“Due to a national coin shortage, self-check out aisles are limited to credit and debit card transactions only.” That’s what the orange signs posted near the registers said. “You’ve got to be kidding!” I mumbled under my breath. Sigh. Frown. At least nobody can see my pouty expression under the mask. I begrudgingly made my way to aisle 16, the shortest line in the store. Still, a couple of customers with overflowing carts stood in front of me.
Call me a grazer. I go to Meijer almost daily for my supply of items to sustain us through the next 24+ hours and I almost always pay with cash right out of my envelope marked “Living Expenses”.
I love Meijer! I grew up walking a mile each way with my mama for groceries. Coming home was the workout, a bag in each hand. And when the weather was cold or rainy, we’d take the bus. When I turned into a mama, we drove to Meijer instead. I buckled my littles in the cart seat and we made a bee line directly for the donuts. They munched and chattered while I shopped. Right in front of our favorite cashier, Selma’s lane, Sandy the pony was plugged into the electrical outlet waiting to be fed a penny and give little boys and girls a bouncy ride. We were religious about riding on Sandy. No Meijer trip was legit without Sandy’s bumpy blessing.
As I impatiently waited for my turn to buy groceries, I spotted another sign, straight ahead of my lane. “Sandy is resting in her stable. She can’t wait until she can see you again.”
“Wait, not Sandy too. If you have to take away self check, fine, but don’t take away Sandy!” I conversed silently with myself. And, at that moment, I wished my mask covered my eyes too because they both started swelling like a dam about to break. You see, Sandy isn’t just a mechanical penny eater, when I walk past Sandy, somehow, for just a split second, my girls become little again. I hear their carefree giggles and watch their innocent delight. Sandy represents a time when “I Love you Mommy” cards with wobbly handwriting and stick figure artistry were as regular as the daily mail. When long cuddles in an oversized chair reading a pile of picture books together was routine. When a “bed-night” drink of cold water was always set on my night stand to make sure I didn’t ever get thirsty. When love was simply given and received without barriers.
And now, Sandy is gone.
Just before my very own Robyn donned her white dress and spoke her forever vows, I noticed mama Robin noisily hovering near the deck as I watered my baby annuals. I walked down the hill to the porch swing to peer up into the underside of the rafters looking for a nest. Every year, she’s built one. And sure enough, like me, she’d been busy about her work. I peeked through the deck boards right near the pot of zinnias and saw 3 blue eggs safely tucked inside mama’s carefully crafted home. After that, I kind of forgot about mama Robin until I spotted her nest, lying disheveled in a pile of stones, dislodged from its shelter after a blustery storm. There were no blue eggs and I hoped, by some miracle, her babies had hatched and fledged prematurely. Then, I found one of those eggs lying a few hundred yards away in my sunflower garden.
My sad-o-meter registered high. That mama, she did her best to provide a safe, healthy environment for her babies to thrive but failed. I’ve been there and done that too.
Thankfully, both robin and human mamas possess resiliency by design. And a few weeks later when I peeked up into her nesting corner, I saw a brand-spanking-new nest. And when I squinted down through the deck boards, I saw 3 new blue eggs. Inspired by her determination, I’ve followed the progress of her nurturing every day since. A little over a week ago, I saw 2 baby robins, their tiny featherless chests rapidly rising and falling like they’d just run a marathon. Most of the time, though, they sleep peacefully, laying belly up, in the most vulnerable position possible, beaks wide open waiting for mama to provide everything they need to survive, trusting her to take care of them. And she does.
They’re getting close to fledging now, their swelling bodies squeezing over the edges of the nest. So I googled what’s to be expected next in their rite of passage. Apparently, when a young robin first jumps out of its family home, it can’t actually fly so it tumbles to the ground where mama hovers close for a few more weeks helping it to stay out of harm’s way, teaching it about the dangers of life outside the nest and showing it how to forage for itself. But even with a nurturing mother, only about 25% of hatched robins make it through their first November. And once they fly off on their own, mama can’t watch over them anymore. Not that one or this one either.
They might break a wing, mastering their technique.
Fly to close to a car or a cat or straight into a closed window.
They could inadvertently ingest pesticides or chemical pollution.
Or just end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But if the young bird survives, she might be next year’s nest builder, next year’s resilient caregiver. Next year, she might even come back to the very same deck to make a home for her babies, just like her mama.
Our family stuffed animal collection numbers in the hundreds. All the second tier friends live in the gigantic bean bag chair I sewed for them at least a decade ago, but the girls besties are Choco and Oreo, Ethan, the blue owl, and Mr. Bear and Mrs. Bear. When our biggest little girl was three, she left Mr. Bear in the dugouts at a park one summer evening while we were taking a family walk. That night, bedtime felt like a life altering catastrophe on par with COVID 19. Daddy drove back to the park with a flashlight and retrieved Mr. Bear, brought him home, and tucked him under his baby girl’s tear soaked pajama arm. Mr. Bear’s been through it all. He’s known every place she’s called home. Heard each of her bedtime stories, songs and conversations. He’s watched her smile and felt her tears. His clothes are thread bare so we dressed him in a new outfit to keep the stuffing inside, but honestly, he’s a lot like the Rabbit in Margery William’s famous children’s story. Worn down by love. And so am I.
Maybe that’s why I resonate with Christa Wells song, Velveteen. It tells my story too.
Love spoke my name and I felt life run through me.
Reborn in the flame. Nothing can undo me.
Shadow and light, I learned to let them find me.
Coming alive, feels a lot like dying.
So if my beauty starts to fade, well, I’ve been held in a thousand ways.
And if my heart looks broken in, then I’ve been brave enough to live.
If perfect turns to perfect mess and all Your love is all that’s left.
I’m as real as real can be.
Call me Velveteen.
Chapter 53’s had a lot of plot twists.
Transition. It’s hard.
And confusing. I don’t know if I fit or where I fit or how I fit. Into anything.
And I’m grieving what isn’t anymore. And disillusioned by what is.
It’s been a quarter of a century that the primary work experience on my resume reads mothering. I’m not even sure what else I’m good at and depending on the day, my kids’ gold star rating would rank pretty low for that.
Going into Chapter 54, feels like a plot hole. I can’t see the path to what’s next. Not yet. I don’t know if I’ve already lived through the climax of my story but I do know that where I’m at now feels a lot more like a reversal than resolution.
I read through an old journal the other night, and glimpsed another time when self-doubt derailed me. In it, I confessed to my mentor, “I don’t feel like I have what it takes.” And she responded matter-a-factly, “You don’t.”
Then she paused, placed her hand over mine, looked at me with incredible compassion and continued, “But God does and He will help you.”
And that timeless blessing applies to every chapter.
Including each page written in 53, all of the ones still blank for 54 and right straight through to the end of my story.
PS: Tonight, when I got down on all fours, peered through the deck boards, derriere pointed toward heaven, mama robin’s nest was empty. The young birds are one step closer to their own great adventure and mama’s “cheerio”-ing them on.