Braving the Wilds

Field Notes from the Suburban Jungle

Tag: motherhood

Finding a Nest the Day my Daughter Gets her Driver’s License

The oldest noticed the nest first,
the one who is in love and realizing
what it is to care for another human being,
attached, vulnerable, responsible.

We couldn’t see the eggs, the ball
of twigs and twine out of reach,
but I imagined it was lined in red dog fur
as the ones in my childhood had been.

The youngest noticed the mother a week later,
feeding worms to sparsely-plumed,
enormous beaks, orange and pleading,
perched atop impossibly thin necks.

The middle, sick of clipped wings herself
acknowledged the fledglings with boredom,
asking for six points of identification:
birth, security, education, a passport,

While Robin flew off, inciting a tweeting chorus
of conflict: Stay! But give us the keys.


“Any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde.”
John Donne, from Mediation XVII

Motherhood is a Mary Cassatt painting,
we women are fooled into thinking:
rosy in hue, rounded, warm impressions,
of notions, of natural strength;

yet as soft as any human touch, the
introduction to the world seems as
painful to the newborn child, who
howls like an animal in the new

cold light that hits his coated skin
like a shock wave of truth, stings
his senses once easily lulled to
sleep in a warm amniotic bath.

My experienced sister told me, as I nested in place:
consider the first three months of a child’s life
a personal emergency. Keeping him alive
will require one’s personal liberties to be

stripped as convicted, to return later in
glorified pieces that merely resemble what
we once knew. What I once knew was
a lost woman who trod a path she thought

was clear; I mourned her, buried her, tipped a hat
to one who now understood her purpose,
in her milky quarantine. Life was not her own,
nor was it ever. For mankind, we begin again,

one body at a time, a collective. The infant in arms,
in a nursery, where frost on a pre-dawn window
blooms a silver bouquet, spreading its cold
branches illuminated in moonlight,

cradled, one of many new beginnings,
his skin flushed pink where it touches mine.

Loft Living

For J.S. Weaver

In a true Colonial, chopped, cornered,
center-chimneyed, puritanical walls
create charming nooks in which to
hide, with antiquated mechanisms.

We preferred loft living, a space
without the cordoned compartments, open:
where moon-faced children,
reflecting light, can hear

our shared soundtrack, a Joy
of Man’s Desiring. Clutching
fistfuls of color, they’ll
recognize me as I stumble

over their boots, left in a
row by the glass-paned door,
as I peel root vegetables
sweetened with dried herbs

which will sustain us through
this sinful New England winter.

New England Mille Feuille

You are the oak tree that
incorporated the entirety
of a bicycle into your trunk,
an oddity of your growth

habits, to encompass the bike
left behind by a child who
no longer wanted it. Your
bark, spilling over the

rusted crossbar like a
primordial ooze,
viscous and precariously
supportive, until the

ultimate, Shel Silverstein
sacrifice left you an
obliging stump, revealing
the rings of your past:

widely spaced and pink
at the center, scarred by
draught, fire, trauma at
the radial lines, which you

carried with a steadfast
stoicism. You threw your
acorns to the forest floor,
rich In decomposing foliage.

There is no closure, only
nurture, taking what you have
learned to bear fruit, the caps of
which made shrill whistles

for children, reminding the world
of their undeveloped presence, shaded
by a collective canopy. No, you will never
be the Charter Oak, boastful, old,

rubbing knotted elbows with
King Charles, pompously
granting unprecedented autonomy
to the State of Connecticut.

Your wood will never comprise
the governor’s desk; but we will
look to you, noble savage, and
patiently await your counsel;

when your leaves are the size
of a mouses’s ear, we will plant corn,
we will feed even the ungrateful children,
we will nourish the world.

Her, And Her Antecedents

A katydid chirped

somewhere in this

200 year-old cottage,

interrupting the nightly

rituals, the scramble to

finish everything on the

proverbial fifteen year-old plate.

A lightning rod for all teenaged

concerns diverted anxiety onto

one undeserving creature

that has but one year to live


She is less entomophobic, more

stuck in the middle of

push and pull, making the

daily decision to provide, need, or

want, to place her hands on the

end of the rope that is manned by the

appropriate team.

This time, her younger self wins:

not the one who complains about

the sensitivity of her navel,

the grimace of the ancient place

that once connected her to her host; or

feels annoyance by

the dichotomy of responsibilities

of the child/parent who diverts trips home

through her ancestral village

to flip switches that her own

octogenarian mother can’t reach,

But the one who revels in the

foregone conclusion that

her mother will always want

to cradle her in the palms of

her warm hands, the same ones

that transport a green grasshopper

to a more obliging, al fresco


Sleep comes, tucked into

a familiar fetal position,

at the end of the day when she reflects

on all that has become ours, the

lists, the burden of what she carried, but ultimately,

Under the pacific weight of a quilt that allows

rest, respite, and a feral understanding

of the comfort it is to live where we belong and

to be essential, at both ends of the rope.

Labor and Delivery

A hospice published booklet,
A quasi “What to Expect” publication,
Featured a cover photograph of
Easter lilies in full dripping bloom,
A maudlin image of resurrection.

The penning nurse likened the dying
To laboring mothers,
Wincing through pain and anxiety
In wildly individualistic ways
With some aspects of universality.

The paragraphs that followed offered
Bullet points of signs, what to look for,
What to recognize, what to offer
As “comfort management,”
Generally undercutting the hope
Of a Hollywood ending.

Instead, caretakers are led
Inadvertently down a different
Stream of consciousness:
Wondering what it was like to be born,
And therefore, to die.

The birth simile sends us through a
Channel of the mother host,
Ending a parasitic relationship
In loneliness and fear, the light
At its end, elemental
And blinding.

The first point of a finite timeline,
The lives of their babies are marked
With altruistic, private emotion:
Joy and relief for a relatively safe delivery,
Overcome with colossal responsibility of
A new coexistence.

In the blink of a new clouded eye
The world and all of its realism,
Material conditions now grips a new being in
Wondrous danger: the cold from the air
Will parch their skin, the hunger from
Lack of umbilical support will
Hinder them thrice daily for the rest
Of their lives.
With an innate survivalist urge
A newborn grapples for the breast,
Cantaloupe-scented milk, for sustenance
And comfort, while the clinically-minded
Marks birth weight, length,
The ticking minute at which one
Masked attendant happens to look at
A school house clock perched above an incubator:
The start, his point A, one milestone throwing
A shadow at light speed.

Easter lilies replaced by poppies,
Hedgerows, young soldiers who
Didn’t have the advantage of
Comfort Managers, their continuum
Stopped prematurely, they naturally
Cry out for their mothers,
Yearning for the same comfort.

Their own line has been folded,
Turned, pierced, offering
Sunlight and Moonlight intertwined;
The axes of a place inconceivable
Bend to form a sphere that rolls,
Time ceases to exist and loved
Ones float in ideas.

May the more seasoned veterans amongst us,
Those more fully realized
Making the trip in necessary solitude,
Leave loneliness and fear at
The beginning, be enveloped in light
No longer blinding with all
Points in the line marked
By hash marks of recognized Grace,
And be met by the one woman, who
By a more natural course
Might be present, somehow,
At both ends of the labored line.


La Vie en Rose

Skipping along the pressure-treated planks
Of a removable dock
A child fearlessly anticipates
The first plunge into the warm
July waters of a pristine lake.

Her mother’s arms await her,
And outstretched invitation.
The water is clear, fish happy
Until the grin of the child is morphed
Into a grimace of pain that
Accompanies the long, wooden sliver
That pierces her soft heel.

Peals of laughter are replaced
With howls of a preschooler’s
Injury, cheeks paled under the
Gilded light of the afternoon sun.

A mother’s lips surround the
Entry point, sucking the smart
With no desired result. A squeeze of
The thumbs in the same swollen locale
Bring nothing but added injury.

An intermission of ignored reasoning
Ends with the declaration that
She cries not for the injury,
But the desire to be loved.
“Just hold me and kiss me
Instead. It’s not my foot!”

The unspoiled id, not yet
Encumbered by the ego, the superego
Reveals the child-like emotion that
Is unequivocally shared by all humankind,
As the mother recognizes that
She wants nothing but more
Of the same:

Affections, given freely,
Unable to be requested
Due to the thorns that reside
Festering in her own
Middle-aged body.

She sits in the makeshift operating room,
A tiled bathroom, sterile and cold,
Embracing her former self,
Cherubic, innocent, unencumbered,
Peachy and new with a sage-like
Ability to communicate
What Louis Armstrong croons
On the stereo left on that morning:

Give your heart and soul to me
And life will always be
La Vie en Rose.

Hand Pulled Chicken Casserole

There is an old English proverb that reads, “The eyes are the windows to the soul,” but I always have thought that hands are the introduction to the personality, the intricate weave of experiences and genetically bequeathed traits we receive from our parents. As a child, I was mesmerized by my father’s strong, hairy grease-streaked fingers that would tremble as he’d screw the cap off the oil tank in his Triumph, but would also very gingerly use his pinkies to transform our organized tangle of string from a witch’s broom back to a cat’s cradle. They always rested on the steering wheel at 10 and 2 o’clock as he drove, just as my mother’s would, never seemed to fumble. His mind’s eye was careful to make a sound judgement and he’d never slip when pushing a button: a strong, sure, able finger would push the right knob without hesitation after careful contemplation.

I heard speak of his own father’s mechanical capabilities, his trucking company, his service as the town of New Milford’s respected democratic first selectman, the genetic precursor to his own career in engineering.

My mother’s hands were strong and able, but gentle and pretty. On her left hand she wore her mother-in-law’s diamond wedding band, a ring now bestowed to my own daughter and tucked safely away. A symbol of elegance and welcome, that ring was a material example for the many ways my Grandmother enveloped my mother. I longed to know her as I looked at that ring, alas, she passed five years before my birth. She also wore a dainty Timex watch with an elasticized band that rested just below her prominent wrist bone. As the mother of five children, she had to keep careful track of what that watch read as she maneuvered her Pontiac station wagon around the town of Bristol Connecticut, steering it’s hulk from piano lessons, track practice, perhaps her afternoon of volunteering at the Bargain Box downtown, a second hand shop formed to benefit the Episcopal Church we attended every Sunday without fail.

I would stare at her sparsely decorated hands as they performed various tasks, her knuckles prominent, that of her pinky slightly extended while bent: bringing up the hem of one of my sister’s skirts that had grown too small for her but too long for me; pulling chicken off the bone to add to a casserole, removing one of the dozens of splinters that embedded itself in my feet, a painful byproduct of our summers spent on a wooden removable dock on Lake Waramaug.

If asked, I could pick her hands from hundreds of others, so it comes as a bit of a surprise to me that my own hands look like hers. The bones that connect my fingers to my wrist dance about under the thinning layers of skin just like hers did, and although my fingernails are nothing like hers, strong and long and feminine, my pinky knuckle also juts out when performing certain tasks. They are not entirely rough but smoothed out thanks to regular application of cream, and my children often remark “mom, your hands are warm and soft…”

I remember that warmth. My mom seemed to exude it from her body, inviting to a toddler who longed for the reconnection to that maternal love after performing a new stunt, dangerously inviting independence into our new lives.

Recently I noticed my mother’s ring finger being pinched by arthritis, a malady she pointed out to me as she sat opposite me in my own family car, she in the passenger seat and me with my hands on the wheel at precisely ten and two o’clock. It induced a pang low in my stomach, a twinge I have felt many times in my life: a psychosomatic pain that is introduced to my person when affected by another’s suffering. I have felt it as I saw an elderly woman struggling to get onto the bus unaided, my young nephew with his tongue stitched after cleft palate surgery, my own daughter having blood drawn from her tiny newborn vein, just south of her ring finger, a tiny capillary vessel of her life’s liquid tapped to measure her bilirubin. The sight of that sharp needle in her tiny, inexperienced hand and the sudden recognition that the world now had its own grip on my daughter, that she was no longer carefully and perfectly enveloped in my womb, had induced my first loss of consciousness. I fell to my knees as I attempted to comfort her, my own hands surgically taped into its own IV tube after a Caesarian, grasping for the gurney for support before my faded peripheral vision took over the whole of my eye.

Regardless of very personal associations, hands are universally symbolic in nature, but also practical. Horses are measured by them, but in Asian art, hands folded together are often a symbol of our dual natures, yin on one hand and yang on other other, joining together in harmony. The hands tenderly holding the heart on an Irish Claddagh ring symbolize friendship as well, as it does in a simple wave. Often attributed to the native American gesture in the woods – to show a hand without weapon and therefore a peaceful gesture. To offer one’s own hand could be construed as an offer to help, or more colossally, in marriage. A simple aid or an entire life is offered by the hand.

So it is in harmony that I offer my hand to my family and friends, but most symbolically to my own children. My son who will be 13 this fall no longer takes mine in public, but in the private confines of our own suburban home will compare the size of our hands with amusement: my hand is the same size as yours now, Mom! His hands tremble with sensory motor overload, much like my father’s, much like mine. He can construct a Lego creation with no effort at all if it weren’t for that pesky tremble that has seemed to travel the Adams rail line of congenital nuisances.

My nine year-old will still take my hand in all classes of company. Hers are topped by nail beds that have been chewed to the quick, evidence of a stressful school year during which she dug through social messes much too mature for her nine years of life experience. I am grateful she often slips her hand into mine, but the gesture is seldom enough for me to immediately recognize the difference in size and significance. I also observe with great amazement that that tiny dimpled grasp that once sent me swooning during a routine blood test can now knit and purl better than I ever could, cartoons like a developing expert, and crafts gorgeous pieces of art out of anything from driftwood to tin cans.

My two year-old often demands to be entirely ensconced in my hands, not yet sure of her own while she tests the temperature of the waters of a new world. Her developing awareness of those waters have in turn encouraged her to try out these tools at the end of her arms with greater refinement: as she clutches a crayon in a fist to scribble, as she struggles with a cereal spoon with a seeming palsy, spilling the milk en route to her pouting lips, but with surprising heartbreaking tenderness as she strokes my cheeks.

The hands of my children are revealing what’s to come, their strengths and weaknesses, their steps closer to the goal of independence, turning to the world with their own contributions rather than asking their mothers’ hands for help. My own aging hands, rough from more than 40 years of mud pies, spiking volleyballs, diaper changes, or more accurately the soap and water that now responsibly follow such tasks, starkly contrast my two year-old’s hands that still feature chubby dimples instead of knuckles, but with motherly love stroke the satin trim of Mine, her aptly named security blanket. I cradle her tonight as I watch my 9 year-old daughter slowly peel the carrots for hand pulled chicken casserole she is making with my mother at her lakeside cottage. She probably doesn’t realize that the knuckle of her pinky finger juts out just like the two previous digital generations have before her.

I look through the window, where my son takes a large mouth bass off the hook with perfection, regardless of the tremble that arrives with the gingerly task, capitalized by a gentle stroke of water he washes over its gills upon release. The tremble of his grasp is evident from a distance, but diminishes nothing of his ability.

These hands belong to my children who have found the tasks they like best, and whose heritage lay embedded in them. I feel a familiar catch in my throat of both pride and longing as I massage my own hands with the jar of Ponds cream that is perched on my mothers kitchen sink after having washed the dirt of the potato peels off of them and return to my toddler for a reassuring caress, hers and mine.