I’ve been at the lake for almost a week, just enough time to slip into the rhythm of a lake dweller. Someone who has forgotten the minutiae that occupied my mind before I arrived, someone who eats meals on the deck and no longer cares about washing my hair, someone who takes note of the wind and checks the surface of the lake each time I’m outside. Someone who cools off before dinner with a swim.
Here at Lake George the weather shifts from cool and windy to warm and sunny to damp and rainy within a few hours. This year, we’ve been blessed with beautiful days where we’ve enjoyed being out on the boat, swimming to the float at the family beach, spending a morning on a dining porch or an afternoon on a dock chatting with cousins, watching the sun set over the mountains.
The first few days, we rushed to get everything in, still running on the energy of our regular lives. But today, my last day here, I want to slow down and absorb the messages this place holds.
On our first days, we took Sydney tubing with a cousin, went kayaking around the bay, swimming at the beach. We gathered with cousins for our annual family meeting and picnic. There was a flurry of activity and fun.
Midway through our time here, something slowed inside me. My daughter and I canoed to Joshua’s Rock. The wind was so strong, we hardly needed to paddle on our way out. We sat on the ledge that I’ve shared over the years with my mother, my siblings and cousins and looked out on the expanse of lake. Neither of us said much. My daughter picked wild blueberries from the bush beside her as I studied patterns of moss on the granite under my bare feet. On the way home, we had to dip our paddles deep to keep from floating backwards with the current.
Before sunset, the wind died down and we took our friend’s pontoon boat out. The water in the bay was like glass and the sky a tapestry of greys.
Today, I walked down the hill to the beach and felt the echo of my childhood footsteps, how I couldn’t stop my young legs from running, skipping over the stones that rose from the green grass like the brows of my uncles.
The sight of water behind the tall pines along the shore never fails to lift my heart. And on a day when the sky is china blue and sketched with white clouds, this place feels like a small piece of heaven.
After losing about a month to illness…a sinus infection (hidden deeply behind my right eye) and perhaps a touch of bronchitis and/or pneumonia, I am returning to the land of the living. Out of necessity and lack of energy, I had to pull inward, drop out of many of my normal activities. As I sat with myself for so many uninterrupted hours, I couldn’t help but ponder the transitions that have been and are afoot around our place. We’re caring for horses again on our property after a good decade of having the barn empty, and six years of homeschool are coming to a close. Both of these things feel major, and one is the beginning of a new (and old) venture, the other is an ending (at least for now) and also a beginning. And as someone who likes to put things in order, this tangle of beginnings and endings has been confusing.
One of the startling things to me about bringing horses back to the farm is how familiar and different it feels at the same time. In some ways, I’ve stepped into old roles, often without even realizing it. As I’ve been teaching Sydney and Lauren-Kate about horses and giving them riding lessons, words come out of my mouth that I had long forgotten were even in me. I even find myself standing or walking differently…a stance and a pace from my 20s and 30s, the days when I taught a dozen or more kids and kept five horses at our barn.
What is also startling is that my daughter has suddenly (seemingly overnight) become a responsible horse woman. She brings horses in from the field, feeds, grooms, checks water and does every other barn chore without needing to be reminded. She seems to have a sixth sense about how to handle horses.
My last memories of having horses at the barn a decade ago were somewhat dreary – me, childless and exhausted from caring for my mom, feeling as if the day-to-day chores were endless. And so, although, I love horses, I was in no hurry to have several in my care again.
It has been such a sweet surprise to see how Sydney (and our friends) have happily taken to barn chores. I pinch myself almost daily as I walk down to the barn and am suddenly transported back to my own teenage years. I remember how I “did it all” as my mom stood to the side, and now I see Sydney doing the same thing. Not only does she not need my help, she likes being independent and showing me her new-found skills. And, of course, this is a little confusing too and requires some adjustments on my part. While I am “the professional,” I must take care to step back and give my daughter the opportunity to be “in charge” of certain things.
At the same time as barn and horses are shape-shifting in my mind, so is Sydney’s schooling. She is no longer (and hasn’t been for a while), the child who needs me to oversee each project. She has been taking the reins (pun intended) and setting her own course. And next school year, she’ll be stepping into a new situation, one where my presence will only be necessary in a peripheral way.
Most parents, who don’t homeschool, probably experience this change much earlier or perhaps in a gradual way as their children move through the grades of traditional school. But the shift from homeschool to traditional school is more abrupt, and there are bumps, even though both Sydney and I are excited about what’s ahead. She’s looking forward to fun social opportunities, days full of activity and new experiences. I’m excited to hear about her new adventures, encourage her through these transitions and have new pieces of time for myself.
But navigating these new situations will be a challenge. Figuring out my new role and respecting hers will no doubt cause friction at times. Change doesn’t occur in a straight line. We’ll both no doubt slip into old patterns and stumble our way into new ones. Learning who my daughter is becoming and what she needs and doesn’t need from me is somewhat daunting.
I’m sure that on occasion I’ll miss the toddler who ran into my arms for comfort. But at the same time, I celebrate the changes that Sydney is embracing. She is an amazing young woman who both challenges me and expands my awareness of what it means to be a loving parent. I adore her and look forward to this new stage of life! It has been the most incredible gift to be Sydney’s mother. As always, I pray for God’s grace as we travel the path ahead.
After 10-plus days of head-aching congestion, laryngitis and basically feeling pretty rotten along with many days in a row of having a fever (once all the way up to 103), I’ve been feeling rather pitiful…missing my mom (she took great care of me when I was sick!). I had a couple of hours of being fever free the other day (so I decided to give myself the gift of writing about my mother), then wham the fever hit me again! Is this the dreaded 10-day virus? Or is my immune system just seriously compromised after dealing with the Lyme co-infections? Who knows? It just is… Maybe this is where humility begins. So much for getting a running start into summer. Thought I’d post a pretty photo, so at least my eyes can be happy.
For three-quarters of a decade, I have kept these dried flowers on a bureau in the hall, in a place where I could see them from my office. For a period of time they gave me comfort. They reminded me of my mother, who loved nature and the outdoors. I would glance at them as I was working on my memoir and think of her. But a year or two year ago, I began to feel like it was time to clear out the old and replace it with something new. It suddenly started feeling a bit morbid to have dead flowers from my mother’s funeral still in the house. Every week or so, I wiped away another handful of disintegrating dry petals from the surface of the bureau. My mother died in 2007.
But I didn’t want to just throw them away. I knew the flowers were a representation of my mother, not her ashes. But still I wanted to “let go” of these dried bouquets in a way that would honor her. So, during one of the cold days of winter, I came upon an idea. I held it in my mind for a while, caressing it for any rough edges. My idea was this: On Mother’s Day I would take the dried flowers to the graveyard on our property. We have several animals buried there: a beloved kitten named Spunky that wandered into our barn when it was first being built, three horses — including my beloved Crimson — and various other pets (some owned by others). At the back of the graveyard is a magnolia tree that Joel and I planted. It was a gift from my dear friend Lyn after one of my miscarriages. I imagined sprinkling dried petals around the base of this sweet tree that blooms each spring.
As the days gradually warmed, my idea evolved. I would take some of the flowers and leaves and distribute them around our farm. After all, Mom was (and is) ubiquitous in my life. I remember her walking around the property, waving her arms and exclaiming at the beauty of the woods the same way she exclaimed over the beauty of her beloved Lake George. I spent 20 years writing a memoir about her. And, yet, there is so much more to say. Her kindness, her gentleness, her tender heart are all things that bring me to tears. I missed them after she had died and still do. Even though, over 10 years before her death, she had descended deeply into Alzheimer’s, her gentle spirit was always present. But, still, it took time before I remembered the mother who had been there before the illness.
Gradually, as the weight and exhaustion of care taking lifted, the layers of who she was began fluttering through my mind like loose leaf pages. She was disorganized, but spontaneous. Ready for an adventure at a moment’s notice. She continually expressed pure awe at God’s handiwork. She was at home on the water. She loved sailing and canoeing, watching the sun set over the glistening waves. She enjoyed the occasional mountain hike or a roadside overlook, encouraging her children to pause and take in the views, listen to the birds. She was a lover of words — writing weekly feature stories for her town’s newspaper for years. As I think about it, one reason I think her stories were so appreciated by the community was that she really and truly wanted to know her subject. She found people endlessly fascinating and complex. But she approached them with no judgment whatsoever.
That quality of “wanting to know” may be what I most miss about her. To have a parent truly “want to know” you is a gift. My mother listened intently, cared deeply. She did not always “get” me. I suppose that is not unusual, maybe even a necessary stage in the mother/daughter relationship. And I realize, all these years later, that I was not exactly someone who was easy to know. But she tried, and she was always present to whatever was going on between us. Is it any wonder that I tend to idealize my mom? Maybe it’s no wonder that I kept the dried bouquets from her funeral on my bureau for seven and a half years.
So, finally Mother’s Day arrived. I looked at the dried flowers half dreading, half thrilled to be getting rid of them. I had told Joel a few days earlier that I wanted to save the pink contoured vase holding one of the collections of dried flowers. Both the color of it and the curves delighted my eyes. I also loved knowing that caring friends or family members had bought this particular vase filled with flowers and given it to us during the time of my mother’s death.
Joel presented me with a beautiful bouquet on Mother’s Day morning, and the roses would look gorgeous inside the vase. Our family went to church that morning, then Joel and I spent a leisurely afternoon — napping and taking a walk. Sydney, who wasn’t feeling well, went to bed early. The sun was just beginning to go down when I remembered that this was the day I wanted to dispense with the dried flowers. I smiled to myself, thinking that my mom — who rarely followed a plan that was laid out — would understand. Still, I didn’t want to wait another year!
So, I quickly emptied the bouquets into two plastic grocery bags. Then I had to put the flowers Joel had given me into the pink vase. Voila! They looked as beautiful as I had imagined.
As I stepped out of the house, I wandered around the foliage in our yard, placing a dried bud here, some disintegrating leaves there. I walked down the driveway in the gradually fading light. I dropped a few flowers into the woods, knowing I’d forget where they were, but liking the idea that they were there…or at least the remnants of them would finish decaying on my well-worn path.
I paused at the creek and sent a few dried petals floating to wherever the creek empties, knowing my mother, although tied down with a military husband and four children, also enjoyed her freedom.
I stopped by the barn and placed a dried flower in the door of Foxie’s stall, thinking of how my mother had loved my pony Cochise and that she must be smiling down on Sydney and her horse. I continued on, stopping here and there, including at the big rock we jokingly call “Joshua’s Rock South” in honor of the place “up north” deeply connected to my mother’s family’s heritage.
Eventually, I got to the graveyard. I had forgotten that Joel had not yet mowed it this year. I was in shorts, and prickers and Poison Ivy were everywhere. Once again, I remembered how my mother would toss her head when coming to an obstacle and light-heartedly move in another direction. She would understand, I thought, as I left a small bouquet at the entrance of the graveyard.
On the way back to the house, I paused at the places I had been, smiling and sighing. It felt good to relieve myself of these dead flowers, to spread their husks into the world, allowing them to be remade over time into something new. As I was approaching the big creek, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. It was a bird. Not just any bird. A robin.
The bird was dusky with a definite tint of orange on her breast. My mother loved all birds and would exclaim over every cardinal or blue jay or purple martin that she saw. But robins were what I considered “our birds.” My middle name is Robin. And each time she spotted one, she said it was “Little Robin Red Breast,” and mom would look at me tenderly, as if the bird and I were one. Over the years we spotted many robins during our spring, summer and fall walks, or my mother would call to me when she noticed one outside her kitchen window. There were many sightings.
This little robin on the driveway was a messenger, a gift, a reminder of my mother’s love and the fact that her spirit can not be contained in a few bouquets of dried flowers. I needn’t feel bad that I was letting this tangible reminder of her go. Reminders were everywhere. The woods were full of them. And somehow setting myself free from the burden of holding on, allows me to feel the joy of her life. In the darkening light, the robin stayed with me, never more than a few yards ahead, as I walked. I thanked God silently for this amazing little bird and for my mother, all that she was and always will be. When I reached the house, the robin flitted towards a tree (for safety or to build a nest?) as the dog came running up to greet me the same way life rushes in.
This is just a teaser from our exciting day today. Yes, today was the day when horses came back to our property after a long season of “horse-less-ness.” It’s too late for me to go through all the photos and post everything, but I couldn’t let the day go by without sharing a “sneak peek” and thanking a few people. I am so full of gratitude for all the help I have received on this journey back into the horse world!
Very special thanks to my friend Lynn, who spent several hours with us and drove her truck and trailer to pick up these two sweeties. Several years ago, she kept her horses on our property and even leased our barn for a time before buying her own farm. Lynn has been so generous and encouraging throughout this process.
Thank you to MeLanie, who trusted us with Smokey, our companion Shetland pony. We look so forward to getting to know him and caring for him.
Thank you, Sydney and Lauren-Kate, who took wonderful care of Foxie and Smokey, leading them to the pasture, preparing their stalls with fresh sawdust and brushing them to a shine. You girls helped settle the horses in so sweetly.
Many thanks to my friend Karen for documenting this day in photos (more to come) and making it so fun with your wonderful enthusiasm
Thank you, Jo, for joining in on the “party” and coming over to meet Foxie and Smokey. Your presence added to the festiveness of this day.
And last, but never least, thank you to my husband Joel, who came down to the barn with Sydney and me after dinner. He helped me adjust stiff bridle parts, retrieved a leg wrap that Sunny ran off with and stood in the pasture to watch Sydney and me ride as the sun went down. It was a beautiful way to end an amazing day.
Yesterday morning, I had no idea how I would find a companion pony for the horse we are bringing to our farm for Sydney. But I had the sense that I needn’t worry, there was a plan, even if I wasn’t privy to it. I thought it might come through the lovely women at Race2Ring, a rescue operation for horses coming off the track and other horses in need. And, indeed, I had an email from Erica that morning that made me hopeful. And I received a phone call from Tracy, the director, that afternoon. It was a blessing to connect with these women who care so deeply about horses and people and to know they had been working so hard on my behalf to find a suitable companion for Foxie.
But it wasn’t to be. At least, not this time. Still, I felt a sense of peace. I figured it must be time for me to reach out to some of my other contacts in the horse world, although I doubted I would have much success since the lines of communication had grown dim with so little contact over the past decade.
Then I remembered a post I had seen late the night before on an Equestrian site. It was about a Shetland pony who was for sale and lived on a nearby farm. The price was cheap. But I knew I didn’t want to buy another horse at this time. I looked up the owner’s Facebook account to see if I might learn something that would propel me in one direction or another. To my surprise, she and I had a friend –Helen– in common. What was amazing to me was that this friend was not a horse person, but a former homeschool mom and a writer. Helen also happened to be someone my friend Karen knows well.
One of my concerns, as I have been moving back into the horse world, has been how will I ever have the time for both horses and writing. A couple of weeks ago I had initiated a call for writers who were interested in gathering together in critique groups. A part of me wondered why it was that at THIS particular time, when I was starting something new with horses, that I felt the nudge to reach out to other writers. In the past, I might have talked myself out of one thing or another, convincing myself I only had time for one new initiative. But, for whatever reason, I trusted this nudge, and simply allowed the experience to unfold.
Helen was one of the writers who answered the call for the critique group, and I could tell during that first meeting she was someone I wanted to get to know better. The week before Easter, my friend Karen invited a group of moms and kids to her house for their annual Easter egg hunt. Sydney and I had attended Karen and LK’s egg hunt many times. But this year, I was delighted to discover that Helen and her daughter were there. Helen and I talked as we hid eggs, sharing bits of our lives and our writing. I felt an immediate connection with her.
The horse world, like every pocket of the population, has its share of unseemly characters looking to make a quick buck, so I often approach transactions with a bit of wariness. But when I saw that the Shetland pony’s owner was a Facebook friend with Helen, I thought she must be a nice person. And that is exactly what the Shetland pony’s owner typed to me in her message when I told her we had this friend in common.
I asked the Shetland pony’s owner if she would consider a month’s lease, and she responded enthusiastically: “Absolutely!” I asked about the pony’s manners and what she would charge for the lease. She said he had good manners and there would be “no charge.”
No charge! I could hardly believe it. Not only did this pony sound like a sweetheart, someone who our family would quickly fall in love with, he was an easy keeper and had come from a home where he had been well cared for and loved for seven years. And we could pick him up on Friday!
The fact that God provided a connection to this Shetland pony through a new writer friend reminds me not to give into my fears, but to trust that He cares deeply for my concerns and passions.
Interestingly, at the same time that I was communicating with the Shetland pony’s owner, a writer friend, Suzanne, who is creating an April Anarchy bracket (similar to March Madness, but filled with poems instead of basketball teams) in honor of National Poetry Month messaged me: Would I consider videotaping myself reading a poem written by one of my favorite poets, Maxine Kumin, and posting it on YouTube? I was happy to do it and honored to be asked. A Pulitzer Prize winning writer, Maxine had also been a friend and fellow horsewoman, someone who loved animals, nature and farm living as I do. Over the years, she had often encouraged me to get a horse for Sydney and get back to riding.
Maxine and I with one of her horses on her New Hampshire farm.
Me with Sydney, Maxine and Victor (Maxine’s husband)
Last night, I took a walk at sunset and allowed the confluence of these events to penetrate me. I continue to be astounded. The stamp of poetry and writing have appeared throughout my transition into the horse world. Even this blog (that Sydney helped me create several years ago, but I’d yet to post anything on) suddenly sprang to life as I contemplated the rising tide of joy that washed over me when I considered what it would be like to share the experience of having horses with my daughter. And I thought to myself, I must collect these moments, frame them with words and remind myself to see and appreciate the beauty of this narrative flowing through my life.