I went out to my favorite trail to run again, Pheasant Branch in Middleton, a three mile loop that takes me through both the prairies and the woodlands of Southern Wisconsin. I know every turn and twist, which helps me see the minute changes from week to week as the seasons progress.
This connection to a specific place, as well as the running, grounds me.
A week ago, three sandhill cranes flew right over my head, belling their prehistoric music, maybe on their way to find the bigger flock they’ll migrate with. I don’t believe in coincidence. The card for JOY in my tarot deck shows three cranes dancing, and my jogged mind said to me, You better write about this.
Joy in the parents with their now-grown chick, headed back to join their community. What is more archetypal than that?
Not every dance a family does is quite so joyful. My oldest is thirteen now and suddenly my used-to-be-morning child is slugging pretty hard into his bed. No matter that his alarm goes off at 5:30, the past couple of mornings he’s tumbled downstairs, scarfed breakfast…and needed a ride to school because he missed the bus and it’s too late to walk.
“This is your problem to solve,” I holler up at him. “I’m not going to drive you to school every day.”
“I’ll skip breakfast!” he yells from upstairs. “I’ll skip lunch! I deserve to be punished!!”
Change is hard for my kid.
There’s the savvy old saying, You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. This is pretty practical advice for parents. Unless you give birth to a mule.
My kid is something of a mule. When he gets thirsty, I know from long experience I can’t lead him to the water. He’ll just balk. Instead, I have to nod my head casually and say, “I hear tell there’s water over thataway.”
I’d like to solve all his problems for him…but he resists that, and I know deep down he is right to resist it. He’s gotta figure it out for himself. Each of us does. My job may be, more or less, to keep a little space clear at home to give him the place and the quiet he needs to become himself in the world.
I’ve been sitting on this essay for a week, because there’s something about it that felt unfinished, half-realized. And I think, reading it over again, that it’s right here, in the acknowledgment of my own limits. This strange little piece is not just about one mother and son relationship. Maybe this is the best we can do for each other, ever: to keep a little space clear in all our relations to allow family, friends, colleagues, to be and become themselves. I can’t solve your grief. I can’t tell you how to fix your life. I can’t know you, ever, fully. But I can give you room. And I can help to define the boundaries of that space by listening closely, deeply, to your voice.
If we could look at each other and promise, You can be yourself with me, it’s okay, what a gift that would be. What a revolution.
While I was driving my kid over to school, he said angrily, “Maybe I need to start setting my alarm for 3 a.m.”
“Well you know,” I said, eyes remaining on the road, “I don’t think the alarm is working. Maybe it’s already set too early.”
“Hey–yeah,” he said. Sometimes there’s grace. Sometimes a person is receptive to a new idea. We’ll see how it goes tonight.
Meanwhile, after the kids have gone to school I light a candle
and search out Wayland in my notebooks.
Hey, I say. I could use a little direction here.
This hasn’t been an easy season.
But I should know better by now.
He doesn’t even look up, just smiles to himself.
I hear there’s water over yonder. If
you’re thirsty. Follow those cranes.
One week later…my son walked to school this morning, and was probably late getting there. He’ll figure it out. Yesterday the three cranes were closer to the trail when I jogged by. You’re still here, I said. The tallest one looked at me. Of course. You haven’t published that essay yet.