This Old New House.

I woke up around nine on Thanksgiving morning and, but for the clink clink clink of the fan and my dog licking her butt, the house was painfully silent. Nothing was as it should be. I made myself a cup of coffee, grabbed my … Continue reading

Unbroken.

Find a nice guy. Someone you can depend on. Someone who will take care of you.

So, she did.

Buy a nice house. In a great neighborhood, with the best little elementary school.

So, they did.

Have a baby! It will make your family will complete.

So, they did. Two, in fact.

You still feel empty…incomplete? You should talk to someone about that. It’s not normal, what, with everything you have.

It didn’t take long for her to absorb their words, so deeply and completely that she herself began to believe them as true.

She blamed herself.

How could she have everything and still feel nothing?

So, per their advice, she did talk to someone, and once she started she couldn’t stop. She talked and talked and talked, and then she waited and waited and waited, both terrified and exhilarated to finally have someone tell her why she was so broken and ruining everything.

Oddly, though, all that talking and listening and waiting led her to a place unexpected. While searching for ways to fix herself, so she could stop failing everyone else, she kept dead-ending at the same conclusion – that she didn’t need to be fixed, because she wasn’t broken.

Regrettably, and for far too long, she’d somehow let others convince her that out of the 1,000 parts she was made of, 999 made her weak. But, for the fist time, she’d finally stopped second-guessing herself and started second-guessing others.

Take a look inside and stop running from your feelings.

So, she did.

Taking out all her parts, she laid them neatly on a table and, one by one, inspected them for what seemed like hours. She stared at them. She picked them up and put them back down. She observed them from every possible angle – top to bottom, left to right, backwards and forwards. She wanted so badly to understand why some thought these parts were broken and, in turn, breaking everything around them. But, no matter how many different ways she looked at them, she simply could not see what they did.

Your heart is too soft and you take things too personal.

And, they were right. Her heart was way too soft. It bled and it ached, sometimes a million times a day, over things most deem inconsequential. They said it made her crazy. They said it drove them crazy. But, crazy or not, she loved that heart, and was proud that it was her’s.

You’re too opinionated. 

Fair point. But, what else did she have if not her voice? Besides, she had given up most everything else.

You’re way too sensitive! You have so many emotions. 

That wasn’t exactly something she could argue with, either. Indeed, she had many emotions. She felt the world around her and everything in it, taking on its feelings and making them her own. When others hurt, she hurt with them. Some thought this made her weak. But, not her, she thought it made her strong. Because, even if these feelings weren’t always pleasant, they made her feel alive. Even more so, they made her feel connected. And, that was something she desperately needed. Because, in her nice house, in the great neighborhood, with the cute little elementary school, lived only disconnect.

In it, lived shadows that spent their days coexisting. They crept around quietly, heading anywhere and everywhere, but never in the same direction. Because, moving towards one another meant having to act out the same script and play the same part – a part they’d both grown tired of playing years ago.

And, although there were two people living in that house, for so long she only blamed one of them – herself.

The closer they got to one another physically, the lonelier they felt emotionally. Even so, they made sure to smile, and be polite, and say things like how was your day oh that’s good mine was fine too. And, with each pleasantry exchanged, and each forced-smile shared, they both died a little on the inside. They existed like this for years – slowly dying so that others could live.

They died for so many reasons.

They died for their kids.

They died for their friends. Those friends who thought they were the absolute cutest.

They died for their families, because not doing so meant disappointing them, and that was much too great a weight to bear.

In public, they laughed and held hands and offered to get one another a drink. They were the perfect couple when everyone was looking and complete strangers when no one was looking.

And, she blamed herself.

Her friends, one by one, asked where she had gone. Something that confused her, at first, because what did they mean? She was right there. Then, one day she looked in the mirror, and everything made sense when she saw a shell of who she once was staring back at her.

For years, she apologized for laughing too loudly and for talking too much. Saying I’m sorry had become an automated response. For years, she’d tried to fit into a mold that others had decided was right for her. The thought of this made the real-her cringe with shame and anger. The girl who didn’t give a shit what anyone thought had become the girl who cared what everyone thought – a weak shadow of who she used to be.

She tried so badly to make her perfect-to-others life work – to live life like everyone had decided she should. So much so, that she’d all but sold her soul to accomplish it. Worse, she was so wrapped up in trying to be who he wanted her to be, she was unable to see that it didn’t matter. He didn’t want her to be anything, he only wanted to be without her.

But, to be fair, she took off her shoes and slipped into his. And, in them, she realized that she was crushing his spirit the  same was he was crushing hers. He, too, had sold his soul, and given up himself to make his perfect-to-others life work.

So, if he wasn’t to blame, and she wasn’t to blame, then who was to blame?

It was almost impossible to tell because a decade had passed, which made it hard to remember what even brought them together in the first place. Until, they did remember. It was friendship.

These friends made a common mistake of trying to love each other as more than that. But, in their failed attempt to be more than they were ever meant to be, they made two beautiful kids. So, really, who could call it a mistake?

As friends do, they finally made the decision to stop hurting each other and just let go.

It took a while to unlock and process the years of unspoken pain, but eventually they did. And once the waters calmed and the anger subsided, she could finally see who was to blame for all that emptiness.

Nobody.

She wasn’t broken.

And he wasn’t broken.

They were broken.

But, by breaking themselves in half, they were whole again.

* * *

Find yourself. Be stable, and take care of yourself all on your own. Live life the way you want to, not how others think you should. 

So, she did.

And, for the first time since she could remember, there was no more emptiness.

She was complete.

Finding My New Normal.

The first few weeks after my ex-husband moved out were surreal, to say the least. I vacillated between extreme highs and extreme lows.

I loved living alone!

I hated living alone!

Slowly, though, my emotions began leveling out and I found myself reaching small victories here and there.

I no longer waited around each evening, listening for the garage door to loudly announce his arrival. I flipped through our wedding album without shedding one tear. I left cabinet doors open in the kitchen and on purpose, because there was no longer anyone around that hated it.

But, without a doubt,  the hardest hurdle to clear was the new normal of being without my kids for days at time. Don’t get me wrong, they have a good dad who adores them and I’d never intrude on that to make myself feel better, but the loneliness was crippling and the pain was physical. I’d pace around my too-quiet house, exhausted and panicked, for hours searching for acceptance and peace. The first night without them I vaguely remember calling my best friend to talk, only I couldn’t talk for several minutes, because I was sobbing so hard. All she did was listen, because that’s all she could do, and what else are best friends for?

Fortunately, I realized early on that staying home curled up in a fetal position was only serving to make my transition more painful. So, one night, after going through Robert Flatt’s outstanding work for the umpteenth time, I grabbed my camera and went in search of his famous feathered subjects. After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, he found healing through the Night-Herons and Great Egrets that nest nearby. Generations of these exquisite birds have returned to this same spot, year after year, to ensure their legacy.

It was time to find some healing of my own.

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I continued this strange coping ritual night after night and week after week, whenever the boys were with their dad.

At the same time I was getting to know these birds, they were also getting to know each other. I witnessed mating ritual after mating ritual. I saw rejection and acceptance, followed by bonding and connection.

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I watched in awe for hours as they built their nests together, branch by tiny branch. The male fought with giant Oak trees, pleading with them to offer up a tiny piece of themselves, pulling and tugging until they relented. Once they had, he returned back to their growing nest and enthusiastically announced his arrival in a Honey! I’m home! sort of way. His best girl would then stretch her long neck up to meet his, and graciously accept his hard work beak to beak.

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This dance played out again and again until the sky grew dark and, after weeks of hard work, they finally had a place to call home.

The irony of the situation did not escape me. I sought comfort by watching these new couples build their homes, but only because mine no longer existed. I laughed out loud through tears, in an attempt to push back the desperation.

This routine turned into my therapy. The once foreign esplanade had become the only thing I could depend on, and the only thing that made any sense.

I watched as they made their babies.

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Then, I waited along side them for those babies to arrive.

Any day now…

After what seemed like an eternity, one evening the waiting finally paid off. I hopped out of my car and immediately heard them — little babies, squawking orders at their mama the same way my little babies squawked orders at me. It was all I could do not to sprint over but, always careful not to scare them, I chose to do the mom-walk instead.

When I finally reached them, I could see the tip-top of tiny heads, with mouths turned up begging for dinner, or comfort, or probably both.

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I shut off my camera, sat on the ground below, and burst into tears. I cried for them, for me, and for the family I’d once pictured, but would never have. I’m not sure how long it took for me to pull it together, but  I eventually picked myself up and took around one million pictures … give or take.

On the way home that night, relief washed over me as I finally began feeling the acceptance and peace I’d been searching for from the start. It was the first time I knew that everything wasn’t just going to be okay, but be better than okay.

And, I was right. It isn’t just okay. My new family looks exactly how it’s always meant to look.

* * *

Today, I visited the last few remaining herons and egrets, the others having long since left for their journey down South. Sadly, some of them will fall on hard times and won’t make it. But, most of them will not only make it, they will succeed and they will thrive.

Thankfully, I’m pretty sure I’m among the latter.

The D-Word.

In my former life I was a mommy-blogger. At present, I’m more of a mommy-birder. (The first step is admitting it but I’m already on step 5: I own that shit.) It began with my sweet cardinal, Bernadette the Brave and, a year and a half later, I pretty much have penguins in my backyard begging for a bite.

If we cross paths, you’ll likely find me with my camera strung around my neck. I fell head over heals in love with photography and nature, connecting strongly with both, they’ve completed a space in my soul that I’ve been searching to fill my entire life.

The past several months have been incredibly trying. Yes, I am going through a divorce. No, I won’t get into why. I’ll only say that it’s been a long time coming and that we are all doing pretty well with the changes. We are still a family and we always will be. We just look different.

But, this? This isn’t about divorce. It’s about something much more serious.

This is about the other D-word.

Ducks.

Let’s begin.

I drive passed an empty lot everyday on the way to drop my youngest at school. It sits on a busy intersection in the middle of the city, surrounded by a gas station, a doughnut shop, and tiny boxes with people. It’s just about the only undeveloped piece of land in the area.

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The large lot is overgrown, uneven, and graced with cool little ponds that have formed over the months compliments of mother nature. A pair of ducks have taken up residency in the largest rainwater pool and each morning we slow down to marvel at the sweet couple. After we’ve passed, I promise myself I’ll get pictures of them.

Soon.

* * *

The other day on my way home I spotted a beautiful stormy sunset.

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I was desperate to capture it, but every time I thought I was closing in I was fooled. I drove and drove and drove, chasing the gigantic storm cloud until, before I knew it, I’d driven at least three miles. When I came to, I found myself right at rain-duck pond.

Here’s my chance!

I pulled over on an adjacent street, grabbed my camera, and hopped out of the car. Immediately, I was rewarded with a killdeer, who scampered quickly across the street not far from where I was standing.

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Then, like a double-rainbow, I discovered there wasn’t just one, but two of them. A killdeer couple! I kept my distance and when the two parted ways stayed focused on the one who remained closest. At first glance, she appeared to be standing alone but, seconds later, little killdeer chicks began spilling out from underneath her body.

It was basically like a clown car.

1 chick…

2 chicks…

3 chicks…

Wow! Three chi…

4 chicks…

And, they just kept coming.

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I was in bird-nerd heaven! I spent so much time mesmerized by the Killdeer that I completely forgot about the duck couple.

The duck couple!

I swung by body around in search of them but, being that it was an overcast day and I was trying to keep a respectful distance, it wasn’t easy. Finally, though, I spotted them. And they did not disappoint!

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With the male’s head resting gently on his girl, it was like a Disney movie – simple, romantic, and perfect. It wasn’t until I’d shot several pictures of the lovely couple that the feeling of doom began to fill my gut. The female duck did not appear to be moving. Like, at all. Her head was tilted sideways resting on the pond’s surface.

I frantically began Googling various combinations of the same thing.

How do ducks sleep?

Ducks sleep.

Duck sleeps.

Duck sleeps head on water.

Motionless duck sleeping for the love of god please someone tell me it’s not dead.

But, the only conclusion I reached was one I’d reached long ago: the internet is a rabbit hole of stupidity. So, I scrolled through the photos I’d taken searching for a sign — any sign — of not a dead duck. But, every picture I studied only intensified my gut-doom.

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Slowly, I accepted my fears for what they were.: a reality.

THE FEMALE DUCK WAS CAPSIZING AND QUICK!

She was either really sick or really dead and, to make matters worse, her loyal beau refused to leave her side. It was like a tragic Shakespearean romance, only starring ducks who were wearing neither wigs nor white powder.

I ran back to my car, searched for my phone, and quickly tapped out a text to my friend and wildlife rehabber, Amanda.

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I waited for a moment to see if she’d reply, but she was either busy saving animals or busy saving animals. I began sorting through my options and walking away wasn’t one of them.

What if the female was still alive and needed help?

What if the female was dead and the male was going to stay by her body until…it was no longer a body?

The only thing left for me to do was approach them and, either rescue the dying female, or offer grief counseling to her widow. Luckily I was wearing rain boots so making my way through the mud and overgrown grass, teeming with insects and whoknowswhat, was less terrifying than it could have been.

With cars buzzing by I crept over to the ducks and, not having infinite (or any) knowledge regarding ducks,  became more and more nervous with every step. The thought of them offing me by pecking me into a million pieces made me simultaneously laugh and cry, because how appropriate.

Grow some balls, Allison. They’re god damn ducks not tigers.

With my new large pair intact, I finally made it over to them. Careful not to startle the already fragile duo, I stood motionless and simply observed…nothing. They didn’t move towards me. They didn’t move away from me. In fact, they didn’t move at all. I reminded myself that they were facing in the opposite direction, while convincing myself that someone, somewhere, at some point had informed me that ducks are hard of hearing.

Ahem.

Silence.

Hi, sweet babies!

Nothing.

Here ducky, ducky, ducky. 

HEY. DUCK.

Nada.

HEY YOU WITH THE WEBBED-FEET GOD DAMN IT I AM TALKING TO YOU HAVE YOU NO RESPECT?

Zip.

I got as close as I could to the water’s edge and that’s when I noticed something odd. The female, still on lying on her side, appeared to have a small log in place of where her feet should have been.

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WHAT THE DUCK? WHERE ARE YOUR FEET?

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Wait.

Wait.

Waaaaaait.

After a thirty minute delay, the realization of what was happening finally reached my brain – and my hands reached for my phone.

I solemnly typed out a brief follow-up to Amanda, who I imagined was sick with worry and hastily putting together a team of professional duck rescuers.

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I tucked my phone back into my pocket, looked around for the candid camera, and walked back towards my car. Slowly, so as not to startle the plastic ducks.

Mother. Ducker.