Papa Swan

I haven’t written a personal post in some time. I’ve been working on a bigger writing project, a book about the first four years since Terry’s death. It’s what I had to write just so I could write about something else, anything else. Saying what needs to be said seems to be a requirement for storytellers. I now have a manuscript titled “Wilder Grief”. I’m shopping it around. I’ll probably end up self-publishing. I like it, which matters more than just a little.

I wrote the epilog last week. I hadn’t planned on it, so maybe it’s more true to say it just spilled out. There it was, a real ending at the end of my book. Done. Here’s how the ending begins:

“When I woke up this morning, after a night of rich dreams, I instinctively reached out to feel my grief. Where would it be today? How big, how insistent was it? After a few moments I realized I couldn’t find it. All I could sense was the impression that it left, like the dense, flattened grass left by a sleeping deer. For almost four years grief was my close companion, and then it wasn’t. I don’t think it will ever be completely gone, there will be more losses to grieve someday. But I am done tending its company for now.”

The gift of time and writing ended my marriage to grief. I wasn’t looking for that ending, I hadn’t expected it. Maybe that made it easier for me. The end of grieving found me because I wasn’t looking for it. I’d like to think the kids have noticed a change in me. I do feel lighter. I’m not always keeping an eye on myself, waiting to stumble into something that brings up a feeling of loss. I’m much more likely to say yes to an invitation to be silly. That feels really good. Especially because summer is approaching fast, this has to be a really silly summer. Its long overdue.

Of course there was a big, Hollywood media event recently that put me in a headspin for a few days. I don’t want to go into it, tag this blog entry with keywords that might link this to something I don’t want to connect to. You probably know what I’m talking about. It brought up a lot for me about men, violence and what it means to be a protector. That is a major theme in my life, being a protector. I try to make choices that will protect my kids from things they don’t need to suffer right now, they’ve already been through so much. I don’t want them to have to endure the kind of feelings that were so easily triggered in me recently. That affects everything from which school they go to, to how I spend my money, how early I get up in the morning and what’s for dinner.

When I think of protector Dads I think of Cobs: male Swans. They are wonderful, manly yet pissy, and reliably fierce protectors of their mates and children. They’ll sail gallantly past you as if you should bow down to worship them, and then turn to hiss and spit at you like a petulant octogenarian who hasn’t smiled since he lost his teeth a decade ago. They are at once spectacularly beautiful and spitefully mean. I love their contradictions.

In the wild, being a successful protector is all about observation and response. Being aware of your Cygnets, aware of who might be wanting to eat them is most of the work. You know the change of the seasons and how to act accordingly. And yes, you put yourself in harms way if you have to. But only if you have to because you know you are not dispensable. You are an asset to your children’s well being. You must protect yourself as well as them. You’re here for the long journey.

I took the kids on our first long vacation since we moved here. After being locked away for so long it felt a little scary, like I was risking all of our stockpiled prosperity. Single parent vacations can feel a little sketchy, there’s no backup parent around. We visited Grandma and my sister and her family. True had endless sleepovers with friends, Tadg and I hung out with a family in the Santa Cruz mountains and stopped by to see other close friends. I managed to relax.

We returned to our old homestead, Lavender Hill. I wondered how the kids would feel. We couldn’t walk the land because the new owners weren’t around. It looked vibrant, like love still lived there. Would they miss that home too much? Would they regret moving to Sisters? It turns out no. After a week of connecting to everyone everywhere they were ready to go back home. It was nice seeing our old place, but there was no more pull. California is a good place to be from, for now.

Maybe they remembered we’d be visiting Terry’s grave on the way back North. We didn’t feel like she was a part of Lavender Hill any more, we were going to see her final resting place. The kids and I laid flowers there and spoke to her. They were both a little uncomfortable. I just felt love surrounding and filling us. I think Terry was shining on us, light was everywhere. I told her I felt like a new chapter was beginning for us and that I hoped she would be there with us for whatever comes next. It felt good.

Walking through our front door the next day felt like really coming home. That was such a gift to me. It meant that moving here had been the right choice all along. It meant I was doing my Papa Swan job. We were back where we belong. We settled back in for the rest of the school year. True was excited because a spot opened up in Aftercare for her. That means she gets to hang with her friends at the end of the day. The first day back she stayed until 5pm.

When I rolled up to get her she was waiting at the gate with a worried look on her face.

“Honey why were you so upset?”
“I thought you weren’t coming to get me.”
“Truly I will never leave you alone someplace. Never.”
“OK”, she looked out the window.
“No really, look me in the eyes.” She turned her slate blue eyes, still shadowed with fear to look into mine.
“I will burn down the world to get to you. Nothing will stop me. Nothing.” Her body relaxed.
“OK Papa.” She seemed satisfied with that arrangement.

In hindsight that probably wasn’t the best thing to say. Having her head filled with images of me torching the world as I merrily drive to pick her up is violent in its own way. I should have said something like “I will always find you, you will always be at the center of my thoughts.” But I wanted her to feel how important she was to me, how fiercely I care about her. So burning down the world will have to do for now.

A Cob can be irrationally aggressive when he’s “hormonal”, getting ready to mate. He’ll attack anything that might get near his intended. He will attack a horse, a bicycle, even a large moving vehicle. He’ll also be attracted to loud noises. Lawn mowers, tractors, farm trucks are all potential suitors to be fended off. However once their Cygnets are born he’ll calm down, gliding happily into the guardian role. I’m still too ready to hiss at someone. Must be hormonal.

We slipped back into our rhythm quickly, both the kids felt lighter to me. Our first summer visitors, my nephew Jack and his girlfriend Roz, spent the weekend with us. The kids loved it. We have more visitors coming through next week. I think we’ll be a popular stop on many people’s vacation routes this summer. So many of us are wanting to break free after being cautious for so many years. We may fly out to visit family again, but for now I’m happy to stay close to my nest, guarding my precious Cygnets. Watching them grow.

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