Wednesday, November 6, 2013


YH is attending a new preschool this year. This new school is right across the street from his big brother's school, where YH attended PPCD last year (before the school district did us wrong and discontinued the program, grumble curse grumble).

And so, each morning I gather up my two littlest ducklings and we happily march the mile or so to school together. It is lovely. YH feels so proud each morning when puts on his backpack, and eagerly asks if today we will go to his new school. Will we, mama? Will I see my *new* friends? Hooray!

(His enthusiasm for new people, new situations, and new experiences is astounding--this child knows how to greet the day and set out to conquer the world)

We start by walking Sweet Bubs to his school, even though we reach YH's school first. I do this in part because the act of walking with a full backpack strapped to his core counts as "heavy work", a therapeutic type of activity meant to give YH the added sensory input that his little body needs to feel regulated. For YH, more sensory input results in a longer attention span and better awareness of his body in space--we try to front-load his days with as much "heavy work" as we can.

We also take this route in part because YH is so well-loved by the staff and students at Sweet Bub's school. We greet the safety patrol officers (5th and 6th grade students who wear yellow vests of honor as they hold the doors open and raise the flag) and then amble down the hallway to morning assembly. At the door to the gym, where assembly is held, YH sees some of his teacher friends from the previous year. They love on him and ask questions about his day. They let him pick out a book to read from the lending library shelf outside the gym door and ask what color toy car is in his backpack (never is he without a toy car).

We hug Sweet Bubs goodbye and stroll hand-in-hand across the road to YH's school.

At the entrance YH eagerly shouts "Mom! See the babies?"

To the left of the main door is a set of french doors that lead to the baby room.

The baby room is YH's new favorite place in the world. He eagerly presses his face against the glass and peers inside, trying to see how many babies are there. The babies crawl over to the door and he crouches low to wiggle his fingers at them and coo "Hi baby! Hi!"

Sometimes the baby room caregiver will open the doors and bring one of her little charges over to us. YH gently tickles the baby's toes when this happens, and says "Ok baby. Have a good day baby!"

***                         ***

I've mentioned before that one of the greatest gifts YH's foster family gave us/him was a tiny jump drive with thousands of pictures and videos from his first two years of life on it. The on-going importance of this gift astounds me.

He loves to watch the videos and look at the pictures. We do this together--sometimes just me and him, sometimes with me and the big kids. We laugh together, we talk about what is happening in each video, we identify the other people in the video.

And always we end with: "Wow! Baby YH is loved by so many people!"

And upon hearing those words YH shouts out "YEAH! SO LOVED!"

***                      ***

Kids with YH's background of exposure to alcohol are often described as lacking empathy. They can grow into cruel children, who torture animals and other kids with no remorse. In preparing to parent YH this particular expression of his congenital brain trauma scared me the most.

What would we do if he was affect-less?
How would we handle it if he hurt the least among us?

I am thankful that *so far* we do not need to put these scenarios into practice.

I watch him gently pet one of the kittens we are looking after short-term (don't ask!), or lay his head against one of our dogs, or hand a dropped sock to an infant in a stroller--and I am aghast at his capacity to nurture others. To reach out in love to the world around him.

YH, you're pretty amazing.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Maine Part II: The House

Our house in Maine sits on a small island located 6 miles off the coast of a larger, heavily touristed island.  Our island has one grocery store, one take-away restaurant, one tea room, two hotels, and not much more outside entertainment. Most events center around two community institutions: the Odd Fellows Hall (which holds a pancake breakfast every other Sunday) and the library (which screens a film every other Friday and hosts lectures). 
If you are looking for the kitsch and bright lights of Bar Harbor, this is not your kind of place. (It is exactly *my* kind of place.)
Our home sits on a little spit of land called City Point. Our front yard looks out over the harbor, and our back yard consists of woodland that rolls up to the edge of Ghost Hollow. The hollow becomes a treacherous mud flat at low tide—local lore has it that a woman “from away” got caught trying to take a short cut across its deadly muck long ago. She died with her babe in her arms and both are now said to haunt the flats; you can hear them howl in the dark of night. (This just the right kind of ghost story to tell your children on your first night in Maine—together you all shiver and listen for the wailing, deliciously scared to bits.)
The house itself dates back at least to the 1860’s, when it was owned by the Gott family. It has been in my husband’s family for over 50 years. His maternal grandfather purchased it decades ago and it is his initial that is carved out of the shutters. When asked where we are staying we need only say “You know the house with the ‘H’ on the shutters?” for people to nod in recognition.
 At present, the whole exterior of the house is in desperate need of a paint job. White paint stands up in curling bristles along the surface of each wall. This makes the house look slightly out-of-focus, blurred at the edges. The distinctive shutters-carved-with-an-H are also shaggy with neglect. They flag each window in proud but downtrodden pairs. You can see through their top-most layer of evergreen paint to a middle layer of red, and in some places an even older sliver of sky blue paint peeks through. 

Inside, the house is all warm wood and a soothing mixture of Danish modern and mid-century furniture. The interior is lovely and cozy and it makes my heart sing.
The kitchen houses a stately woodstove—once used to cook on and heat the home, now used to display little baskets filled with sand dollars and other beach treasures. The living room and one upstairs bedroom also host small woodstoves, although we only ever use the one in the living room.  The living room woodstove becomes a beloved friend on cold and wet days.  The dogs and kids stretch out in front of its warmth and watch the logs burn throughout the day, pausing here and there to read a book or sip hot cocoa. 
Reading and napping in front of the woodstove

The main feature of the living room is a long window seat, situated below a picture window that overlooks the harbor. It is maybe the most perfect spot in the whole world—equally captivating on days when the fog clings thickly to the water as it is on a crisp and sunny afternoon. We have no tv in the Maine house, because all the images we ever need unfold before this window. Sometimes we find small snails in the grass outside and place them on the window pane to see which one will reach the top first--this is as close as we get to screen time.

I feel irrationally protective of this house.
Over the course of his lifetime my husband has lost most of the members of his immediate family. He has no mother, father, grandparents or sister; life has been cruel this way. The house is one of the only ties to his family past that remains. Its solid wood frame and carved trim, its barn wobbling on a rock foundation, the crabapple tree shading the back yard, the meadow of wildflowers stretching back into the woods—all are a monument to those he has loved. 
As with many married couples, our relationship is unbalanced when it comes to the amount of time we spend with each side of the family. My parents and one sibling have moved to our city from the Northeast; we see them at least once a week and my kids spend a ton of time with them. We spend less time with my husband’s family, in part because they live far away. It’s not fair, and it’s something that weighs heavily on me. 
I can't magically cast my net and reel in all the family members we love; draw them close to our home and keep them by our sides. And so instead I devote myself to showing my husband's family house how important it is to us. How important his family is to us, how dedicated we are to preserving this special place.
I start by repainting the shutters. 
The new paint color is called “Ocean Floor” and it matches the blue-grey of the harbor perfectly. I want to do the job right--to make it last for more than just one harsh winter. I scrape, and sand, and sweat and primer and paint until my shoulders ache. I endure endless deer fly bites that make my hands swell to twice their normal size. I use the tiniest paintbrush I can find to reach the inside corners of the carved “H” in the center of each shutter. I apply a second coat of the finish paint, using great care to fill each divot and valley in the wood grain. 
I think about my husband’s family--his mother, mostly-- with every stroke of the brush.
Each summer that we visit the island I feel my mother-in-law’s presence more strongly. She died 7 years ago, and our family grief is still strong.  My mother-in-law was beautiful and elegant; a skilled listener with an appetite for good books, world travel and delicious food.
 I flip through cookbooks in the Maine house and find her script next to certain recipes. “Too watery—use less tomatoes” She recorded the date(s) that she tried each dish, and the names of who she cooked it for. I find my parents’ names next to “Scallops with peppers”; clearly a favorite of hers as she made it four times for four different guests. Several recipes bear notations that read "Want to try" or "Try this next!!!", and I wonder if she ever did get the chance to make that blueberry crumble.
Inside the back of one cookbook I find an old shopping list: butter, salt, garlic, wine, lamb, saffron. My MIL’s tastes were exquisite and I imagine her shaking her head at our cupboards and the many boxes of mac-n-cheese contained therein. 
The list includes items that I find oddly tender: “Sean’s fishing poles” , “Sean’s sleeping bag” Evidence of my husband as a child; his needs and interests so similar to those of our own kids. I wish she were here with us. She would take great delight in each of the three kids—marveling at my daughter’s appetite for books and laughing as the boys tumble in the grass. 
We tell the kids stories about her as we crisscross the island on our daily adventures:
"This is the cabin where we stayed before this house belonged to your Oma; back when it belonged to Morfar."
"Here is where Oma used to look for mushrooms, and over there is where she showed me to collect sea spinach."
"Oma used to swim laps here. She would go the whole width of Fine Sand Beach--back and forth."
"Every summer Oma would allow herself *one* Harbor Bar--just like this one--as a treat."
We look at old pictures, and we visit her grave (in a small cemetery on the island, next to those of her daughter and her parents). We leave her offerings of perfect sand dollars, small purple shells and wildflowers collected from the meadow next to our house.
In her honor we will restore the house. We will make it solid and proud again, and fill it with beautiful memories. We will seal the siding with thick coats of paint and we will fortify our hearts with sunshine and sea salt--honoring traditions old and new.
We'll keep coming back and we'll keep the family history alive.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Maine Part I: The Journey North

On the ferry at last

Now that my husband and I are both on teacher schedules, we can spend a good portion of the summer at our family home on a small coastal island. We joke about being intentionally poor so that we can do this; that the low salaries and persistent financial worries are all part of the price levied for our getaway en famille.
 And so, playing the part, I take perverse pleasure in telling our acquaintances that we summer in Maine.
“Oh! How lovely!” they exclaim, with raised brows.
To be sure, the images raised by our announcement are lovely: Dinners of lobster-in-the-rough enjoyed at sunset. Weathered summer chalets in Winterport. Children in striped boatneck tops playing on the front lawn.Parents softly chuckling as their kids launch sea kayaks into the water.
“Race you to the other side of the harbor Mitzi!”
If only it were so. No, our journey is nothing like the manicured joy mirrored in the pages of an LL Bean catalog.
Our journey beings with four smelly and sweaty days spent crammed into an ancient Eurovan: two nervous adults, three whining children and two large dogs.
To keep it interesting the universe adds an unidentifiable warning light that pops up on the dash with a shrill “beeeep”. Its appearance confounds and terrifies us as we hurtle through the mountains of Tennessee.  We frantically flip through the owner’s manual. “It could be the brake system! Or the airbags! Or maybe the tire pressure?”  I am convinced we are going to die. Or be forever stuck in Bucksnort, TN.
The elder children bicker incessantly and tears are shed anew every few hours. Not one to be outdone the baby makes his own displeasure known, at astounding volume. By day three we are shoving every electronic device known to man into the back seat in an attempt to get them all to stop shrieking
We intend to camp each night, half of us sleeping in the van and the other half ensconced in a tent purchased hastily from Target the day before our departure.  On our first night we roll into a campground in Little Rock just as night is falling.  Our campsite is crowded in the back of the lot, between a host of RVs.
My husband struggles to put the tent up in the dark as I sit miserably at a picnic table with the kids and the two bewildered dogs. It is unbearably humid and the mosquitoes are swarming us. Somehow, the temperature rises even as the sun sets. I begin to think Arkansas hates us. We have neglected to buy bug spray, a flashlight or even water. We are dunces. We are doomed.
I am the first to speak aloud what each adult hopes the other will say, “Is it too late to find a hotel?” We move with lightening speed to deconstruct our flagging tent and hustle everyone back into the car. It is close to 11pm when we finally settle in the sweet air-conditioned splendor of a motel by the highway.  I sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor, as penance for our cowardice.
Each morning my husband folds his long frame into the driver’s seat and hunkers down, ready to annihilate 500 miles as quickly as possible (given his noxious cargo). By the end of our long days my belly bears red marks, carved there by the combined forces of 8 hours straight driving and too many dinners hastily gobbled at Sonic. I curse my jeans.
It’s not a glamorous venture, this summering in Maine.
But it is so worth it.
Safe and sound in the hotel room

****         ****
When we finally arrive at the ferry terminal we are giddy with anticipation.
It is one of those freak New England heat waves, where the temperature climbs to near-90 and everyone goes beserk. Oh how we Texans mutter “Bless your hearts” when our northern friends do this; your “heat waves” are adorable.
We park our van in one of the three “reserved” spots at the front of the ferry line. We unload kids and dogs and clamber down to the water, where a small sliver of rocky beach awaits. The kids throw rocks into the waves and the dogs jump in and out of the tide, sniffing the seaweed wildly.
Suddenly, we hear someone calling. Calling to us? Yes! It is my dad and my sister; they are booked on a later ferry but came early in hopes of catching our fleet before we board. They join us on the beach and the kids stumble over one another in their rush to tell my dad all about our trip so far.  We listen to my sister’s tale of her recent move and we make plans to reconvene on the island that evening.
It is time: the ferry pulls into the terminal and we rush to get back into our car. An attendant guides our vehicle onto the deck and we are sandwiched amongst other cars, belonging to islanders and “summer people” alike. Our windows are down and the bite of the sea breeze comes barreling in to whip through our hair.
We’re 40 minutes away from our second home.
He loves lupines.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

One year.

One year ago the little boy in the picture above joined our family forever.
In the months since he has grown two inches and gained three pounds. He is still recognizable as the little boy in the picture above--but oh so much has changed.

Today his eyebrows remain just as wonderfully fuzzy, and his cheeks are still endlessly kissable. He is still sturdy of frame, with broad shoulders and a sculpted waist. His feet remain wide and plump, tethering him to the earth. His head is still slightly lumpy, though I notice it less and less. He has a dark blue birthmark on his right upper arm, and two more on his lower back.

It kind of kills me to look at that picture. To see my son's small face so closed off, so sad. To see his shoulders hunched in defeat, his mouth soft and tugged by sorrow.  He is leaning away from his papa's hand, trying to get away from this new set of circumstances. He looks bewildered and broken-hearted.

And to my memory this photo was taken on a good day! The night before YH slept tucked in my arms. He woke up and ate a bowl full of berries and cereal for breakfast. We played in the front yard and filled up the baby pool for him to splash in. We had fun!

And yet.

And yet the camera captured this moment of quiet pain. I can't imagine what it must have felt like to him to have his whole world disappear. To be plunked down in the middle of Texas in the bosom of a well-intentioned-but-generally-clueless family. It astounds me that he had the strength to grieve and begin the healing process. That he was able to begin to trust and love us.

****                                  ****

YH and I talk a lot about love these days. Mostly about how much I love him and how that will never ever change.

Throughout the day he will stop what he is doing and ask me to tel him a YH story. This is a special type of story that I made up just for him.

We sit down facing each other on the sofa and lean in so that our foreheads are touching. He wiggles in excitement as I begin.

"Once upon a time there lived the most wonderful, smart, brave, silly and lovely three year old boy in the whole wide world--and his name was YH."

(we say his name together, and he collapses in giggles after saying it)

"One day YH woke up early and ate bacon and eggs for breakfast. He gathered up his favorite toy cars and kissed his mama good-bye before heading off to school. While he was at school he learned new things and played with his friends. And the whole time his mama loved him, even though they were apart."

"At then end of the school day his mama came back. Because she promised she would. And she was so happy to see YH that she gave him a big squeezy hug. And they went home and ate lunch together. And YH's mama loved him, because she loves him forever and ever and that will never change. The End."

The details vary with each incarnation, but the framework remains the same.
YH loves these stories and never tires of hearing them.
I love that he loves listening to them.
It is such a simple way to share with him how important he is to me, and to our whole family.

****                                        ****

I haven't seen the look of quiet pain on YH's face for quite some time now. That doesn't mean that the pain isn't there--just that he doesn't wear it prominently in each picture.

Photos taken now are more likely to capture his wide grin as he slings an arm around his brother, or proudly displays his climbing prowess.

This past year was just the beginning for YH and me. Each day I wake up a little more in love with him, and a little more eager to see what we'll discover about one another.

I love you YH, and that will never change.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Written on the body.

My youngest child is not a cuddler.

He is not the type of toddler who melts into your embrace, content to lie still against your heartbeat for hours at a time. He does not sit still in your lap, or fall asleep on your shoulder. More often than not, if he comes to hug you he does so at full speed and with maximum impact. An embrace often comes with a headbutt or an elbow to the ribs--I willingly accept the collateral bruises as part and parcel of his love.

Hugging YH is not for the faint of heart.

He will let you pick him up and hold him upside down, or swing him in a circle. He will laugh and ask for "More! More! More!" My husband can get YH to assume a perfect plank position, and then use his little body as a weight for bicep curls and shoulder presses. YH loves this and giggles throughout his daddy's workout regimen.

But he will rarely allow himself to be held in a cradle position. To be snuggled and swaddled and treated like an infant.

Of course all the attachment books warn me that this is a BAD SIGN. That we should be working daily to change this, so that he can feel secure in a vulnerable position. But I will not force it; I will not love him in a way that makes him uncomfortable.

The exception to the cradle is that YH will tolerate that position as long as I am actively rocking him. Not in a rocking chair, but with the large swinging motions of my tired arms. When I do this he relaxes and is able to maintain eye contact. My shoulders burn and my hip aches as I pivot back and forth----but he is happy.

This week YH started initiating "gentle" touches. We've been a family for almost a year now--and this week marked the first time he absentmindedly reached for my hand while watching a video. Just to hold it, just to rest his fingers on mine. Halfway through the video one little finger started to explore. It traveled lazily across the tendons on the back of my hand, stopping to appreciate the texture of my skin.

At the end of the video I cupped my other hand over his and he looked at me in surprise, almost unaware of what his limb had been up to.

This week he has asked to prolong our morning embrace. Usually he sits patiently and somewhat stiffly in my arms when I scoop him out of his bed. But this week he has grabbed me back with equal intensity, and twice even said "Stay Mama, stay" when I went to stand up. I do stay--of course I stay. We have been late to school every day this week and it has been SO.WORTH.IT.

In the quiet hours, when YH and the other kids are sleeping, I re-play these new behaviors. I puzzle over them and sometimes let my thoughts project a hopeful future. A future where these gentle gestures become the norm, where our love deepens and instead of counting bruises from awkward collisions I am counting kisses from my littlest beloved.

As part of the seemingly-endless-ever-changing process of untangling what is attachment related, what is exposure to alcohol related, and what is just innate to YH we are about to begin another round of testing.

This next series of evaluations will focus on his sensory needs. The crashing, the dramatic flopping, the bouncing, the tooth grinding and mouth explorations--they all point to sensory seeking behaviors. It is our hope that through the implementation of OT and a rich sensory diet (see here: we can help YH find comfort in the day-to-day.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How I ruined it.

On Thursday of last week YH, Miss A and I found ourselves at a theme park in a neighboring city, getting ready to film a commercial. (I know. Whaaaa? It is a long story.)

As it turned out, things were running on a schedule different from the one we had prepared for and Miss A was required to be on-set, waiting, until after midnight. I am sure I don't need to tell you that this is far from the normal schedule of events for any of my children, much less the toddler.

And so I found myself "parenting with connection" a heavily over-stimulated, dysregulated, neurologically compromised three year old in full view of a few hundred strangers for over THIRTEEN CONSECUTIVE HOURS. It took every scrap of energy and focus that I had.

My friend Anna talks about "steering into the skid" when parenting our kids from hard places. By this she means reaching out to your child in the midst of the hardest times, the hardest behaviors, instead of closing him/her out. This takes so much work! It is much easier, and less taxing, to send a child in the middle of tantrum to "the thinking step" than it is to get on his/her level and *engage* in the resolution of the hurt and icky feelings.

I try my hardest to steer into the skid whenever I can; and I steered into it big time on-set. In a way, it was beautiful. YH and I connected in a deeper way; of that I am sure. I met his every single need over the course of that day. I helped him find a quiet place when he needed to regulate. I engaged in creative play with him, I sang him his favorite songs, I carried him in the dark, I helped him find words for his frustrations.

His brain didn't let his body turn-off for one second. No nap. No falling asleep in my lap. He was set to "GO"; alert and tense every minute that we were in the new location. When we finally stumbled to our car in the deep of night, he fell asleep almost instantly.

I wish I could catalog for you the tiny gains in attachment we achieved that day: how he effortlessly sprawled across my lap, lying on his back and whining half-heartedly while staring into my eyes (this from a child who *never* lies fully prone in my arms). The way he would return to my side every few minutes, patting my cheek or back to say "Hey! I'm happy I found you right where I left you!" The way his anxiety behaviors stopped the moment I scooped him into my embrace, and the way his little body softened against mine.

I returned home exhausted, but marveling at our strengthened connection. I was thrilled that progress is still being made; that my patience extended long enough to meet YH where he needed it most.

I was proud of myself.
And we all know where pride goeth....

And so, the next morning I promptly wrecked it all.

You see, Miss A had an early call-time for the commercial so we slipped out of the house before YH awakened. Sean and Sweet Bubs were set to head to the beach for the weekend--with YH, of course, but not with his full knowledge of what would transpire. No one had taken the time to explain to him that Miss A and I would meet up with them later, after her work was done.

And so my lovely boy awoke later than usual, with a heart still sore from the re-knitting of the previous day, to discover that his mom and sister had disappeared.

And then he himself left the house! With a packed suitcase! And only his dad and brother! And they drove far away and set up house in a new condo! The new place smelled nothing like "home". The schedule was different. And mom and sister were missing!

Because he is a trooper, and because he has been through this loss before, YH flipped into "busy" mode. He swam with abundant energy in the pool. He powered through dinner and exploring the touristy souvenir shops. He ate ice cream with abandon.

At bedtime, he fought sleep. He cried and fussed and asked for me over and over.

I did not come.
I was not there when he woke up the next morning.
I was not on the beach, holding his hand in the waves.

The following night I *was* there. Miss A and I arrived (again) after midnight. We left minutes after wrapping the shoot and drove on lonely country roads to find our boys. My daughter and I tumbled into bed together and slept heavily until mid-morning, when the joyous stampede of little boy feet let us know the brothers were awake.

I walked out into the living room, overjoyed to see my sons, and was summarily given the cold shoulder by YH.

He was MAD.
With good reason.

And over the next hour he raged. He thrashed and screamed and fought my embrace. He cried and kicked and nothing made him happy. We sat together on the floor of the closet in the rented master bedroom. I rubbed his back and told him I was sorry he was angry. I told him I loved him and that I always come back.

And I waited.
And I beat myself up over not anticipating that this would happen.

Once YH had finished his tantrum, we went about our day together at the beach. We built sandcastles and splashed and ate in cheesy restaurants.

Did I really ruin the connection we had forged earlier in the week? No, I don't think so. But I did inadvertently test the boundaries of my son's burgeoning trust.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


When I was 21 and newly married I left behind my home and my husband to study in Madagascar. I spent a semester in Antananarivo, living with the world's most lovely host family. Each morning I would wake up and breakfast on milky coffee and bread with honey, or mofo gasy (sweet rice cakes).
I would kiss my host family on the cheeks, gather up my school things and walk outside to the "bus stop". The "bus stop" was really just a dusty junction at the top of our road where passengers would gather and wait for a "taxi be" (large van) to come transport us into town. I would queue up next to little old ladies wrapped in lambas (decorative white cloth, worn around the shoulders), men with baskets overflowing with chickens, stylish young women on their way to their office jobs.

I would stand and shift my weight from foot to foot, peering across the road at the hillside and its terrace of rice paddies. A zebu would hulk its way across the road and a line of children in uniforms would straggle past on the way to school.

All around me was noise.

Cars. Chickens. Mothers calling after their children. Men stopping to converse with their neighbors. Older women exchanging neighborhood gossip. A young man trying to flirt with my host sister. Kids on bicycles riding past and calling out to me "Vazaha!!!!!" (foreigner)

I knew just enough Malagasy to strain to decode all that was happening around me. In the classroom and at lectures we spoke French with our professors, and in my host family we defaulted to French (a second language for everyone in the home) in order to communicate. Thus I spent most of my day trying to decode the Malagasy syllables I heard and translate them into French.

Never had my brain been more limber, or more overworked.

At the end of each beautiful day I would collapse into my bed, the family cat (Baby) curled by my side. My mouth and ears would be sore from the effort of *hearing* and *being understood*, and I would fall into a deep sleep until daybreak--when the neighborhood rooster would dutifully wake me.

Lately I have been thinking about that kind of brain-tired a lot. That kind of mouth-fatigue and ear-exhaustion feels very familiar to me these days, as I work to communicate with YH.

My son has made huge leaps in his communication skills--but it is still active work to *hear* him. If we are driving in the car and he is "talking" to me from the backseat and the radio is playing and traffic is heavy on the highway--I need to really, really concentrate in order to decode what he is saying to me.

It is frustrating for both of us, as we try to make our hearts known in each other's language.

I have such empathy for his struggles to get his thoughts out in a way that the rest of the world can understand. I can see his lips purse and quiver as he searches for just the right sounds to get his meaning across. His fuzzy eyebrows knit over his tiny nose in concentration. There is a small intake of breath before he launches into:

"Mama! Baby owl. YH hold it, hold it baby owl."

He is thinking about the baby owl we found over the weekend, stuck in a knot of tree roots in our backyard. He is remembering how daddy picked it up, with heavily gloved hands, and how excited YH and his siblings were to watch the little bird's yellow eyes blink open and shut at them. He is remembering how at the time he asked to hold the owlet, to take a nap with it.

He is remembering this because we are behind a truck with an owl sticker on the bumper and he recognizes his wild friend in the dingy plastic image before him.

And if it were late rin the day, or if my brain was less limber, I might miss this chance to fully appreciate the wonder of his tiny brain. The glimpse into how he sees the world around him. A sliver of his own labor.