When my husband and I became the parents of a little girl with special needs, we didn’t have time to read books about cerebral palsy, join a support group or seek resources to help us raise her. For one, we were too busy feeding, encouraging and taking care of our daughter, Ruth. For another, Dana and I both worked and were raising three other young children. Most of what we learned, we discovered on the fly simply by doing it. However, I have since stumbled upon several organizations and books that would have provided light for our journey.
“If we get lost, let’s meet by the big tree where we play,” my 5-year-old, Ezra, said to his 8-year-old brother on their way to school. It was my younger son’s first day of kindergarten. Listening to his sage reasoning – reasoning I’ve long suggested about what to do in a crowded space where we might get separated: pick a meeting spot – wrenched my maternal heartstrings. What was I doing, sending my youngest child off to school? All year, I’ve wrestled with the decision of whether to begin by teaching my youngest child at home, as I did with four of his siblings. My motives for homeschooling are not purely academic. As a writer who works from home, I enjoy having my children near me. Reading together, snuggled under a blanket on the couch, is one of my favorite activities. And I’ve learned from experience that once you send children away, you don’t get them back in the purely devoted way they needed you before.
We were enjoying a peaceful walk along the Kennebec River with friends when our young children stopped to play on the bank of a muddy pond. Perfect childhood bliss. Then, across the pond, three hunting dogs crashed through the brush and sprang into the water. It happened so quickly, it took a moment to see that one of the dogs carried something in its mouth: A mound of soft brown feathers.
“Oh, no,” my friend said.
We realized at the same time that the dog had found a duck. Our children froze, wide-eyed and watching the life-and-death struggle. Somehow the duck escaped. Quacking in terror, it flapped across the water with all three dogs swimming in pursuit.
This one is for the mothers. The ones serving in the hardest places. Those whose children have special needs. Those whose children are battling addiction or illness or struggling to overcome difficult choices. Those who love children they have lost. Those raising not just their children but their grandchildren.
There’s much to say about the similarities between raising children and chickens. Both make a mess. Both require firm boundaries (apologies to the neighbors with the wild-bird feeder that my hens find so alluring). And both have a seemingly endless appetite and propensity to excrete smelly droppings.