Saints of the Lost

hello there, friend

There’s a handful of saints every Catholic schoolchild learns about and never really forgets. You might not remember the Act of Contrition you’re supposed to recite before confession or your scripture memory verses from middle school, but those saints stick.

One of these is St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things. You learn about him early in your school days. Catholic teachers take any case of misplaced homework or mitten gone astray as an opportunity to remind you that St. Anthony is there, waiting to help you in your frantic search for whatever trivial item you’ve lost track of.

The prayer to St. Anthony is simple: “Dear St. Anthony, please come around. Something is lost and it cannot be found.” This is what I silently chant on a Friday afternoon as I overturn our house in search of Chuckie.

Chuckie—full name being Chuck the Buck—is a deer-shaped blanket buddy who has been the chosen lovey of my three-year-old since she was an infant.

Chuck had been missing since Thursday morning. More than twenty-four hours without her beloved Chuck had left my daughter Hadley distraught, so I promised to look for him while she and her sister were gone at Nana’s house that Friday.

My search is punctuated by annoyance, my prayer to St. Anthony interrupted with thoughts like, ’I could be getting so much work done right now,’ and ’She needs to start taking more responsibility for her things.’ Still, I remember what it feels like to irrationally miss a stuffed animal, so I comb through the house for a full twenty minutes.

I check the couch cushions (beige) where the deer in question (also beige) so often likes to hide. I dig through three toy bins full of blocks and baby dolls. I pay special attention to the bottom of the kids’ hamper and beneath the mattress of our bed, both places where Chuck has inexplicably turned up in the past.

Despite my repeated prayers, Chuck isn’t anywhere. When I break the news to Hadley that evening, I think I’m more upset than she is. Her chin quivers and she sniffs a few times, but she contents herself with a substitute stuffed animal during bedtime that night.

I, on the other hand, am something of a wreck. I find myself tearing up during still moments over the weekend. I keep looking all the places we’ve already looked. I retrace our steps. I think of St. Anthony. I really lose it when Monday brings a fifty-degree chill and nonstop rain. Maybe I’ve seen Toy Story too many times, but I can’t stop picturing Chuck cold and wet, wondering why his favorite kid has abandoned him.

I pack the kids into the car and retrace our usual walking route through the neighborhood, driving five miles an hour so I can scan the waterlogged leaves piled into the gutter for any sign of a worn-out deer peeking through. We drive to Target, where I creep along through the parking lot in case Chuck fell out of the car unnoticed. We check the park, deserted and soggy, though I’m sure we weren’t there on the day of Chuck’s disappearance.

Nearly two weeks after we lost Chuck, Hadley has all but forgotten about him. I’m still opening random drawers and chanting my prayer. Her adjustment to life without him is even more tragic to me than the thought of him laying in the gutter somewhere. It means she’s accepted my failure to find the thing she loves most in this world. If I don’t find this deer, I have failed my daughter.

I’m getting desperate, and St. Anthony isn’t helping. I start thinking I’ve been targeting the wrong saint. Perhaps St. Anthony is so overwhelmed with the pleas of late-for-work adults who have lost their keys and panicked kids who can’t find their math textbooks that he doesn’t have time to point the way toward a bedraggled, beloved deer.

Google tells me about a saint that slipped through the cracks of my Catholic education: St. Jude, patron saint of lost causes, impossible situations, and hopeless cases.

That sounds about right. Finding Chuck after two weeks is probably a lost cause. Or maybe the lost cause is me.

Lost is exactly what I’ve been feeling lately. What kind of mother lets her three-year-old lose her favorite toy, then snaps at the end of a long day that it’s her fault for not paying attention to her things? How am I supposed to protect my kids if I can’t even protect a stuffed animal? The signs that I’m failing at motherhood are piling up fast, and I’ve accepted Chuck’s disappearance as another item to add to the list.

Not all lost things can find their way home. But then, some things can.

It’s 5 p.m. on a weeknight. I’m surrounded by the usual dinnertime cacophony: the oven beeping that it’s time to put the casserole in, the one-year-old shrieking because I have to set her down while I open the oven door, the cat yowling because I’ve let the clock tick one minute past his dinnertime, a forgotten podcast humming in the background.

I shout over the noise, asking Hadley to feed the cat. She sits down to drag the container of cat food from the pantry, pulling it all the way out rather than just reaching in like I usually do.

Suddenly she is shouting, a joyous yelp layered above the chaos. “Chuckie!”

My visions of a sad, cold Chuck left out in the rain had been for nothing. During our seventeen days of searching, Chuck had been tucked snugly behind the cat food in the back corner of the pantry floor, a Sam’s Club size container of instant oats on one side, a forty-pound bag of wheat on the other.

St. Jude came through for Chuck. He took a lost cause, a hopeless case, an impossible situation, and made it right again. For once, I get to shorten my mental list of parental failings. If there’s hope for a lost stuffed deer, there’s hope for the hopeless mother who prayed for his return.

Words by Ashley Brooks.

 

All Things, All at Once

hello there, friend

When my husband and I planted that “For Sale” sign, we had no idea we would spend the next seven years waiting. We packed up knick knacks, freshened the paint, and kept our little yellow house as spotless as possible, certain that by this time next year, we would be building our forever home.

Four years later, after offers that fell through, months of hearing nothing at all, and years of making harder and harder decisions, we finally changed the sign to “Sold”. One last time, I washed dishes in our sink. Countless hours I had spent standing there, scouring glass after glass while watching my husband mow the backyard. Our actions said more about us than almost anything else: him, mowing back the grass each time it grew, predictable, unswerving, and me washing clean what would become dirty again, always planning for the next meal, the next step.

All things, all at once

It’s a song I listen to, often on repeat. The mood, the melody, the lyrics: they all remind me of the years of waiting. The years where I lived for the next day and the one after that, not the one I was in. I have spent years waiting for the next big thing to pass and for life to settle into normal.

In all of those years, I wished for so many things: to sell a house, to get that job, to have money enough for our dreams. But what I was really, really wishing for was to stop waiting. I wanted to stop all the doing, put aside the hustle, and to live in the moment.

The time we spent in an apartment between houses felt like an interlude — the “oooh’s” of a song between the verses, a long pause before pressing forward. My husband and I lived skeleton lives while we found ourselves waiting, again, for the next big thing. We hung photos to get them out of the way, not to make the place feel like home. I washed dishes in a sink that was too shallow, listening to neighbors marching above us.

We sat at our dining room table in that in-between apartment, scratching plans onto paper and erasing them again, sifting through possibilities. We were going to build our forever home. What size should this room be? If we move this here, where will that put the stairs? We spent many Friday nights with glasses of wine and a stack of design books nearby, inching ever closer to the future we had mapped out in our head, forgetting the present right in front of us.

It’s not one thing or the other
It’s all things all at once

Our lease was up and we couldn’t commit to another year, but needed a place to stay while we built that house we had planned out on paper. Friends of a friend, more generous than we could imagine, offered an apartment in one of their outbuildings. It had four walls, a bathroom, and not much else. But it would do for three months, maybe five. We could cram one marriage, two people, and three jobs into six hundred square feet, no problem. Another temporary stop on our journey to end the waiting.

One lengthy fight over a driveway permit later, we broke ground on our new house. We could see the end of our wait in the distance, but it was a distance measured in construction timelines that shifted almost daily. In the outbuilding, I washed dishes in a sink not meant for a kitchen, all the while repeating “this is temporary.” I was ready for the wait to be over.

It’s not one thing or the other
It’s all things all at once

August came, and with it two pink lines. Two very surprising pink lines. We lived in a shed that had no address and now we were expecting a baby. Our soon-to-be-house was raw, see-through walls that ended in sky, and I had a tiny person taking shape inside of me, growing day by day alongside that house.

There’s one inevitable truth to building a house: estimated completion dates are wholly and completely estimated. There’s one inevitable truth to having a baby: estimated due dates are wholly and completely estimated.

September, October, before the first snow — all of these were dates where we might have moved in, but didn’t. We waited for subcontractor estimates to come in, for materials to arrive, for paint to literally dry. That summer and fall were one collective inhale and pause, the part of yoga that hurts the most. The part I always cut short — but this time, I couldn’t.

In the studio, when you are facing your mat with hips in the air, pushing your heels down and adding length to your spine, you have permission to take a knee, to pull up and rest if your body needs it. In yoga, you listen to your body, to what it needs. When you are growing a baby and building a house, there is no time to listen.

And these wings aren’t for flying
These wings are just for show
It’s years since I’ve been flying
I’m down to the earth

A week before Christmas we moved into our new house, elated to be home after so many years of limbo. We unpacked our things and hung our photos with great care, content to dwell in this new normal while we waited for a baby to make us three. Our normal didn’t last long. The day that began my thirty-seventh week of pregnancy, rather than settle into the relief of a baby grown enough to deliver safely, I lost my job. It was out of the blue, and I was devastated. It’s not one thing or the other

It’s all things all at once

I wash baby bottles in a sink that looks toward our dining room table, the one where we once planned to build our home when it was just the two of us. That table now holds onesies and tiny socks, folded and ready to be worn and dirtied again. It’s the place where I do my work, an accidental freelance career filling naptimes.

I see the me that once sat at that table, so ready to be done waiting, so hesitant to have a baby and lose who she was and what she wanted. She was used to the waiting, constantly looking toward the next, unsure of what it meant to be settled — unsure if she’d be happy when she was. Now, I still sit at that table, no more sure of what it means to be settled, but a little more sure of what next looks like. Next is a bath for a smiling six-month old, another bedtime story, a sigh of relief when little eyes blink heavy and close into sleep. And next is also emails and invoices, stealing moments out of the day to set words down on paper.

As I sit at this table, I realize that I am both of these versions of myself at once. Part of me still waits for what is around the corner, for the day when life no longer revolves around naptimes, for when we trade out this table for a larger one to fit a growing family. The waiting never goes away, but more and more I learn that there’s magic to be found right here.

This table is where I work and write and take photos, just like I always have. And now, I mother here, too. It’s all things, all at once: past, present, and future.

 

Words by Abbigail Kriebs. Lyrics to All Things, All at Once by Tired Pony via Google Play.

Dreams, Chickens, and a Whole Lot of Love

hello there, friend

“We bought some chicks today,” my son tells me over the phone one night.

“Is your condo even all packed up?” I ask.

“No, but we have the keys and are staying at the new house tonight, so we thought, why not.”  I can hear the excitement in his voice.

A few days later, my husband and I head up to help my son and his wife with the final move. I am anxious to see the house, which sits on five wooded acres a couple of hours north of us. I take it all in as we open the gate to the driveway. Native rhododendrons, some which are just starting to bloom, line the long gravel road up to the house. We are hardly out of the car before we are being given the grand tour of the property. Being an avid gardener my eyes hone in on the well-maintained flower beds, along with the fruit trees and berry bushes. There is even a fenced garden plot. Behind the pond out back, I wander the moss-covered trails that meander through the forest. Dappled light finds its way through the canopy of trees overhead.

“It’s perfect timing,” I tell them both. “You will get to watch your yard unfold – a new discovery every day!”

I walk up to the house, which is full of labeled boxes, and greet their three black pugs with treats from my pocket as I head inside. They are excited to see me and require my full attention. But soon, I hear the chicks and can’t resist the peeping coming from the spare room. In the closet, a light bulb hangs from the clothing rod and below it frolic five baby chicks, curious and cozy in a cardboard box. Each is different: each one a tiny puff of feathers, beaks, and cuteness. The pugs are inquisitive and a bit meddlesome, trying to get their smashed little noses close enough to get a good sniff of these busy critters who now share their new home.

Throughout the day the house is filled with family and friends, all ready to help unpack. We all go about our tasks and, finally, when everything is unloaded, we gather close and crack open some champagne to celebrate their dream come true. “Cheers!” we say as we click glasses, tired and so excited for them. We order pizza and call it a day.

Later that night, my daughter-in-law finds sheets for the extra bed, and my husband and I climb in, tired and happy.

“This is going to be a lot of work,” I whisper to him in the dark.

“Yep,” he says, “I hope they know what they are doing.”

“Do any of us really know?” I reply, recalling the stacks of how-to books on raising chickens and goats I often found on the table in their condo. I am elated they never lost sight of their dream.

Come morning, I wake to the sound of peeping. Quietly, I slip out of bed and tiptoe across the hall to greet the chicks. They are wide awake and busy, looking for food, running amuck. The bag of mealy worms sits nearby, and I offer them a few from my hand and laugh at how their tiny beaks tickle. I become particularly smitten with the black and white one, and later that day I ask if I can name her.

We visit often over the next few months and, each time, I eagerly head into the chick’s room and greet Amelia and her sisters. Hers is the only name I can remember, and only because I named her. They seem to grow before my eyes, going from that cute chick stage to awkward adolescence, where they are all legs and necks. They soon learn to jump out of their makeshift home, spread their wings, and make a bit of a mess. The kids buy them a bright blue child’s wading pool, but it is not long before they have to get a coop.

The next time I visit, Amelia has doubled in size, and seems less interested in me now that she has ample space to explore and scratch in. She pecks at the dirt and eats overripe strawberries. I kneel down, trying to pet her and feed her a bit of grain.

“Ouch,” I say to her and learn quickly that what used to feel like tickling now stings a bit. She is far more interested in my rings than the grain I hold out to her in my palm.

Over the next several weeks my son calls with chicken stories: they got out of their run and one roosted on the roof, another in a tree. No, they are not laying yet. They all sleep in the same nesting box. They need a different run because they are eating the strawberry plants.

I laugh and decide I love chickens.

One morning, I wake to see a photo on Instagram of their first two eggs nestled in my son’s hand. “Who laid them?” I eagerly type. He is not sure. I imagine my son and his wife sharing the eggs, and my heart overflows with tenderness. I think to myself, It is just an egg. But I can’t help it, somehow it seems like so much more.

Today, the girls are full grown. Each one different, each one a puff of feathers and beauty. They have their own unique personalities, but they still stick together. If one suddenly takes off running, the rest follow. They make a mess of their food, spilling it all over, and can pick a watermelon clean. They take turns in that one nesting box, laying their eggs one after another. Before they lay they are very affectionate and allow me to pet them, even hold them. Each time, I am surprised at how they are mostly feathers and how I can feel all the parts of the feather when I stroke them.

I think about what it is about these chickens that brings me such joy and see that they are part of a long-held dream, a glimpse into my son and his wife’s marriage that fills my heart to the brim. I see what they have built and worked on together, over their eight years of marriage: the deep love they share and the dreams they didn’t lose sight of, including these chickens. This home, and the land it sits on, opens the door to many possibilities. I can’t help but be thankful.

We strive for this as parents. We pray and work hard at modeling and teaching them values and then suddenly, in a blink of an eye, we release them into the big world, praying we did enough.

These girls, they are my proof. They are my affirmation that we did something right along the way. I know there will be new chickens in the coop over the next several years. I know that I probably will grow accustomed to gathering fresh eggs when I visit and take some off their hands because their fridge is overflowing. But these five, they will always be my favorites.

Words and photograph by Cathy Sly.