My twelve-year-old daughter says there are four eggs in the nest outside her bedroom window. I believe her, because she's who one sits and watches, keeping an eye on the world around her.
On the night after the Parkland Florida shooting, my oldest two, my husband, and I sprawled around the wood stove talking about kids who struggle, kids who sometimes perpetrate unfathomable acts of violence.
“There’s a boy in my class who seems really sad sometimes,” my daughter said. “I ask him if he’s ok, I tell him I will listen if he wants to talk. But he doesn’t want to. I don’t know what else to do.” She shrugged her shoulders, letting the weight of seeing and knowing another’s pain and isolation rise and fall.
The mother in me wanted to pick up that weight, like a strongman lifting a car off a trapped child. I wanted to lift the burden from her shoulders and carry it far away, toss it off a canyon cliff, never to be seen again.
Instead, I said, “I’m glad you ask him. Sometimes that’s all you can do.”
During spring conferences, a teacher said she’d recently paired my daughter with a student who’s only integrated into mainstream classrooms for science. They worked together for a single lab with his classroom aide keeping close watch. The teacher, also observing, noticed how my daughter deliberately slowed her pace, waiting for the other student to process before moving on to the next step. In other words, she treated him like a real partner.
“Some kids just rush through and do all the work,” the teacher said. “But she was so patient, she just let him work at his own pace.” After they finished, the student’s aide told the teacher, “That girl is the kindest person I’ve ever seen.”
Tears sprang to my eyes when she said that and later, when I retold the story to my husband, he got chills up and down his arms. They weren’t chills or tears of pride, but the kind that come when truth strikes close to the bone.
I recently started reading Annie Dillard’s collection of essays, Teaching a Stone to Talk and it’s filled parts of me I didn’t know were empty. Dillard’s work makes me want to not only write better but live better. She writes as one who watches and listens before asking gentle, curious questions of the world around her. She reminds me of my daughter.
I was only three sentences in to her first essay when this small fact stuck its foot out, causing my imagination to stumble and pause:
“Sometimes [a weasel] lives in his den for two days without leaving.”
Now there’s something to write about, I thought. Something for a poem maybe.
Who knew weasels have a private life, hidden beneath the surface of the world? The very idea dazzled me. Here, I thought, is something to explore. But, reading on, I realized Dillard knows the weasel in a way I never will, having both researched it and watched it in a pond near her house.
I have no pond near my house. I’ve never seen a weasel except maybe in a zoo. I can write ideas about the weasel, but I can’t write directly about the weasel (not honestly, at least) because I don’t know the weasel. Seated here by my office window, I suspect I’m a good deal removed from the nearest weasel-viewing-locale. For now, I’ll leave the weasels to Annie.
I’ll write instead about what I can see, about what I know. Today, for instance, the gray hen is foraging in our yard and a pair of sparrows paused in the shrub outside passing something (a seed?) from beak to beak. Dispassionate snow flurries are falling. It’s a lovely snow, the kind you long for in December, but it’s April, and if I hear one more complaint about this late winter weather, I swear I’ll despair because I’m holding my breath for spring and complaining wastes air.
Looking up and a little further out, I can see the awning outside my daughter’s window where an eager pair of house wrens built their nest weeks ago. I can’t see the mother, but I know she’s there, sitting on those four eggs in the snow and cold because life depends on it. I know she is there just as I know I am here, watching and listening, asking gentle, curious questions. These children, my daughter and sons, they are my eggs, my weasels; they make me want to not only write better, but live better.