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Every Regret I Have I Will Go Set it Free

It’s been another jukebox week, here in middle spring. The air is thick with pollen, a thin veneer of yellow fairy dust over every car and mailbox. The leaves are unfurling at a boisterous pace from their casings. The trees aren’t aflame the way they are in October, but still burn with vibrancy and color. Buds of burnt orange, lavender, and wine-red laden their thin branches with excitement; the winter-weary trees assume their green mantles and welcome home the songbirds. 

I awoke this morning feeling clearer in my head than I have all week, with one singular thought: I needed to go to the woods. 

We arrived at the trailhead to find it empty. It was still shy of 7:00 AM, but I was surprised to see the bare pavement. There has been someone parked there every time I drive by. There is only room for 4, maybe 5, cars before the pavement gives way to hard-packed dirt, fitting several more vehicles in. Thin gray clouds still blanketed the sky, reluctant to wake on a Saturday morning. We checked out the board, Lucy fascinated by the dead bugs behind the protective plastic. I put her down, and we set a toddler’s pace onto the trail.

I don’t know why, but for some reason, I assumed that Lucy would understand the concept of a trail. Nothing more than an, “oh, flat. I walk here,” mind you, but nonetheless I learned that’s a hell of an assumption to make of an 18-month old. She immediately chased a stick off the path and into the leaves and young green plants. After a couple of redirects, I hauled her up and dropped her on my shoulders. She bounced, babbling with excitement, stick in hand. 

I kept my steps quiet on the trail and as we made our way onto the boardwalk. The spring morning never silent, the raucous calls of red-winged black birds (black-winged red birds) rose from the marsh around us. Their bright epaulettes came into view as we turned a corner; boards pulled from the boardwalk were scattered in a discarded swath slowly sinking into the roots and reeds. We watched them pinball around the marsh, grabbing hold of a reed here, then zinging off to a dead tree branch there. Grackles joined the fun, their iridescent blue heads glinting in the rising sun. Two yellow warblers gave chase to each other, performing a speedy aerobatic routine just a few feet away from us. The ubiquitous sparrows were impossible for me to identify as they clung to the reeds halfway up the stalks. 

Lucy, however, sang them a song of her own. Throwing tranquility to the wind, she called out to the lightening sky as she bounced, and raised her stick like it was a wand. The birdsong never faltered. I was unused to a birding partner who was noisier than those we were there to visit, and I was utterly charmed. 

I had been on a roller coaster of emotion for a few days leading up to the second Sunday in May. Mother’s Day has been historically difficult for many years now. My own mother and I had a tense relationship, which had entered a tenuous ceasefire in our last conversation before her death. She had finally spit out “significant other,” referring to the woman I didn’t yet know I would marry, replacing the previous moniker, “that person.” It’s ironic to look back and think that my mother was so far ahead of us, unwittingly already on board with gender neutrality. 

Oscar, of course, took the day to a new level. I was thrilled. I had made it to 24 weeks without issue, and was thrilled to be truly celebrating my first Mother’s Day. Almost everyone I knew wished me a happy one; I had a full hand of cards to open. Strangely, there was one missing. I wouldn’t find out until later that my bio mom did not send one for the very reason I came to understand too well. 

Last year, in quarantine, we celebrated in our quiet way. I wanted Lucy and Hawthorne to be dressed up, and oh, they were. They wore their matching Oxford shirts, and Lucy had on her little suspenders and salmon colored pants. I have pages of pictures of them in my phone; the bright as the sun baby, and my beloved. I made brunch, and we went for a Sunday drive. It was one of the last holidays we celebrated. 

Unsurprisingly, I was not looking forward to this year. I am becoming acutely aware of how close the first year without Hawthorne is drawing. I have realized that, by Hawthorne’s birthday, they will have already been gone for half of Lucy’s tiny life. I don’t know what to do with that. But that was for another day. 

Lucy has some unbelievable fairy godparents out there in the world. I received a deep blue hydrangea, and a bouquet of white hydrangea and pink peonies, both delivered to my door. Cards came in the mail tucked in pink envelopes, and white roses awaited me on Sunday. I am grateful to everyone Lucy enlisted to make such offerings. 

Lucy has given me another gift, one that I am still unwrapping and discovering, bit by bit. She’s given me an understanding of presence. I have practiced mindfulness before, and felt like I was “in the moment;” but I don’t think I truly understood it until Lucy showed me. There is no pretense in her; she is ignoring nothing when she becomes involved in something. She doesn’t care about the laundry that’s not getting folded, or that the floors haven’t been swept. She is wholly, body and soul, in whatever moment she is in. Turning the pages of her upside-down board book, picking out the carrots from her dinner smeared across her tray, eating the crayon she knows damn well isn’t supposed to be in her mouth. 

It is never more evident than it is here, outdoors, in the air and the wild. She sits up so straight on my shoulders; I know by the shifting of her little weight that her face is turned up toward the sky as far as she can. Her arms reach out to the sides, her heels tight against my collarbone. I hold onto her feet so she doesn’t fall when she bounces in her excitement. She babbles on, softly, communing with something beyond my ken.

This is a holy moment; there is something I cannot put my finger on, but the air feels different. I can still hear the highway, nearly drowned out by the birds; I smell the Sulphur rising from the black mud in the marsh. The boardwalk stays in sight, ahead, behind, and under my feet. But there is something else. Lucy recognizes it. Her little song continues, softly, almost a whisper. My steps on the planks make almost no sound. We finish crossing, and I place her on the ground. She looks at me a moment, directly in my eyes. It’s like she recognizes me from long ago; there is a depth to her that is echoed in me. I am not sure what our souls said to each other in that moment, only that it happened. We walked quietly for a minute, no longer, her hand in mine, my body tilted down to reach hers. The path widened and she let go of my hand. That intense peace was snapped, and the air shifted back to normal. Lucy yelled as she toddled down the path ahead of me, and I watched her come up to a section of roots. She stopped and reached down as if trying to pick them up, like sticks. I explained that they wouldn’t come up, they were still growing in the ground to help the trees hold still and drink their water. She patted them for a minute, stood, stepped carefully to the next, and repeated. She started trying to run, but very slowly, as if she thought it would hurt the roots she ran over. About ten yards away, the roots gave way to smooth hard pack again. She turned and ran, faster this time, towards me. Back and forth over the tangle, shouting and stomping. She would stop, reach for a twig; I’d say no baby, that one’s still growing, and she would grab another until it came away in her hand. She brought me stick after stick, like a bird building her nest. When I had my hands full, she grabbed the sticks, ran halfway across the rooted path, and threw them. I don’t know what magic she was conjuring, but she picked up a few of them again and threw the down. Apparently satisfied, she turned and ran back to me. She bumped up against my legs and continued to go past, back to the boardwalk. Clearly, she had finished.

I put her back on my shoulders, and felt her shift as she laid her head on mine. We walked back together in silence, listening to the sparrows and the blackbirds. We left the trail and got into the car; her pacifier went in her mouth, her hands behind her head. She was asleep before we pulled out of the parking lot.

There is more magic in this world than we can see. There are more lessons to be learned from the children and from the wild than we, as adults, may be ready to admit. I hope Lucy doesn’t lose patience with me, and we can continue to explore the world together. 

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