A new beginning. A new rhythm. As the seasons roll on there is always a new beginning and a new unfolding. Changes we expect and those that slip up on us, catching us unaware. After six years of homeschooling – later mornings, relaxed breakfasts, snuggling on couches, following my own routines — things have switched up.
For the first time in years, there is space. Space within my days. Room to do more than breathe, room to stretch my arms and stretch my mind into places long abandoned.
I was eager and willing to embrace homeschool during the years we did it. I don’t regret one second of that time, even though it wasn’t always easy. I am so grateful to have spent those years side by side with my daughter, learning who she is and growing close to her.
But the rhythm of days has changed, and even though I have been preparing for this all summer there is both a joy and an ache.
The joy comes from seeing my daughter move along a path that feels right to her and to us as her parents, watching her find her way in a new community, seeing her stretch and explore, witnessing an unfurling into the young woman she is becoming.
I miss her daily presence, the light of her face throughout my days. Yet I embrace the ache. It reminds me of the gifts we’ve shared, the interwoven hours, the privilege I’ve had of sometimes escorting, more often trailing behind, her as she transitioned from one stage to the next.
The ache is a small wildflower in the field of my heart. I imagine I will carry it with me through all my days. When I feel the absence of my girl, I will bend down to inspect the exquisite petals, delight in the flower’s bright colors and its insistence to grow.
At the same time I have been blessed with the time and space to grow myself as I watch my girl flit like a butterfly towards her future. Years ago my mother told me she was always learning even through her later years, maybe especially at that time.
My mother walks beside me today and as I link arms with the ghost of who my daughter was and who she might become. She places an arm around my shoulders, whispers words of assurance and love as we step forward into this new day.
Mornings are some of the most peaceful times on the farm. Here’s a little peek at what I see most mornings when I head down to the barn with Sydney. How can you not love these horses?
I woke before dawn, an eagerness spilling over me to greet the day, see what it holds. Before the recurrence of Lyme symptoms, I woke like this every morning for six weeks in a row, maybe more. I’d slip out from the covers, pull my clothes on and set out with Sunny for a walk to the end of the road. Those mornings were delicious…quiet, light splashed, cool, damp, grey-filled…always different, but always a gift.
For a few mornings this week, I stayed in bed after the sun crept over the horizon and wondered if last-year’s fatigue would take over and keep me from celebrating each morning’s blessing. Today, I hoped when I got out of bed, I’d have the same energy to walk and enjoy the beginning of my day. It was not a miraculous healing…but it was a positive step. I had some energy and was able to walk. Not all the way to the end of the road. But partway. And maybe I pushed myself a little. But it was worth it…to see the pale peach sky behind the barn, to hear the twitter of birds, to see the world waking. Yes, I felt the drag on my right side as I continued. But my pride or my stubbornness kept me going. And I was rewarded.
It would be easy to get discouraged and compare my present state with my recent great health. But I remember the days where I dragged myself around a short route for five minutes, once, twice, eventually three times a day, then slowly increased my time. My body responded…gradually.
And even when my body didn’t respond, I learned how quickly we adjust and gain perspective. When my legs no longer worked, I was reminded that I still had my hands. When my hands no longer worked, I rejoiced that I could still think. Not that it was easy. No. There was mourning too. But appreciation somehow flowers when we lose things.
Today, I remembered to thank God for each step, even the draggy ones. I was awake and moving. The sun will shine today and beauty abounds.
…with horses back on the property. I wake early, anticipating another sunrise, the serenity of a quiet dawn and the presence of horses on the farm. I am eager to take my morning walk, then come back and meet Sydney so that we can feed the horses together.
Sunny and I walk down the gravel drive through the trees. There is a hint of coolness in the air, unlike yesterday’s summery temperatures. My shoes crunch on the loose rocks below me, I wonder how the horses will respond when they see me. Will they neigh loudly, stamp and paw the ground, eager for breakfast? Will they circle their stalls, ready to bolt when their doors are opened into the grassy field in front of them?
As I walk towards the barn, I sense a stillness. I pass the big barn doors, continuing down the driveway. In the filtered light, I look across the paddock and see Foxie’s face peering in my direction. Smokey is too small to look over his door, but I trust he and Foxie share the same peace. They seemed to pass it back and forth yesterday afternoon when they arrived. Neither horse was agitated in the least. Both of them seemed to look around and, with a slow exhale, say to themselves, “We’re here. This looks like home.”
After my walk, Sydney and I come down to feed. The horses watch us as we move through the barn. We replenish their stalls with fresh flakes of hay. I say to Sydney, “Let’s wait a few minutes before we prepare their grain,” knowing the clatter of pellets from scoop into bucket excites even the calmest of horses.
Foxie and Smokie wander over to the hay in the corner of their stalls and bury their noses. My daughter and I stand waiting and expectant. There is nothing but the sound of molars grinding fescue and timothy and an occasional soft snort. Morning coolness wafts through the open barn. This is the companionship of horses. I could stay forever in this moment.
Before the sun came up, I woke with a sense of peace like clean gauze wrapped around the oozings of my heart. My mind had wanted to race in circles last night, but I slowed its galloping with a reminder: things often look new in the morning. And in this damp drenched April dawn, I sense a settling, the way pollen clings to grass or how magnolia petals that blossomed pink and surprising in March gradually turn brown and drift to the ground. Whatever it is my mind wants to force into place has eased, leaving a sweet trust that hides in the sleep-freshened branches of my mind.
Our barn has stood empty for the last 10 years. Anyone who knows me well or has read my memoir, Motherhood: Lost and Found, knows that the years before that were filled with the grief of multiple miscarriages and the slow loss of my mother due to Alzheimer’s.
I used to teach riding lessons and, at one time, kept five horses and enjoyed a sweet community of riding friends and students. But I came to a point where the grief and exhaustion of caring for my mother took over my days and I had little energy for anything else. I had to send the horses away. Then my daughter was born and I became completely absorbed in both her care and in the miraculous blessing of her presence. Through toddlerhood and the wonderful, demanding years of homeschooling, I had little time and even less energy to contemplate the possibility of horses.
In 2013, when my daughter was 11 and turned 12, I first began to consider bringing horses back to the farm. But at the end of that year, in December, I had the first symptoms of a mysterious, debilitating illness that would last throughout much of the next year. Thankfully, my good health is returning.
Now it is early spring and the grass is greening. The sun rose at 7:10 a.m. On my walk, I took photos of the barn in the dawn and gradually the glow in the eastern sky brightened until it took over the morning. Birdsong surrounds me, red buds are blossoming in the woods, new life is all around. Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday and on Sunday we will celebrate Easter.
This week my daughter and I will go look at a sweet Quarter Horse mare. She seems to have all the characteristics of a good schooling horse, one on which I can teach my daughter the basics of riding and horse care. But time will tell. They will meet, and there will be a spark that flashes between them, a spark capable of igniting a heart – or not.
I have learned to be wary, to hesitate before celebrating. But these early spring days are calling me out, asking me to risk, dangling joy in front of me. It’s hard to imagine that I could have this second chance with horses, a return to my old life. But even as I write these words I know that nothing stays the same. Even old memories become layered with new experiences. What we think is set in our mind’s eye shifts and is recreated daily. I am fearful of being pulled back into recollections of days where barn chores were a heavy burden because of the emotional weight I carried as I grieved over my empty womb and cared for my declining mother. Am I willing to risk facing those griefs as I form a new layer of reminiscence with my daughter as we feed horses, clean stalls, scrub buckets and all the rest that comes with looking after and loving horses?
I don’t know what tomorrow’s sunrise will bring. But I am ready to move forward into a new day.