Deer Family

Two days ago my daughter achieved flight.

Her six year old body made a level plane in midair, straight and parallel to the ground, touching nothing tethered to the Earth five feet below. Fingers and toes stretching away from each other she squealed with glee, a blissed-out-shine radiating from her face. That was her last and most daring leap of the day. I barely made the catch.

She had flung herself into absolute freedom, if only for 1/2 a breath.

True responded to our move, to the challenges of a new home and school, by making her life even more epic than it was before. Time at the playground has become an invitation to flight. When we go out to do errands for the day she must wear her princess dress (the one from Brave, a warrior Princess of course.) When she chose the desert we’ll make this weekend (the three of us are working our way through a Great British Baking Show cookbook) she picked the one that takes 4 hours, involves rhubarb (where the hell do I get fresh rhubarb), custard, and a hand made crushed almond crust. She doesn’t even like almonds. At the sushi restaurant, the one with the conveyor belt that carts sushi on colored plates throughout the restaurant, she gave a running commentary on the most important dishes as they rounded corners or disappeared behind curtains.

Standing high on her stool to report: “Daddy, here come the Japanese Jellos, right around that corner, I see them, I see them!” Again and again, “I see them, they’re next to the edamame, herrreee they come!” Glowing in her faux green satin dress she fills the endless snaking sushi bar with the sure joy of someone who knows good things are always rolling her way. Every last person, even the dishwasher in the back, was made to know when the sweets finally made their second pass by her podium. We were all a part of her endless, unfolding treasure.

Believe it or not I’m a shy person by nature. I like brief moments of notoriety if I write something worth reading, but otherwise I prefer the safety of blending in with all the other grey haired white guys walking around. And I still go through periods of intense grief and sadness. But Truly always blows that out of the water. No room for loneliness, solitude, anonymity. Surely I must know everyone in town! If I don’t, she’ll make sure I do before we leave! Oh yeah, you’re the guy with that cute little girl in the satin green dress. The sushi place will never forget the tiny self-appointed sushi-station-master with a voice like a cross between Lucile Ball and Howard Cosell.

Tadg usually just sits back and watches the circus unfold. He’s just on the edge of the self-engrossed coolness that will eventually swallow his childhood naivete whole.

“Uhuh, thats great True. Yeah, I see it, here comes the Japanese Jello. Woo-hoo.”

But the other day, when I picked him up from school, he surprised and inspired me. When he saw the truck parked around the corner he dipped his head forward, spread his arms out behind him like jet wings and ran. His big smile, already two sizes too big for his 11 year old face, stretched wider, long curly black hair streaming behind him like a horse mane. I hadn’t seen him that happy and free in several years. Still smiling, he slammed into the side of the truck bed, a stunt-man in training. I’m pretty sure that move is from one of his favorite movies, Into the Spiderverse. As we pulled away from his school he rolled down the window, stuck his head out to yell hello at a couple of girls. These days happiness is almost always ready to bubble out of him. He’s a rock star in his own right. The move has been best for him of all of us I think. He assembles a tribe wherever he goes.

They will pull wonderment out of me, even if they have to drag me from one end of Oregon to the other to do it.

I really don’t know what phase I’ve entered into, but something has shifted. I’ve been thumbing the empty space where my wedding ring used to be for the first time in over a year. I used to spin it around when she was still alive, and then for a few months after I took it off. And then nothing, it was just gone. But now I’m hunting for my ghost ring daily. I still feel its presence but when I reach for it, I’m just reminded something’s been amputated from us. Its not super heavy, not really painful, I just wonder why I keep running back to it. I’m a dog checking his food bowl again and again.

Why now?

I’ve had a few dreams with her recently. They’re pleasant, casual dreams of us just hanging out with friends, even other couples. They are enjoyable, happy, and they feed me in a way. But I’m OK without her in my dreams. I think I’m missing being married more than anything. That old hunger is back. I guess this is the part where I start to learn who I am now, as a single person all over again.

I still need to rest when I can, the spirits tell me thats the key.

This afternoon I laid down for a nap, a cold nipping at my heels. I’m not strong enough for the work I have to do. I have this surging in my gut, its strong and clear, but I also have a sense that I’m not ready for it yet. When I say work, I don’t mean the work of being a Dad, I’m doing OK at that. I mean the spiritual/creative work thats always gnawing at me. I’ve always been able to say yes, without limit or hesitation. I’m stronger than I’ve been in years, just not strong enough. I’m almost there. Doing Yoga every morning has really done the trick. Even if I do an easy online class, just breathing and stretching for 20 min, it helps. In a way I feel stronger than I ever have because I know exactly where my limits are, and I know how to stay within them.

The kids were able to respect my request for sleep solitude for about 20 minutes. Eventually they wound up on top of me, playing an audio book to me while they dug into the covers and nuzzled me. They still want to hang with their crusty Dad. Eventually they turned cuddling into a tickling match. I accepted it for the gift it was and joined in for a bit. Tussling is still some of the best love-food.

It feels like I’m still arriving, even as they achieve liftoff.

My grief work lately has been setting up the alcove just off the kitchen as a family picture/memorabilia space. It took me about a month to work through the photos, artifacts, and cards from the last 15+ years. The last push was the hardest, sifting through her things, all the while the kids dancing around, pasting up the latest sculptures, tucking in for a snack.

Its become everything I’d hoped it would. Kids and cats and dogs all gravitate to that corner. There’s almost always someone to talk to when I’m puttering through a meal or cleanup. Its so fulfilling to turn around and see another citizen of the house nesting there, breathing love in, breathing love out. Yesterday I lit a candle for someone who had passed. It felt so good to have a place to honor the living, the recently dead and the long passed. Even better that its just a step away from the kitchen, always the center of my home.

True rests there almost every morning. On days when she has to get up early to ride in with her brother I carry her from bed and place her in her nest, covering her with a blanket. Its a ritual she loves, feeling held by me and her special place. She talks less about getting a Mom these days, but she has assigned herself a new Mom, one of the Deer that graze our front yard.

When we arrive home,”Papa, there’s my Deer Momma and my Deer sisters and brothers. Hi family!”

Now, whenever we see a Deer in our travels around central Oregon (a couple times a day) she names off who the family member is, where they sit in her tree. She comments on how they’re keeping their coats and if a new fawn has appeared she has a new name, a new explanation for its presence.

Tadg:”Oh really True, we just saw your Deer Mom at the house and she made it all the way down here to Bend?”
True:”Yep!”
Me:”Sounds about right.”
Tadg {shaking his head, but knowing I insist he buy into it as well}:”OK then, hi again.”

She deserves more parents than just one grey haired Dad still working on getting his life back together. I am so glad she’s chosen the local Deer to be her new kin. I suppose this means venison is off the menu, but now she gets family visitors nearly every evening. I hope they feel even more welcome now, grazing our lawn as they do.

On the way home today she asked me how they sleep, what do deer do?

“They like to find tall grass and circle around, bedding down in something like a nest. They do that every night.”

We all nest it seems.

Blessings to you and yours during this time of great change.