Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Happy Thanksgiving!

Belated, obviously. What did you do? Where did you go? Who were you with?

We went to Mom's house, as usual. We go to my husband’s parents’ place for Christmas, but it’s important to me to go home for Thanksgiving. Maybe it is the one that has changed the least, and so most reminds me of my childhood, because of all the holidays I was raised with, Thanksgiving is the one that had the least to do with children?

We have a child in the family again, of course, though my nephew is still too young for toys and candy. Infants are oddly serious beings, not at all like children in the normal sense. He does not play or laugh, and though he is cute, he does not mean to be. He attended Thanksgiving dinner, and fell asleep at the table in my sister’s arms, with his mouth open. While he slept he dreamed, his eyes moving under his artichoke-petal lids, and his face worked, far more than it does when he is awake. First one side of his mouth flicked upwards in a smile, then the other joined it, then he puckered his lips slightly into a round O. Perhaps he is practicing expressions for use later?

Another pleasure was watching my mother's kindness to my husband. You’ve met both, however briefly, and will know such kindness is neither new nor a surprise. How could anyone not be kind to this man? Everyone likes him. And yet, being kind to him is difficult. He’s so generous with others that all his energy flows outward, and hardly anybody can fight the current and get in. You are the same way, except figuring out what you want is easy—there just has to be birds involved—and figuring out what he wants is almost impossible. But, we have discovered that he likes both key lime pie and omelets, so Mom made sure he was properly supplied with both. We were there two days, and he got three omelets, one for each kind of cheese she had on hand.

This was the first year I cooked a turkey. I didn’t cook the turkey, for the feast, but since I found an ethical source for the birds, I figured it was an opportunity to lay in a supply of meat. I’m still boycotting unethical practices, but being more settled now gives me an opportunity to do the research necessary to expand my diet. It’s not as strange as I would have guessed to eat meat. I don’t feel shame or guilt at eating something sentient. I saw something online about turkeys being “not that much different from us,” and I thought right, exactly; I am living meat, too. I’m much more than that, of course, and so was the turkey…I believe very much in animal rights, but unlike many, who seem to think the shame lies with treating nonhumans like meat, I hold that the shame lies in treating them like only meat.

This past summer I had occasion to interact closely with two wild birds, both of whom died. I tried to save both, first a tree swallow, then a young robin. My sister found the swallow, injured, near her barn. There were zillions of swallows there, busily making more swallows, swooping in and out among the various farmers washing beets and chard and the like, mostly ignoring us. None of us know how to tell swallows apart; we assumed them all to be barn swallows, as they do like the barn, but the injured one turned out to be a tree swallow; so said the people at Tri State Bird Rescue, which is nearby, and where we took the injured one. We didn't know what the problem was, only that it could not fly, but could move fairly well otherwise. They said they'd keep us updated. A few weeks later, they sent my sister a tactless little card, saying the bird had been euthanized. Why? They didn’t say. What had been wrong with it? They didn’t say. Should we even have intervened to begin with, given that the wild little bird probably spent the end of its life terrified, only to be killed by humans anyway? Obviously, they couldn’t tell us.

The robin’s problem was easier to diagnose; it had been caught by one of Mom's cats. I’ve been reading up on the ecological impact of housecats, which is neither inconsequential nor good, so I rescued the bird, which could not fly effectively, maybe it was too young. There were, by then, two cats, and I couldn’t move them both at once, so I caught the bird and moved the bird to a nearby hanging plant. I figured it could flutter to the ground or call its parents over once the cats were inside, but the following day I found the bird dead nearby. Why? Did it succumb to internal injuries? It lasted the night, I think; when I found it the body was only beginning to attract ants. I have no abstract notion of when a human being should help a wild bird or not, or how much. Much as I enjoyed having an excuse to interact with both birds, the intervention felt vaguely misguided both times. Should we have left the swallow to die? Taken the young robin to Tri State? I have no idea.

We can’t treat the entire planet like our friends and pets; their welfare is too often mutually exclusive. If we’re going to assume that a bird should not be allowed to die, what of the fox that might otherwise have lived by eating it? What abstract moral code squares with ecology? Maybe none can. Maybe we have to stick up for our loved ones simply because we love them, be partisan and short-sighted to some extent, and know every other life-form is doing the same thing—and thank them for it?

-best, C.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Related Matter

Hi, there,

Do you remember me telling you that my sister was pregnant? You might not—you are generous enough to accept that I consider you family, but that doesn’t mean you consider my family to be yours, and lots of people have babies. But I remember—I said “I have news!” and you said “you’re pregnant!” and I said “no, my sister is.” In any case, she is no longer pregnant; my nephew is here.

I’m not sure a nephew is normally such a big deal. It’s not like he’s my son. But in a way, he is the son of the entire family; he is the first of his generation on either side, and in some sense it is the families, not simply his parents, who have procreated. Then, too, since my husband and I are leaning towards adoption, my nephew may be the closest thing I get, genetically, to a son.

Not like adopted relatives are not real; I’ve adopted you, after all, and though I feel silly for it sometimes, I regard that as quite real. And I have an unofficially adopted son—he doesn’t know that’s what he is, but he doesn’t have to. I imagine that a legal adoption would seem at least as real, that I could say “my son” as genuinely as my sister can.

And yet.

It is my sister’s child whose face I search for evidence of my own features. He is another example of what we are, a further elaboration on our identity as a family. I’m glad there is at least one of these.

You have no nieces or nephews, and never can have any, not having any siblings--though you adopt people, too, I've seen you. I've seen how your face softens when you speak of this or that person. You navigate this territory, too.

So I am an aunt, and my husband is an uncle--first time for both of us. He didn’t really seem interested in the baby at first, maybe because on some level he didn’t realize this is his nephew, too. We’re newlyweds, and the concept of us actually being married is a bit hard for us to wrap our heads around sometimes. But now he's talking about baby presents. Today he found a handmade wooden rocking cradle in an antique store and bought it. He has plans to do some minor repairs before presenting it, and has sent multiple pictures, so I think he's getting into this. When my husband is engaged, he works with objects; he buys things, makes things, fixes them. He shows up for service.

My sister and I have been getting along better since she's been pregnant. The baby gives us something we can talk, but I still feel awkward around her. So I show up for service, too a. This past year, whenever I've been in town I've put in a few hours at whatever she’s needed me to do. This time, I've washed walls, scrubbed the sink, done dishes, bought gauze pads. It's what I can do. It's what I can offer.

I have decided to make my nephew’s first Christmas ornament. Children in our family get an ornament every year, but the first one is engraved. Mine is a little brass angel with a bell hanging from its praying hands, with my name and the year. I always feel special when I see it. So I want to make him one. I've settled on cutting a thin cookie of wood from an oak branch that fell in our yard, sanding it, and painting or burning it with an image of the Little Drummer Boy. First, I pick that figure to honor my nephew’s maleness in a mostly female family, and second because I've always loved the song.

I consider the little drummer boy an excellent role-model; you don't have enough to give, or the right kind of thing to give, certainly not to anyone as important as God--or anyone as important as a baby. There’s this basic helplessness and impotence. But there is the baby God, and you've got to do something, so you do this completely inappropriate, silly thing, because it's the only thing you can do; you play your drum. And so you do it the best you can--and it's exactly right. And the little baby God smiles at you, you and your drum, because you're perfect, and you have exactly what he needs from you, and it's perfect. I cry every time I think of it, really I do.

-best, C.