Song sat at Teal’s bedside, her hands clasped and her head bowed. It was an old room, the remnant of the first prayer-house ever built on Helm. The teak wood window frames, baseboards, rafters, and furniture had ripened to a rich sheen, giving the space a comforting, ever-lasting feel.
Steepling her pale fingers under her chin, her gaze traveled over Teal. After cleansing the body and proper infusions with hypo-static thoughts, words, and actions in order to restore balance to the spirit, her attendants had left her to guard him in quiet prayer.
He lay still, quite naked to her eyes.
You won’t like that when you wake up.
After sucking in a bracing breath, she climbed to her feet and padded to the far wall. Though the temperature huddled close to the Bauchi comfort zone during the day, it often dropped below freezing at night. She selected a forest-green blanket from a colorful selection and carried it to the bed where she lay it gently over Teal.
With a groan, Teal opened his eyes to mere slits. “Song?”
She patted his hand, forcing a smile. “Yes. I’m here.”
Teal grimaced and licked his lips. “What—happened?”
“You collapsed.” Song perched on the edge of the padded chair and leaned forward. “Don’t worry. Cerulean is safe. He is with Sterling and the others on Earth, continuing their mission.”
Teal’s eyes widened, alarm filling them. “Where am I?”
“On Helm. Zuri helped me get you to my ship and we—”
“I must go back!” His voice wavering, he struggled to rise. “Now.”
Song laid her hand on his chest. She didn’t need to press. He had no strength to resist. “You may go back. In time. But not today. For now, you must rest.”
His jaw clenching Teal’s eyes narrowed in challenge. “And if I refuse?”
Unbidden tears filled Song’s eyes. “You will die.”
Teal stared at her, comprehension overwhelming his face. “But Cerulean…”
“He will learn. Just as you did. As your father did before you. We are allotted one lifetime. You can only live yours. Never your son’s.”
Teal’s gaze traveled to the ceiling and stopped, frozen.
Song glanced up. A spider dangled by a web from the beam above. Was it anyone she knew? Probably not. Likely just an honest spider looking for the day’s meal.
A tear trickled down Teal’s cheek. His face as still as carven stone.
Song stood, her long red dress sweeping over the flagstone floor. “Sterling must lead, and Cerulean will follow. They have much to teach each other.”
With almost imperceptible shake of his head, Teal continued to focus on the ceiling.
“Though I have never given birth in flesh and blood, I have mothered many. The hardest part of love is not holding a dear one close, it is letting them go.”
Song reached the doorway when she heard his raspy response.
It amazes me that we humans ever understand each other given our robust ability to mess with syntax, translations, and meaning.
Some years back, the kids and I visited my dad in Kansas. My youngest, only about five at the time, was very impressed by something my dad shared with her. I was clueless.
After we returned home and I was making bread in the kitchen, my little one climbed up on a stool, watched me for several minutes, inflating my ego no small sum. Me thinking that my exceptional ability to knead dough actually impressed her developing mind.
She looked at me and inquired, in that adorable way small children do, with big searching eyes, “We’re related to pastry-people, aren’t we, Mom?”
I stopped kneading. Flummoxed. My eyebrows must have spoken for me.
Her voice rose with her determined desire to be understood. “You know, Pastry People. Granddad said we’re related to PASTRY PEOPLE!”
Thank the Lord of Heaven that daughter number four wandered through the kitchen at that appointed moment in history. I stalled her with a well-aimed, albeit desperate attempt to clarify our ancestry. “Uh, do you know anything about…”
She stared at me, furrowed her brows, pursed her lips, then smiled as light dawned. “Oh, yes, Granddad did say something about us being related to the Danish.”
Danish. Pasty-people. Get it?
I forgive you if you’re slow on the uptake. It took me a moment.
I don’t know if my youngest has yet forgiven me for merely being related to some of the greatest sea-faring humans in history, Hans Christian Anderson, and kings and castles rather than pastry-people. Though the discoverers of butter cookies are relatable!
When I took my ancestry test last March and got the results in May, I discovered that Dad was pretty much on the mark. 61% Irish, 26% English and northwestern European, 6% Scottish, 4% Welsh, 3% Swedish, I’m a mixed lot to be sure.
At an Irish pub with friends—back in my Chicago days—an Irish gentleman discussed ancestry with me and, when I shared my mixed heritage, his eyes rounded in something akin to horror. “You’re made up of people who hate each other, Love.” Add the fact that going generations back, we have mixed religious affiliations as well—heck, it is surprising love survived long enough to grow new lives. To say nothing of generations of lives.
It seems that everyone wants to be different these days. The irony is that we are different. Go back far enough, we all travel through the highways and byways of DNA history. And no one journeys unscathed. That’s what makes us the same. What unites us and makes us strong.
Nobility of character, depth of soul, worthiness as fellow human beings reflect both our shared human-kind but also the choices we make as individuals, including the stories we tell our kids and what’s put on the supper table.
So, though my daughter has to accept her nature as non-pastry-people, she does share our heritage as a chosen race—beings that our Creator willed into life. On a good day, we make bread and conversation, nourishing bodies and souls to journey on.
Nova stood in her bedroom before a full-length mirror dressed only in leggings and a short slip and stared at her perfect body. Unlike her Bhuaci mother, she didn’t have the power to shape shift. But she had been born with the preferred elfin face and figure of most Bhuaci girls.
She glanced aside at her round, white bed piled with Ingoti armor. Her father, Zuri, had renounced most of the technological advancements his race had adopted. But that would hardly stop her.
She tried on the chest guard first. Lightweight, it didn’t hinder her movements, though it added bulk to her lithe figure. She smiled. Black was definitely her color. She slipped the arm bands up over her elbows, first the right and then the left. Snug, but with the thick red bands, they definitely added a touch of class to her cuteness. She hated cuteness.
Next, she tugged on the boots. Heavier than her normal slippers, they forced her to plan her steps more carefully. With the added height and bulk, she nearly appeared intimidating.
A tap on the door knocked the smile off her face.
Mom or dad? Probably mom.
She sighed. There was no way she could take it all off in time.
And why should I?
“Open!” She placed her hands on her hips and faced her future.
In the open doorway, Kelesta stared at her daughter, her eyes rounded with horror. “What are you doing?”
Nova groaned. Her mom wasn’t stupid, but she could sure ask the dumbest questions. “I’m discovering my heritage.”
Like a sleepwalker, Kelesta glided into the room, her hands lifted. “Your father renounced the technology that invaded his body.”
Swinging her arms high, Nova exulted in testing her limits. “I haven’t attached anything. Yet. It’s just armor after all. Though I wouldn’t mind a few synaptic connections. That way I’d have at least a few advantages.”
Kelesta caressed Nova’s face, her eyes grieving. “Haven’t we always taken good care of you? There’s no need for Ingoti protection.”
Nova pulled away and stomped to the door. “I’m not like you, Mother. I can’t shapeshift whenever I feel like it, turning into a clawed beast or hiding in a hole.”
Kelesta stood in the middle of the room, her gaze falling to the floor. “You have no idea. Really. How unprotected we are.”
As if she smelled an intoxicating scent, Nova turned on the threshold and faced her mother. “How do you mean?”
“You’re so young. I wanted to wait to tell you…but…” Her gaze rolled over the mechanical hardware attached to her daughter. She stepped forward and held out her hand. “Let’s take a walk. By the oceanside, I can face old memories.
Still wearing her body armor, though without the boots Nova paced over the white sand keeping step with her mother.
The green-orange sun crested the waves, sending a sparkling glow over the water. Seabirds sailed overhead, calling to each other.
Her arm bands pinched, but she ignored that. She’d get a helmet next. One that came with implants so she could have direct access. Her heart pounded with the thought—There’s no stopping me. She stepped into the water and splashed the waves with her feet.
Kelesta sighed and faced the ocean as foaming crests ran over her toes and receded again. “Everything has a price. The Bhuaci learned this truth eons ago. No one knows exactly how we became shape-shifters, but everyone realizes that our abilities came at a cost.”
Perplexed, Nova wrinkled her nose. Something tickled her feet. She looked down at a school of fish darting about. Funny. They aren’t scared of me.
Kelesta’s voice took on a schooled tone, controlled and disciplined. “In the beginning, we were aimless, mere beasts, not unlike these fish. We lived as flightless birds for a long time and then, through some kind of gift or curse, we learned to use our wings. And not just our wings but our whole bodies in relationship to our minds. We discovered the connection between physical matter and thought. All too soon, we learned to manipulate our bodies’ matter and imitate any shape we wanted.”
Annoyed, Nova splashed her mother. “I know all this. But why you think it could ever be a curse is beyond me. If I could alter my shape, I’d become a bird right now and fly into the sky. Or become one of these fish and swim deep into ocean.” She jumped up and down, splashing everything within reach.
Allowing the drops to fall where they may, Kelesta peered up. “You’d fly into the sky and then what? You’d still be yourself. Your mood and attitude, your hurt and hate, would follow you just as much as your friendships and love.”
With a snort, Nova rushed deeper into the water, running against the oncoming waves. “I could protect myself from every danger, enjoy every sensation, experience life from a thousand perspectives.” She dove into the murky green depths ignoring her mother’s call.
Swimming against the current, Nova stared at the swirling bubbles and dancing seaweed. A huge blue-green fish with gold sparkles running down its back caught her eye. Thrilled, she paddled with her arms and legs to give chase.
The fish darted down, deeper into the gloom.
Nova knew that she must stay close to the surface and that her armor weighed her down, but desire flushed all reason aside. I’ve got time. Besides, mom’s still close. She arched her shoulders and dove deeper.
Suddenly, the flashy fish turned and peered at her through glowing eyes. It grew larger, until it was twice her size. Opening its mouth, rows of razor-sharp teeth snapped the water.
Panic clutched Nova. She raised herself vertically and tried to paddle upward, but tiny darting fish nipped at her feet and legs. Pain shot through her as terror took over. “Noooo!” Using every bit of her strength, she shot upward.
When her head broke the surface, she looked around. “Mom?”
No one. She was alone.
Wet and disheveled, Nova stumbled across the shore toward her home in the woods. Once in her room, she peeled off her wet armor and soaking underclothes. She wrapped herself in a warm robe and climbed into bed. Tossing and turning through the night, she brooded over her mother’s betrayal.
Three days later, Nova sat beside the window in the kitchen decorated with herb plants and primitive art and ate her grain cereal with cream and berries absorbed in plans for escape from her traitorous family.
Zuri paced in, a frown dominating his face. “Where’s your mother?”
“I have no idea.”
His scowl deepening, Zuri dragged a chair from beside the hearth and placed it next to his daughter. He clasped his hands and leaned forward. “I know something is going on between you and your mother. Though she won’t say anything, I know you both well enough to guess.”
Her appetite disappearing, Nova shoved her bowl onto the windowsill and crossed her arms. “Know everything about me, do you?”
“I know that armor excites you. Adventure beckons. And you’re tired of being treated like a child.”
Her interest snared, Nova tilted her head. A silent acquiescence.
“I was just like you.”
Nova rolled her eyes.
“And I have the perfect answer.”
A huff of air to hint that she only had so much patience.
“You’ll come with me to Earth. We’re being sent back—Teal and his son Cerulean are coming. No reason you shouldn’t attend.”
Excitement raced through Nova. “I can come and work? I’m not just a student observer?”
A grin broke over Zuri’s face. “You’ll take notes and help to present our finding to the council when it’s time.”
Rubbing her hands together, happiness flooded Nova.” Finally! I can do something worthwhile.” She glanced at her father. “Does mom know?”
The light dimmed in Zuri’s eyes. “Yes. She’s not happy about it, but she accepts my reasoning.”
Perplexed, Nova jumped to a new thought. “Can I wear my armor?”
“As much as you like.”
Her appetite renewed, Nova grabbed her half-eaten breakfast and stood. “I’m going to get a list of things I’ll need.”
Zuri nodded, his gaze distant.
Nova started for the door and then stopped. “What reasoning?”
Zuri glanced up. “We can do our best to protect you from the world. But only you can protect you from yourself.”
After laying her bowl in the sink, Nova stepped outside. She moved toward the rising sun as she crossed the courtyard to her room, a new thought plaguing her steps. Who betrayed who?
As a kid, I knew my mind. I honestly believed I had a mind. But as the world turns on its axis, seasons change, and all forms of world leadership, pundits, and professionals offer their expertise, speeding through high-tech revolving doors, I find that my mind isn’t always my own.
Pursuing academic excellence is a fantastic way to lose one’s mind. But don’t stop there. Try marriage, parenting, and—goodness knows—volunteer service does wonders for one’s “I don’t know what I was thinking” mindset.
School days taught me to think. To read different resources. To consider various points of view. I have a distinct memory of sitting in a comparative religions class in my Catholic high school wondering if the teacher believed in anything at all. Respect implied an open mind to every question. An honest consideration that the presented view could possibly be the right one. Then they send in the next contestant. And so, on it went. Historical perspectives. Religious tenants. Persecution complexes. Vapid voyeurism. Collections and chapters detailing human interactions—interior thoughts and earthly battlegrounds—all striving to touch the finger of God.
Marriage snaps the sinews of personhood, demanding a level of “us-ness” that no one can properly prepare for no matter what bride magazine one subscribes to. Right after impassioned vows charges the inner-scream-crisis between self and self-denial. Have a mind-full opinion? Certainly. But share cautiously.
Parenting starts with euphoria, travels through exhaustion, canters about introspection, chokes out, “I don’t know” well before the kids’ reach their teen years, and sits humbly on a kitchen chair while family and friends illuminate what they can’t possibly see.
Volunteer service offers a nice platform to rest wounded egos and tired minds. After all, what could possibly go wrong? Between serving in Chicago’s inner city, a barrio in the Philippines, various pro-life adventures, and community opportunities, I’ve discovered that mindfulness abounds in every situation. To serve with a mind is one thing. To serve with the heart—quite another.
I’ve often wondered, who needs to have a mind when there are so many to choose from? As for the heart, well, it breaks all too easily.
Last night, I received a call from a woman who is arranging her mother’s funeral, and she had questions about the burial details. As the secretary for the local cemetery, I answered what I could and directed her to other resources when necessary. This morning, a funeral home called with information concerning another burial this weekend. The name rings familiar though I don’t know the man who died. He was a friend of a friend, his passing a loss to many.
When I accepted this position last year, I had no idea of what I was getting into. The logistics seemed simple enough. How hard can it be to bury a body? Little did I know. Seriously. We humans have an absolute knack for confusing ourselves and losing our loved ones. From attempting to locate bodies in unmarked graves using witching sticks (Not my idea—but certainly an experience I won’t soon forget) to submitting accurate records to the state of Illinois, I have learned the value of various kinds of knowledge.
My predecessor helps me with the records and relations between folks. The who’s who and how to negotiate unexpected inquiries. How many bodies can be buried in a site? Two—if they are cremations. And, yes, sometimes people are buried in the wrong place, stones reflect broken family connections, and the rows aren’t always straight.
The grave digger offers his expertise—allowing me the security of double-checking my records and getting the facts, if not the lines, straight. No, bodies aren’t buried six feet under. Cremations can be hard to detect even a day later, and mounds over a full grave can linger for years.
In the end, literally and figuratively, I have discovered that though knowledge of the facts may be etched in stone and measured in records, it is the heartfelt memories that hold folks together—inside and out. The truest truth of a person isn’t detailed in words or numbers, it is shaped in lives. Those we know and those who know us through others, down through uncountable generations. DNA and the embodiment of the soul start a winding process that bends through dates, events, joys, and sorrows right into personhood.
The truth of who I am involves my mind, but it doesn’t end there. I am not what I think or who I know. More than tears, screams of frustration, cries of delight, or even laughter, I find myself concerned less with the content of my mind than the character of my heart. Or should I say characters… No man, woman, child, critter, or composition has left me untouched. I am chiseled and etched by the God who made me and the personalities of this world—now and forevermore.
Grey clouds, gusty winds, and flapping curtains—frantic, as if no one was listening—held Aisling on the threshold, waiting, but for what, she could not say.
Her husband, Diarmuid, hustled an overfilled wheelbarrow across the yard. His muscles strained with the effort, though he whistled a lively tune while he worked.
At the back of the greening-up yard, along the still-winter-dead hedgerow, her youngest son, Collin, swung on a frayed rope tied from a high branch. A dip in the land allowed him to free fall, enjoying the heady drop without any real danger.
Neither husband nor son seemed the least bit concerned about the pending storm. A neighbor had mentioned as they passed at the post office that morning, “Lots of rain coming. Eager spring planters best hold off a bit, or every seed’ll be washed away.”
A sharp crack and snapping branches caught Aisling’s attention. A damaged tree that had kept a stretched roothold into the bank of the ever-widening river had given way and was now lodged in the crook of a straight but world-weary tree.
Having dumped his load of compost, Diarmuid looked over, a rake motionless in his hand. “Ya see that?”
Collin pelted across the yard, a spring kite off its tether, his shirttail flapping behind him. He skidded to a stop at the crumbling bank. “Hey, da! See what it’s done!”
Aisling met her husband at the crooked river bend where the tree fell and got caught.
“It’s them strangling vines that done it. They’re taking over the back lot, sucking up the water and soil, so even the young starve where they stand.”
A swift kick to the gut could not have stunned Aisling more. Dread chased logic right out of her mind. “Niamh got the job.”
Darkness deepened the glint in Diarmuid’s eyes. “I hope she knows what she’s about. There’s no telling what life’ll be like that far from home. Can’t harvest a garden in a city apartment.”
Motherly defenses rising, Aisling crossed her arms, a barricade against fears that can’t possibly understand. “It’s her life. She has to find her own way.”
“The land holds true when people fail.”
A gust of wind toppled a chair on the porch, sending Collin sprinting across the yard. “I’ll get it. Just hope the house don’t blow away!”
With a sharp turn, Diarmuid paced back to the half-tilled garden.
Under her breath, Aisling prayed. “I hope so too.”
Late that night, as the house stood quiet and the curtains hung limp and lifeless, Aisling wiped the counter and wrung the dishrag dry. She lay it on the edge of the clean sink, took a last glance around the orderly kitchen, and turned off the light. She headed for bed.
Moonlight shone through Collin’s window, and the toe of his boot glinted from under a chair.
She padded down the hallway, the sound of the shower grew louder in her ears. In the master bedroom, she peeled off her shoes and socks and then readied her bedclothes. Her computer screen had gone to sleep, but she knew there were emails and financial business to attend to early the next morning. A stack of biographies, novels, and historical epics lay beside the bed. Lots to read, to imagine, to consider, but her exhausted brain couldn’t fathom anything more than her bedtime ritual.
The shower spray stopped with a sudden halt, the floorboards groaned, and she could imagine Diarmuid drying off in his own methodical way.
Everything was peaceful now, and Aisling wondered at her dread-filled fears during the storm. She searched her mind for the emotional landmines that had sent her down such a treacherous rabbit hole. Niamh’s new job? She shook her head and pulled down the covers on the bed. There was no reason to fear that a grown woman living a mere hundred miles away would come to a bad end just because she worked in the city.
The bathroom door opened, and Diarmuid, dressed in his sweat pants and little else, strolled in, toweling off his hair. “We’ll have to take two cars. She’ll need one till she gets settled in. And there’s a zoo near the place Collin might like. We can make a weekend of it. Once she finds out what life is like there, she might appreciate home a bit more.”
Aisling nodded. There was no arguing her husband’s brand of logic.
She plodded to the bathroom, stripped, and got into the shower, and turned it on piping hot. Luxuriating in the steaming spray, Collin’s words ran in her mind: hope the house don’t get blown away.
Suddenly her fear made perfect sense. She wasn’t afraid of losing her daughter but losing the home her daughter could return to.
What makes my life? My home?
“Hey, honey, where’d you put my reading glasses?”
Aisling smiled at a memory. “You left them by the printer this morning when you got the paper stuck, remember?”
“Oh. Yeah. That.”
She heard his chuckle and knew he had remembered too. She slipped on her nightclothes, brushed her teeth, and shuffled into the bedroom.
Diarmuid sat propped against a pile of pillows, a biography in his hand. He looked over his glasses and peered at her. “You doing okay?”
A gust of wind hit the house and startled the curtains.
But the house still stood.
A deep abiding peace settled Aisling’s soul. “Yeah. Life’s good. I like your idea about taking two cars and visiting the zoo. I’m going to take a tomato plant in a crate so Niamh can have a little bit of home in her apartment.”
“Huh. Nice thought, but it won’t be the same.”
“No. But we all have to start somewhere. Then we start building and try not to get blown away.”
Teal held Sienna close, her head resting comfortably on his chest as she slept in perfect security. They didn’t need to maintain human form, but he realized, with a luxurious sigh, that the human body offered something the Luxonian experience lacked: a wide range of physical pleasures.
Despite humanity’s limited knowledge and complete absence of technology, they did know a thing or two about adding spice to life, literally speaking.
Before leaving Earth, Sienna had rubbed coconut butter into her skin, and the exotic scent pulsed erotic sensations through his whole body. Her hair, rain-washed and lightened by the sun, rippled through his fingers as he ran his hand along her back. After they returned to Lux, they had made love late into the night, but arousal returned with a vengeance as the first streaks of morning light filtered through the window.
Sienna stirred, stretched, and opened her eyes.
Their gazes met.
Would he ever stop falling in love with this woman?
“You’re awake?” Sienna stretched. “I thought you’d be worn out — ready to sleep through the day.”
With a grin, he ran his fingers along her side and —
Sienna sat up, clutching the bedsheet. “I don’t feel so — ” Leaping from the bed, she ran to the lavabo, the Luxonian refreshment room. Luxonians, as light beings, didn’t need the same care as humans, but they did need refreshment at times.
Trying to realign his plans for the morning, he climbed out of bed and grabbed his clothes. Disgruntled, he glanced at the doorway Sienna had sped through and considered following her. No, if she needed him, she’d ask. He pulled on his tunic and tied on his sandals.
A muffled call. “Dad?”
Teal stepped to the door, opened it, and met the gaze of his young son in his human form dressed in a simple brown tunic. “Cerulean, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I just wanted to know when we’re going. I read a report about an unusual — ”
A heavy weight dropped on Teal’s chest. He had promised his son, but a visit to Earth wasn’t high on his agenda right now. He glanced back to the bed. “We haven’t decided yet. There’s a lot to think about.”
Sienna, dressed in a long dark blue tunic with a matching belt, swayed forward. She lifted Teal’s arm, snuggled in close, and pressed his hand onto her hip. She grinned at her son. “You’ll go soon, honey. But your father and I have some decisions to make. Let’s figure out the best time, and we’ll get you all set.” She arched her eyebrows. “You’ll be a guardian your whole life, don’t rush your childhood away, all right?”
Shifting his gaze from his mother to his father, Cerulean bit his lip, his words stifled.
Teal’s heart ached. He knew that look. He’d wanted to go on his first mission so much he could hardly contain his enthusiasm, but it had taken several tries to find the right placement. Once he discovered humanity on Earth, he never wanted to leave. He ran his fingers over Sienna’s belly. Until lately.
Cerulean liked to practice every mannerism he had learned from his off-world studies. With a curt nod and a slight bow, he respectfully turned away.
Teal closed the door.
Sienna sighed. “He really wants to go. His heart is set on it.”
Teal shrugged. “But we just got home. There’s nothing going on that can’t wait. He has to learn patience. The most important lesson in guardianship is knowing how to bide your time.” He leaned over and kissed Sienna, first on the cheek and then on the lips.
She groaned, Teal believed in pleasure, but then she slid her hand between them and halted his momentum toward the bed. “I can’t.” She wrinkled her nose. “I’m not feeling well.”
Teal looked away and tried to regain his composure. Anxiety crawled over his spine. He peered at her. “Are you ill?”
After a playful pinch on his arm, Sienna strode to the window. She leaned against the low railing and rested her head on the flower entwined post. Light shone over the calm blue-green water and cascaded across her face. Her whole being shimmered. “I can feel sick without being sick.”
An electric bolt could not have shocked Teal more. He leaped across the room and grabbed her arm, tugging her out of her reverie. “Are you — ”
A languid smile spread across Sienna’s face. “I think so.” A shadow darkened her features as she met his gaze. “It’s so rare these days — to be twice blessed. I must be one of the lucky ones.”
Cold fear shivered over Teal’s body. “But is it safe?”
Sienna stared at the sun and shimmered, her whole body wavering into colorful light beams. “Life isn’t safe, my love.” She stood there, a brilliant chorus of light rays, her voice clear as crystal. “Take Cerulean to Earth and let me rest. The future will unfold as it must.” She blinked away.
Joy and terror ran riot through’s Teal’s mind. He peered at his trembling hands. Humanity may have an edge on physical pleasure, but they faced fear much the same.
Every now and again, an opportunity strolls up and shakes my hand. Over the years, my response has changed from over-exuberant my-life will-now-be-so-much-better fantasy to a take-it-as-it-comes-live-in-the-moment reality, saving me a great deal of disappointment and offering me a whole new take on life.
A few weeks ago, Dick emailed and asked if I wanted to be on their show. The old me would’ve read the title and shied away. The new me investigated, listened to a podcast, and realized that with their down-to-earth sense of humor, I might have some fun. So I took a chance and, on Sunday, I wrote a short story from their prompt, got online, chatted with them about science fiction characters, books, the writing process, and even read Jay’s story out loud. Good golly, I did have fun!
I didn’t spend a minute beforehand trying to imagine what the process was going to look like. I didn’t spend quality brain space on what might be, should be, or futuristic could be. What a relief.
The show should air next Monday, and I have no idea what it will sound like, but I’m confident that the final product will reflect nothing less than fellow human beings’ passion for a good story, no matter what the title.
During the week, an online friend, Anne DeSantis, invited me to create a podcast describing God’s mercy in my life. Once again, the old me would’ve balked at the whole idea of creating my own audible podcast. The new me figured that if I could learn how to text without causing inter-planetary disturbances, I could learn this without risking human extinction. I did manage to record my story, and Smart Catholicshttps://smartcatholics.com/now have an A. K. Frailey podcast on their roster.
So many people have written to me from various places and online sources that I can’t possibly keep track. I’m happy to read a book, reflect on a story, answer a question, or simply wish someone a good day. The old me would try to keep records, arrange future chats, attempt to sell my books, or micro-manage every situation. Not possible these days. And that’s been a blessing.
One memorable evening, years ago, I was eating dinner with my husband at a diner on the way home from visiting my Dad in Kansas. We had five young kids at the time, but they were well behaved. (The food stayed on the plates anyway.) A lady stopped by on her way out and congratulated us on our parenting skills. My husband practically glowed. Though, what I remember most was her parting comment, “I don’t know how you do it. I simply don’t have that much love to spare.”
I’ve thought about that comment through the years. Personally, I believe that love and opportunities have a great deal in common. Neither likes to be over-managed or stuffed into a box. The old me managed every detail and loved as safely as possible. The new me understands the difference between organization and a straight jacket. The old me thought I knew what the future held. The new me laughs a lot more.
In fact, I’d say that when an opportunity approaches these days, I don’t size it up with a critical eye. I just take its hand and love it.
So I was sitting in the doctor’s office and a mother comes in with the world’s cutest toddler. This child could have ousted Shirley Temple off the stage for sheer adorableness. It wasn’t just the white bow wrapped around her head, her moccasin slippers, or her bright blue eyes…it was her bubbling enthusiasm for everything and everyone in the room. She was absolutely certain that the world was a wonderful place, and everyone was her best friend.
As I watched the mini bundle of energy scamper to the nearest toy, her mother followed close behind, her hands at the ready for any slips or trips. Soon mom had her little one ensconced in her lap and helped her baby push the colored beads along the complex wire arrangement that probably made some toy maker rich.
In my lap, I gripped my latest to-do list. Among all the usual tasks of the week, I had outlined jobs and assignments for each of my kids. Since my children have an age range from 23 to 10, I have to consider their abilities in relation to their experience and natural inclinations. A kid who loves animals to distraction is better at remembering to feed the dogs and cats than a kid who would rather spend the morning reviewing Italian Cuisine recipes.
Over the years, I have altered and re-altered my mothering techniques to the point where I am very reluctant to tell another mom how to do it right. I vividly recall a couple that presented to my husband and me their most successful childrearing philosophy—“Use common sense.” Right. Sounds great. But what does that mean when facing a screaming baby whose diaper is dry and tummy is full, a toddler with a purple ring around his mouth who can’t seem to remember what he ate to get the vibrant hue on his face, a little girl who has packed her bag to go to boarding school without telling mom a thing about it, a son who asks what to do with his life, or grieved kids when they discover that not only is life not fair, but human beings can be vicious without cause.
Being a parent is a little like being God. But without the power and the glory. For a time, a parent has a say about everything. To the point of utter exhaustion. But little by little that power erodes, as well it must, and the child grows into his own decision-making being. Then the parent must step out of the way. The child must lead.
But what about when they don’t see the need? What if mom or dad have been so good at what they do and the world so darn comfortable, that it is simply easier to continue in the comfort zone? Truth be told, it’s no fun getting out of the perfect-parent zone either. It’s peaceful and enjoyable to hold a baby in your lap and move their hand, as you know it should go for the best effect.
As I consider our world today, I think of all our comfort zones. A world where so much is given to us. Where our feet are directed to schools. Our minds are directed in classes. Our passions are directed through media. Our faith is directed through traditions and habits. I have to wonder, when does direction become strangulation?
The cute baby I saw today charmed everyone in the waiting room. In the best scenario, she’ll grow up and better the world through her chosen passions and abilities. But to get to that point, she’ll have to sit by herself, and mom will have to let go of her hand.
I don’t have a quick formula for parenting. Like my kids, I learn as I go. But the key is—learn to let go. We have to allow our kids to grow up and make their own choices and face real-life consequences.
Though we’re never far behind.
For even if our hands don’t touch, surely our hearts do.
I graduated from college a long time ago. But I’ve never stopped learning. In fact, as I served in various schools and in the Peace Corps and eventually became a home-schooling mother, I have encountered a multitude of new, rather steep, learning curves. Presently, I am learning at a faster rate than ever before.
This past year I learned how to help my son navigate through the difficulties of a long-distance, online college education, and I am presently considering the next three kids’ futures. They are facing a vastly different world than the one I grew up in. Technology is huge and understanding its place in the world is necessary to succeed in pretty much every field. College tuitions are so high now that for one child, I could easily spend more than I did to buy my house. The consequences of accepting loans are considerable. Choices have strings attached and learning everything I can about higher-education options is vitally important for my family’s health.
I have also been learning how to handle the many house and property issues which creep up on a daily basis. I’ve learned to ask for help and hire experts who can solve issues like broken stoves and stuck drainage pipes, but I’ve also learned that there are things which I can do to avoid problems before they arise. The old adage, “A stitch in time….” is very true! It helps to know where the well-pump turn-off value is too.
There was a time when the mere thought of handling large gatherings at meals, organizing classes day-in-and-day-out, and maintaining a bustling home would have sent me into a panic. But panic really isn’t an option. In every home, the hardest part is being involved in the daily lives of those around you. I should say, being aware of the spiritual welfare of those around you. The “stitch in time” adage applies. As human beings, we go through an incredible amount of change and stress in the course of a day, a week, a month and a lifetime. What happened yesterday may still color our mood tomorrow. In today’s technological information-overloaded society, this is especially true. Our kids are immersed in a turbulent sea of information and disinformation. Recognizing mood swings, depression, creeping irritation, a deep-seated sadness, over-arching pride, or a whole host of other emotional and spiritual dangers is vastly important for the success of a family. And deciding which action to take involves another field of expertise. Not something one learns in a day…it takes a lifetime.
But in all these learning experiences, I have found one common ingredient: to care makes learning meaningful. Whether I am learning how to teach, how to fix a faucet, how to love, I know that the most vital aspect of life-long learning is the love with which we approach the situation, be it a lecture or a broken heart.
If I have learned anything, it is that love itself is life.
Today’s Gospel reading was the parable of the talents and the sin of omission, so when the boys brought in buckets and buckets of apples this morning, I could hardly ignore them. It would have been a sin to waste so much good fruit, even if they aren’t the prettiest apples in the world. They are the ones that grow on my trees, the gifts that God has given us this year, and though I had a long to-do list, I shoved everything aside to work on those apples.
I found myself working alone at first, but as I assigned jobs and the kids found their peelers and slicers and sat down to work, they also found their humor. It was not long before an “I-don’t-have-time-for-this” silence was replaced with, “Remember when we…”
Since I was the senior cook in charge of the canning, I had to make sure the apples were spiced with sugar and cinnamon before going into the hot jars and then into the even hotter boiling bath. In the midst of all this, a water filter had to be changed and a couple band-aids applied, but I found myself listening to the kids reminiscing about other family activities, some of which I had never known about… And I realized that life really is what happens when you are planning other things. It is in accomplishing the jobs at hand that create the warmest memories.
When we first moved out here nearly twenty years ago, I used to listen to the farmers’ wives talk about the 20 quarts of jam they put up or the 40 pints they froze. At the time I was rather underwhelmed by their accomplishments simply because I was so blatantly ignorant of how much work it took to put up a measly seven jars of anything. Now I know better. I also understand why they smiled when they reminisced. They weren’t just proud of their accomplishments; they had enjoyed the time with family, the stories swapped, the jokes played on each other. I can envision what it was like because we have repeated the process several times now.
Perhaps, at first, it does seem like just another big job, and I have to hand out paring knives like a Drill Sargent, but after a bit, those talents which seemed like a burden, quickly repay the effort. The kids and I have a change of perspective and perhaps a change of heart too. Life is in the little moments.