Tag Archives: parenting

Earnest Offering

I’ve gone through half an eraser;
there’s some danger I might believe
that the thoughts I used to have
were better,

the way they made images
when captured in my notebook.
So much more evasive now,
I struggle to evaluate their worth.

The night insects, though,
make their earnest offering
through open August windows —
calling and calling.

But it is all just noise —
I sit distracted

by the tears
my son couldn’t show me
when we argued this afternoon,

by the cars outside
moving too quickly down the hill.

Forty-Something this Summer

It’s supposed to be raining this morning,
but I awake without the sound
of small drops trickling from maple leaves or
spattering the old tin roof
outside our bedroom window –

either would have muffled the clinking of
spoons against the edges of
glass cereal bowls that
filters up from downstairs.

Yet well past the hour when
I often find myself alone,
you are still beside me,
only breathing;

I watch your breasts rise and fall
under the softness of your light blue camisole,
its narrow strap rising over your left shoulder
into a blur of light from the south window.

Your birthday is two days from now –
early forty-something this summer –
I should get up and settle the children’s argument,
plan for a gift.

Almost Nine

Today is the final day he is almost nine.
As I worried he might,
he holds my hand less often.

The world pushes in on us;
the spaces in which we can hide —
just the two of us —
are more difficult to find,
simpler to disrupt.

Yet on this day,
his brother and sister
already gone from the table,
he pauses at my shoulder.

Even as I pull him onto my lap,
I expect him to continue on
to his book or simply something else;

but he sits
and softens.

Later, in the quiet of a too-late night
my wife whispers to me,

you should have seen his face.

Newest poem in the Years series.

Keep Me Company

Winter’s early cold has gathered
steam against the windows,
softening the lights’ reflection.

Standing in the doorway,
I strain above the hum of the dryer
to hear my son
as he narrates his play by whisper
in the old claw foot bathtub.

I should be helping him,
but he hasn’t noticed me there,
and the teacup is warm in my hands.

Finally he stills and calls to me — Dad?
I thought you were going to keep me company?

Of course I am.
Of course I am.

Sitting in Fold-Up Chairs

Sitting in fold-up chairs
behind the old brick municipal center
that once was an elementary school —

where paint is chipping from windows and
a cluster of two-by-fours and plywood
leans awkwardly against the battered dumpster —

we sip coffee from styrofoam cups and
watch our lives run,
exhorting our children with shouts
through an early autumn breeze,
as if the result of the game
meant more than a Saturday morning.

The first leaves flutter to the ground
out of a cobalt sky
as we turn momentarily
away from the field
toward idle conversation.

Pride, Love, and Putting the Bucket Down

I was never more proud of my son than I was that day, just a few weeks ago. Thank goodness that has worn away, so I can keep loving him for who he is.

My wife and I have been working on a landscaping project at the house, converting a thousand-square foot area from grass to perennials and herbs. Grass never grew well in this south-facing area, and I am excited about having even more fresh flowers to cut in future years. As a part of the project, I decided to replace a section of fence with a dry stone wall and to install a border of paving stones between the driveway and this new garden.

A couple of weeks back, the day’s work involved digging a trench for the pavers, sixty feet long and about a foot wide. Being next to an old asphalt driveway laid on top of New England clay soil, there wasn’t much easy digging. As I went, I worked to save the small rocks that came out of the ground, since they would make good fill around the base of the stone wall. This meant sifting out the dirt and sorting the stones into different piles. One foot at a time, on a very warm August Saturday.

My son shuffled towards me relatively early in the day. Can I help, Dad?

I thought for a second about what he might be able to do. My initial reaction was that he wouldn’t be able to help. The pick axe is too heavy for him, I thought. The weight of stones themselves, while small, would add up quickly, and they needed to be piled a good fifty feet from where I was working. The wheelbarrow is too big for him to manage.

Sure, I said, still thinking. Go get a bucket, one of the big ones. And put some good shoes on.

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No Need to Pretend

A co-worker and I stood in the office kitchen this morning as she searched for a spoon. We joked about how she might eat her cereal with a fork, how it might be easier if it were cereal and yogurt. My voice was clear and my laughter sounded easy. But my heart was somewhere else.

What is the toll, I wonder, from laughing, from pretending and projecting that all is well, when the reality is something different?

My wife and kids have been away for a few days, visiting family now that the school year has ended. I stayed home, with a few meetings this week that I could not miss. Last night I returned home close to midnight after one of those meetings and went out to close up the barn. Five of our six chickens were perched up on their roosts, with the sixth lying very still and awkwardly on the floor. I propped her up on some fresh hay for the night, but this morning she was less responsive and clearly dying. By now, she’s certainly passed.

My son was devestated this past fall when we lost our cat, a dear member of the family who the kids had grown up with. I was so deeply moved by his reaction as we buried her that a story poured out of me that night; that story became the inspiration for this blog.

The chickens were a present for him for his eighth birthday in April. He said it was the best birthday present ever.

I grew up raising chickens, along with sheep and rabbits. I remember the first spring flock that I was responsible for, and my dismay when we lost most of them to an intruder in the coop, likely a fox. I like to tell people that growing up around animals was a good experience, that I learned at an early age about caring for others, about life and death. My original Tibetan Buddhist practice, too, spoke of the value of coming to understand death as a part of our lives.

I’m not so sure this morning about either of those stories.

My son will come home today and learn about this new death. I’ll want to make everything all right for him, knowing at the same time that is not possible. I could look at this experience as a gift. But it’s hard. And what will I do when the death in our lives is closer?

I can’t share any of this with the people around me. I move around the office pretending that this is just another day. I pass by co-workers and talk jovially about this and that.

A little while ago I closed the office door to call my wife and let her know about the chicken, what is awaiting her at home. In the course of that conversation, I learned that the emails I have been sending to her over the last few days, reaching out to make a connection, have gone to an account she can’t access away from home. I hung up the phone feeling more isolated, then went to sit in a meeting and discuss the ramifications of the end of the fiscal year.

I didn’t realize it when I began, but my spiritual practice has taken shape as an effort to drop pretense, to live my life as it presents itself. In some respects, I have begun to realize this through Zen. At the Temple I can sit wth the complexity of fatherhood, marriage, love, joy and sadness, or share with a friend in the sangha after the evening practice has ended. I’ve been striving to do this at home too, with my wife and children, and it has allowed me to experience both joy and sadness more fully, more intimately.

At the same time, I am more accutely aware now of the places and times that I cannot. I worry about the cost.

When I get home this afternoon, I’ll hold my son and tell him it is okay to wonder why this has happened again to an animal he loved. I will tell him it is all right to be sad, to cry, to deeply feel whatever arises. I’ll tell him there’s no need to pretend.