material was the very best old, free-splitting white pine … Neither the inside nor outside of the staves was touched with any tool, but left with the grain showing as rived from the block. The edges of the staves, however, must be beveled and jointed with almost perfect accuracy, and the bottom must fit the chine, the groove cut to receive it, with the same preciseness.”
The Golden Age of Homespun by Jared van Wagenen, Jr.
Some say that Native Americans boiled down sap and showed the process to the first pioneers, others disagree and say it’s only folklore because the Native process in the way that it’s spoken of doesn’t seem to get the sap quite hot enough to be true. Maybe they just drank the sweet water as-is which with the minerals may have seemed a healthy tonic. Who knows?
The first year we tapped trees, we boiled sap over a metal grate sitting on cinder blocks. My husband’s set-up improved over the years and now he boils on a converted fuel oil tank.
HOW TO BUILD A MAPLE EVAPORATOR FROM FUEL TANK
In the last month he picked up two old oil tanks, some angle iron and a welding machine off Craigslist. I steered clear of the sparks that he said could blind me until the tank looked like this:
The tank was empty so my husband welded the shelf within–I had no idea what it all meant until it began to come together .
First we put in some sand and leveled it:
Then I had the job of cleaning old mortar from the bricks also gotten off Craigslist while husband cut a door into the tank.
Carrying the full buckets of sap back to the evaporator is a test of endurance when snow is still on the ground (some years a foot or two of it). The pioneers used to have yokes to wear over shoulders with hooks on the end for buckets or big barrels as reservoirs on sleds to bring the sweet water to the fire. We lug the buckets out of the woods (the reason the boys go AWOL). Some people have intricate systems of plastic tubing running into a reservoir at an easier location to access the sap. We’ve had years where we’ve had to climb snowy hills to retrieve the buckets –a lot of splashed out sap! We’ve also dug out snowy trails in February. The boys did not approve. Now my husband uses a mix of human and tractor power to get the sap. It’s not as picturesque, but I’m not complaining. I like my coffee sweet.
Once the maple trees start to bud and the peepers come alive in the puddles and ponds of melted winter, farmers know the Frog Run has come, the final sap drips just as the daffodils begin to stretch from the garden beds. And just like that the robins arrive and the buckets go away for another year.
The neighbors greet my husband with grins as he tramps up their driveways with gallons of the real deal.
Yet, haply, in some lull of life,
Some Truce of God which breaks its strife,
The worldling’s eyes shall gather dew,
Dreaming in throngful city ways
Of winter joys his boyhood knew;
And dear and early friends—the few
Who yet remain—shall pause to view
These Flemish pictures of old days;
Sit with me by the homestead hearth,
And stretch the hands of memory forth
To warm them at the wood-fire’s blaze!
And thanks untraced to lips unknown
Shall greet me like the odors blown ...
John Greenleaf Whittier
We no longer raise milk or honey. After too many bee swarms my husband realized how much he hated seeing bees die. I felt the same about my goats. Despite years of vet bills and consults we just couldn’t figure out why our goats always failed to thrive. We have some theories about our sulfur water preventing uptake of copper in goats, but who knows? Our sheep are much healthier and just as cute.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.
I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.
I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.
I arise today, through
God's strength to pilot me,
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.
I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul;
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
One sharp pain. One utterance of surprise. Oh.
He leaves no great philosophies. There are no medals, no headstone.
Only a few strings left attached to this world.
Letters in government files
The sacrifice a mother makes to prove her relation to the boy whose life is opened up on paper
for a pension she is denied.
Is it invasion to hang on their every word --
the words of intimacy and filial love in these letters?
I am his family too and he is mine.
These strings scribbled on cheap, creased stationery
little ways of knowing a great deal (though I knew him
without knowing it all my life ).
Apologizing for his handwriting and blaming his pen.
Butter from a country doctor as he sits in a hospital bed.
No letters from home yet.
Despair in one string, bravado in another;
A book sent home to remember him by and
I'm a tuff buck now.
Have brother plant these pair seeds
They be big as a fist and
He spells as he spoke:
haint, dast, Upstate I beThe book cost me dear.
The last string of words
money sent home for mother's new house
never be afraid to ask, I gladly go without.
He is my muse and my relation
All these years later a picture is found
and we look the same.
I've known him and I have no doubts.
Never question God's creative force,
or His happy coincidences.
The heavens open sometimes
and the saints speak and pray --
happy for reunion.
Yet we are courageous, and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.
My husband’s mother cancelled Christmas one year after her dog Mopsy died. She didn’t get another dog for over twenty years. When my husband’s favorite Golden Retriever died I said I thought it was a little disrespectful for him to want a quick replacement, but I immediately jumped in to seek out another. We picked up a new puppy a week after burying Elizabeth.
When my best friend Rosie died suddenly last summer, I vowed never to get another Cavalier King Charles Spaniel – then I started looking. Over the years the breed has become a status symbol. The interview process can be ridiculously grueling. I tried to explain to my husband why the breeders had to be so — particular.
“Golden breeders aren’t such snobs,” he would often say, and it’s true.
And then I discovered a new breed, one I had never heard of, one that intrigued me, one with a LONG life expectancy. Losing two dogs in less than a year had been tough on us. I wanted to avoid the pain if we could.
I deleted all of the Cavalier Instagrams I followed. I couldn’t handle seeing so much cuteness knowing I would never have another Rosie. I started following Tibetan Spaniel Instas instead. My husband was still bent on getting me a Cavalier puppy.
“It’s your signature breed,” he said. “I don’t care if they cost $6000 and still have heart murmurs that slowly kill them.”
“No. I want a Tibbie,” I said, not sure at first if I meant it, but then I did.
My husband stayed up nights scouring the breeder map and was willing to drive all the way to the Mississippi if need be (we had only driven a few hours to get the Golden puppy, but there’s no stopping him once on a mission). The phone rang one day (it was one of the top breeders of Tibbies!). “Oh, so you have no litters planned? But you have a retired show dog who sticks his tongue out too much? I’ll ask her, but she wants a puppy. Yes, send us a picture.” My husband turned to me. “You’re already settling on the breed and now it’s a two-year old dog …”
The email came through and I gasped — I actually really gasped. I was instantly in love with ZACK. Even the name spoke of greatness somehow. And he is pretty terrific. Before him we had only female dogs and they always fought. He walked in the door, glanced around, claimed the best couch and put all the other dogs in their place. Nala, the big white non-farm dog always seemed jittery in her alpha dog position. Now she can finally relax.
All dogs need to ask if they can join Zack’s humans on the couch and the bed. Actually the bed is off limits to the big girls now. He gathers all of the toys and doles them out as he sees fit and lounges at my side when I write. Sometimes you have to try new things or new breeds.
My husband has more than returned the favor. I still miss Rosie and Elizabeth, but there’s always more room for love.
“Petting, scratching, and cuddling a dog could be as soothing to the mind and heart as deep meditation and almost as good for the soul as prayer.”
MANY a hearth upon our dark globe sighs after many a vanish’d face,
Many a planet by many a sun may roll with the dust of a vanish’d race.
Raving politics, never at rest—as this poor earth’s pale history runs,—
What is it all but a trouble of ants in the gleam of a million million of suns?
Lies upon this side, lies upon that side, truthless violence mourn’d by the Wise,
Thousands of voices drowning his own in a popular torrent of lies upon lies;
Stately purposes, valour in battle, glorious annals of army and fleet,
Death for the right cause, death for the wrong cause, trumpets of victory, groans of defeat;
Innocence seethed in her mother’s milk, and Charity setting the martyr aflame;
Thraldom who walks with the banner of Freedom, and recks not to ruin a realm in her name.
Faith at her zenith, or all but lost in the gloom of doubts that darken the schools;
Craft with a bunch of all-heal in her hand, follow’d up by her vassal legion of fools;
Trade flying over a thousand seas with her spice and her vintage, her silk and her corn;
Desolate offing, sailorless harbours, famishing populace, wharves forlorn;
Star of the morning, Hope in the sunrise; gloom of the evening, Life at a close;
Pleasure who flaunts on her wide downway with her flying robe and her poison’d rose;
Pain, that has crawl’d from the corpse of Pleasure, a worm which writhes all day, and at night
Stirs up again in the heart of the sleeper, and stings him back to the curse of the light;
Wealth with his wines and his wedded harlots; honest Poverty, bare to the bone;
Opulent Avarice, lean as Poverty; Flattery gilding the rift in a throne;
Fame blowing out from her golden trumpet a jubilant challenge to Time and to Fate;
Slander, her shadow, sowing the nettle on all the laurel’d graves of the Great;
Love for the maiden, crown’d with marriage, no regrets for aught that has been,
Household happiness, gracious children, debtless competence, golden mean;
National hatreds of whole generations, and pigmy spites of the village spire;
Vows that will last to the last death-ruckle, and vows that are snapt in a moment of fire;
He that has lived for the lust of the minute, and died in the doing it, flesh without mind;
He that has nail’d all flesh to the Cross, till Self died out in the love of his kind;
Spring and Summer and Autumn and Winter, and all these old revolutions of earth;
All new-old revolutions of Empire—change of the tide—what is all of it worth?
What the philosophies, all the sciences, poesy, varying voices of prayer?
All that is noblest, all that is basest, all that is filthy with all that is fair?
What is it all, if we all of us end but in being our own corpse-coffins at last,
Swallow’d in Vastness, lost in Silence, drown’d in the deeps of a meaningless Past?
What but a murmur of gnats in the gloom, or a moment’s anger of bees in their hive?—
. . . . .
Peace, let it be! for I loved him, and love him for ever: the dead are not dead but alive.
The morning begins. Those first sleepy moments are driven off by the cold in the mudroom as I tug my thick overalls and muddy boots on over my pajamas. There is something to knowing you’re needed, a mutual, satisfying feeling between the animals and me. We always say that every day is a good and pampered one for the animals except for their last.
I can’t imagine the loneliness of a farm with no animals. When we must load lambs off on their last day I cry and seriously consider giving it all up. But then I remember how sick I was without meat, and think too about the state of factory farming, and how life is a series of compromises. Not a single human soul is truly pure or innocent.
“I dislike the thought that some animal has been made miserable to feed me. If I am going to eat meat, I want it to be from an animal that has lived a pleasant, uncrowded life outdoors, on bountiful pasture, with good water nearby and trees for shade.”
When you raise animals you tend not to waste their sacrifices. I laugh at the ram lambs as they gambol about and admire the proud ewes as they murmur sweet nothings to their newborns. They clean and dote over them with such soft looks in their eyes — looks that disappear after the little brutes get bigger and nearly upend her seeking milk.
Every night there’s the big sky in its various moods as I trudge down to the barn. The wind, the snow, the sun, the autumn leaves in little whirlwinds in the apple orchard — all things to keep me forever in the world, forever in the seasons, forever dirty, forever unfinished.
For the curious there is always so much more to learn. For someone like me who is so attached to the past, there is nothing better than discovering how my ancestors went about doing the same chores I do now.
Work keeps me sane and the seasons keep me from ever complaining about the monotony of chores. Yet chores aren’t really monotonous. Chores are dependable. Every night I announce, even when we have visitors, “Okay, I have to go do the animals.” It’s funny to think that for ten years I’ve said it exactly the same way. Not a single word changed. The tone is almost a complaint, but not really. Once I’m alone and outside I’m happy to be there.
“He who tills his own land has food in plenty, but he who follows idle pursuits is a fool.”
The mini horse with his big personality always whinnies at the sound of the house door slamming. He still likes to push me around but I’ve charmed him into doing things I want to do as well. We’ve become friends. Every year I get quieter. I think it’s a spell that comes over some people who grow lots of things and keep farm animals. There’s so much to witness, tiny signs and bugs that hint at future doom or survival. Intuition, that feeling in your gut, becomes attuned to the dull look in a sick sheep’s eye. Sometimes in this quiet you know exactly what that dull look means.
I love the sound of a ticking clock. When I’m writing I prefer that to be the only noise. The other day the house was silent but for the ticking. I sat to write but was nudged by some spirit to go to the window. There against the white snow stood a fox staring right into our chicken coop. He looked curious, but I’m pretty sure he was just deciding which color hen he wanted for lunch.
The indoor farm dog was sent out to chase as I stumbled into my boots shouting from the garage (as if a fox would ever listen to me). The snow was so bright I was nearly blinded and didn’t get to the coop as fast as I would have in better weather. We lost one chicken. I spent much of the morning trying to corral the frightened flock inside for safety. Some regarded me as their savior and let me carry them into the coop. I felt complimented. The chickens are lucky. We take the eggs they couldn’t care less about and they live until they die of natural causes (whatever that means for animals with so many predators loving the taste of chicken).
I’m so happy that there are young people as entranced with the old ways as I am. The ideal of total independence is just that — an ideal, but without a grassroots embracing of the small and local, our land and independence will be swallowed up by an ELITE FEW who want to control (and change) our food supply. Slavery starts when the few control the very sustenance of life.
THE POET by ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON
The poet in a golden clime was born,
With golden stars above;
Dower’d with the hate of hate, the scorn of scorn,
The love of love.
He saw thro’ life and death, thro’ good and ill,
He saw thro’ his own soul.
The marvel of the everlasting will,
An open scroll,
Before him lay; with echoing feet he threaded
The secretest walks of fame:
The viewless arrows of his thoughts were headed
And wing’d with flame,
Like Indian reeds blown from his silver tongue,
And of so fierce a flight,
From Calpe unto Caucasus they sung,
Filling with light
And vagrant melodies the winds which bore
Them earthward till they lit;
Then, like the arrow-seeds of the field flower,
The fruitful wit
Cleaving took root, and springing forth anew
Where’er they fell, behold,
Like to the mother plant in semblance, grew
A flower all gold,
And bravely furnish’d all abroad to fling
The winged shafts of truth,
To throng with stately blooms the breathing spring
Of Hope and Youth.
So many minds did gird their orbs with beams,
Tho’ one did fling the fire;
Heaven flow’d upon the soul in many dreams
Of high desire.
Thus truth was multiplied on truth, the world
Like one great garden show’d,
And thro’ the wreaths of floating dark up-curl’d,
Rare sunrise flow’d.
And Freedom rear’d in that august sunrise
Her beautiful bold brow,
When rites and forms before his burning eyes
Melted like snow.
There was no blood upon her maiden robes
Sunn’d by those orient skies;
But round about the circles of the globes
Of her keen eyes
And in her raiment’s hem was traced in flame
WISDOM, a name to shake
All evil dreams of power–a sacred name.
And when she spake,
Her words did gather thunder as they ran,
And as the lightning to the thunder
Which follows it, riving the spirit of man,
Making earth wonder,
So was their meaning to her words. No sword
Of wrath her right arm whirl’d,
But one poor poet’s scroll, and with his word
She shook the world.
A mentally ill child tried to kill me this year — more than once. I knew she was serious by the hollow look in her dark eyes. I now know that the local sheriff is a history buff because he’s visited the house more than once. There’s a part of the brain that shuts down in the face of prolonged rejection. It’s the part that makes you care about being rejected, the part that makes you care about the person who rejects. I never really needed this child to love me. I suppose, looking back, that I needed her to at some point heal.
This past year I’ve prayed a lot. I say this not as a boast, but a confession. My prayers have often times been like the dried and shriveled roses above. A few times I’ve prayed about viruses and mask mandates, but most times the words stayed closer to home.
My prayers have been weak because I have been past the point of caring, or more to the point, past the point of trying to be successful. The idea of tip-toeing in blog posts over the minefield of masks and politics was beyond anything I could even consider because our house was a minefield. It still is — every time this kid with gaping emotional wounds comes home from the hospital.
I don’t fear death. I look forward to it with much curiosity and enthusiasm, but I don’t want my teeth knocked out or stab wounds. Unlike a soldier in an old-time hand-to-hand combat situation, self-defense against a child who weighs more than you and is psychotic is a risky venture anyway. I don’t want to go to jail. I prefer to calmly gather up the things I don’t want broken, shoo the dogs to their crates as the situation escalates and suggest to the child that she call the crisis hotline. Sometimes she does this. She calls them when she doesn’t want to read for school and hangs up on them when they tell her all children have school work.
This last time she called the police on herself and told them that if they didn’t get the f**k here soon she was going to kill me and set the house on fire. I knew that with a captive audience (the police dispatcher) she would not come at me so I was able to tidy up the place before the police arrived. When the officer arrived, this child greeted him at the door with the remains of a frothing, raving anger dried at the corners of her mouth. he commented on it, said it was a chemical reaction to an unhinged mental state though at this moment she was calmly telling him that she had dreamt of killing her brother and father too. She was only being honest, she said. They took her away and two weeks later she was home again and worried that she would not be able to control that desire she had to murder me.
After a year off blogging I go with this story, right? What am I thinking?
I could pretend it was a good sabbatical year. In some ways it actually was a good year. I wrote a decent amount, I traveled alone to my favorite place, I kept a sense of humor, but it was definitely a hard one.
I usually go about two days being pretty sure I’ve given up on the kid. During those days I sometimes beat myself up for not being more clever. It turns out I’m weirdly brave in those crazy moments when she wants to do damage, but I do have trouble sleeping some nights imaging lurid outcomes.
I want to know what real bravery and self-sacrifice feel like (because I’m often timid). I mean the kind where you want to be brave and self-sacrificing, not the kind poisoned by resentment and indifference. I’m not even sure that exists. I’m writing about a soldier (and cousin) from a time when most people seemed to realize that life was basically suffering and that self-sacrifice and bravery were pretty cool things but ordinary too. Now I begin to see how a young man swept up in his country’s enthusiasms makes a decision to serve. How the naiveté wears off. How the true test begins. How when the charge comes you fight or flee.
I think I’ve grown this year because I don’t have any sense of victimhood. I don’t care about rewards or if this kid likes me. I volunteered for a fight that looks pretty and noble on paper with flags flying and spectators cheering you on as you disappear to the reality of blood and guts. It no longer matters what the crowds say. There are so few good field hospitals for a kid with this type of hurt. There are so few people (even doctors) who understand the battle. I sure as hell didn’t (and don’t even now).
I only begin to understand my small part in it, like a single foot soldier I almost can’t see a thing. Unlike a real soldier I’ve only been up against death a few times and can call in the police so it’s a faulty and kind of obnoxious comparison, but the question still stands. What does bravery look like — for real? Is there a point when you know you’re brave? Do you have to be a little out of your mind?
I’ve noticed that when you stupidly pray for something to grow in your life you tend to be given opportunities to grow it. And it’s seriously always painful.
The kid calls me every day from the hospital and we talk about how she wants to kill me, but how she really doesn’t want to and how some doctors misdiagnose her with bipolar and jack up her meds and how others see that she’s just an unhealed gaping wound and say no amount of drugs will help a kid who had such a shitty bio mother.
I don’t know how this fight or flight combat situation will end. I’m hoping we make it to armistice. The weird part is that we still love each other.
Sensitiveness by John Henry Newman
Time was, I shrank from what was right,
From fear of what was wrong;
I would not brave the sacred fight,
Because the foe was strong.
But now I cast that finer sense
And sorer shame aside;
Such dread of sin was indolence,
Such aim at Heaven was pride.
So when my Savior calls, I rise,
And calmly do my best;
Leaving to Him, with silent eyes
Of hope and fear, the rest.
I step, I mount where He has led;
Men count my haltings o'er;
I know them; yet, though self I dread,
I love His precept more.
I’m one of those people who spends a lot of time complaining about the state of education in America yet fails to attend even a single PTA or school board meeting.
My only excuse is that I’m too tired in the evenings because I get up at five A.M. My husband likes to point out that the family members from the 1800’s I’m researching for my next book probably got up even earlier to milk cows and probably went to school meetings, but he doesn’t go to PTA meetings either.
When we took in our now adopted daughter, our local, tiny school was very accommodating despite M’s first day from hell when she announced she was going to kill herself with knives and made her fourth grade classmates cry. In my typically controlling way I dressed “M” to look “normal” and hoped for the best. By Friday she was in the psych ward and would stay there for months before returning to the now wary school.
Again the staff took her in with open arms (much to their credit), but there were problems. M’s trauma had forced her to become a very charming manipulator. She was hungry all the time so they gave her access to treats in every classroom (despite our pleas against the practice) and gave her free lunches even after we insisted that it was unnecessary since we packed her enormous lunches every day.
This was the first button pushed for me. I’ve always found it galling that, despite the obesity epidemic among our children and the mandatory health education classes taught in schools, teachers still give out so much “food” in their classrooms. The school psychologist was the worst offender, but it seemed to be common practice especially among the special education teachers.
It was obvious that some on the staff considered us overbearing quacks because we noticed an uptick in insane behavior whenever school was in session and whenever M was allowed tons of junk food — and she was getting tons of junk food daily.
She ate breakfast at home.
Just off the bus she ate a second breakfast and loaded milk and muffins into her bookbag from the Share Table to snack on during the day.
She ate the lunch we packed AND another lunch.
She scarfed down the candy offered by her special education teacher and during counseling.
She was even given money to buy MORE food from well-meaning volunteers when she said she was hungry. Yes.
This happened DAILY.
The school psychologist even told us that the staff’s job was not to monitor children’s eating habits.
I countered that if a mentally disabled child with impulse control issues was deathly allergic to peanuts the staff would probably monitor that, but to no avail. For three years we begged them to stop overfeeding, to stop being manipulated, but it only got worse.
By the end of last school year M had convinced certain teachers to keep secret clothes for her in bins so she could change into them at school and change out before coming home.
She had teachers who gave her their own pierced earrings to wear despite the fact that we told M she had to wait for her ears to heal after she let them get so infected that the skin was growing over the backs of the earrings.
M has strong compulsions related to her abuse and frequently sought out inappropriate and terrifying things on the internet — things so terrifying to her that she insisted on being taken to the mental hospital a few times so we asked the school not to give her a Chrome Book.
Here again is a pet peeve of mine: if we are being told that too much screen time is frying kids’ brains then why are we giving them more screen time in school?
I once quipped during a special education meeting that pretty soon teachers would be unnecessary. The staff members laughed uncomfortably. My husband rolled his eyes. Of course M was secretly given access to the Chrome Book.
One teacher who took our concerns seriously said that M might do well in her class if she would just settle dowwn. She had so many balls of lies and craziness in the air she was like the Cat in the Hat on steroids.
Her double life led to sleepless nights, suicidal thoughts and rage. She fantasized about living at school or at a friend’s where she had vaped once. At our most recent school meeting (just before the Covid lockdown) the staff suggested M be put in total special education lockdown. They didn’t say lockdown. They were nice about it, but admitted their belief that she couldn’t possibly pass the state exams to graduate high school. M cried when they suggested she could still “graduate” with her class but would not receive a real diploma.
Now I’m not unrealistic. I don’t think she can pass the state exams. The idea of M languishing before a computer screen munching on cookies for the next four years just seemed wrong. To be fair, the school district does not have the means to offer truly individualized care for their struggling students. Kids with disabilities have to share space with other kids who may have behavioral issues. There’s not a one fit computer program for the problems kids come to school with. We talked about special schools, but we live far away from most and they can be really expensive. My husband and I would take turns saying, “We don’t want to homeschool but …”
When Covid swooped in to take away most freedoms, one freedom remained: we could bite the bullet and give homeschooling a try. I informed the superintendent (who is a nice guy) that we would be keeping M out of school for at least the rest of the year. He probably sighed in relief as I was becoming more and more aggravated and annoying. I immediately bought a CURRICULUM FOR SPECIAL NEEDS STUDENTS and my husband installed a huge white board on the landing to our basement.
All kids are at home now, but I’m pretty sure I won’t be sending M back ever. M hasn’t had a single episode of crazy, suicidal spiraling. She’s sleeping a solid eight hours. We aren’t fighting — AT ALL!
M is conjugating LATIN verbs(!) and reading Greek Mythology with great enthusiasm. She’s developed a love for Laura Ingalls Wilder and no longer has to deal with dystopian themes like the ones constantly being fed to her at school. She’s not using a calculator to do simple math. It’s challenging but that’s the very thing she needs. Now M doesn’t get on honor roll just for showing up with a smile. She works. She’s intellectually disabled not doomed.
I admit that the idea of doing this for the next four years is daunting, but so far the experiment has been far more fruitful than I could ever have imagined.
How about you? Is anyone bothered by the double-mindedness of educators who constantly reward children with food or do you think I’m nuts? ♥♥