Friday, June 17, 2011

All That and a Bag of Ducks

Yesterday evening, I stopped at Chipotle on my way home from work. It's a compromise we've reached--Tori is obsessed with Chipotle and picks it for dinner every time she's asked; I won't buy it more than once a week. Getting tacos on the night I go in to work makes sense, since I don't get back into town until 7 or 7:30 and don't much feel like cooking.

But I have, apparently, opened with a digression. This post is about ducklings.

As I left Chipotle with my paper bag of food, I found myself stuck at a stoplight for what appeared to be an accident: a bicycle was lying on the ground in the middle of the intersection, nearly underneath a van with its lights flashing. As I looked around for the bike rider, I noticed a group of people behaving strangely in the street. From where I sat, that was the only way to describe it. They were running about in odd directions and waving their arms, changing course for no apparent reason. When I leaned out the window, I saw that the reason: six tiny ducklings running to and fro in the middle of the intersection of two heavily-trafficked four-lane roads.

The flapping people were herding the ducklings. But they were finding them hard to manage, and they kept getting them to relative safety on the grass in front of the gas station only to have them veer out into the road again. Finally, they settled under my car. Yes, truly settled--they lay down under my car.

The light changed, but I couldn't move. I got out of the car and looked under it; the whole family was snuggled up behind my rear driver's side tire. In all 16 lanes of traffic, no one honked or drove carelessly through the duckling area. While we were trying to figure out how to get the ducklings safely out from under my car--and "we" by this point was me, a teenaged boy who had been on the bicycle, a pretty blond college-aged girl from a neighboring car and a middle-aged woman who presumably owned the van standing in the middle of the intersection--two other women pulled up behind me and told us where the ducklings had come from and where their parents were. They knew because they'd seen them walking away from that field and followed them, trying at intervals to steer them back in the right direction.

Now we knew where to steer them, but it was a long way and the ducklings frankly weren't that good at being herded. They'd curve off in beautiful formation when you moved in on them one way or the other, but they wouldn't follow, and they'd strike back out in their own direction as soon as a gap appeared. The middle-aged woman suggested that if we had a box to put them in, we could carry them back, but none of us did. I checked my trunk and came up with only a plastic bag, which I was wary of putting them into. She thought it would be okay if she carried it open--it was only for a few minutes--but that was resolved when we discovered a hole in the bag.
Then she looked through the window of my car and said, "That paper bag might work." So I unpacked our dinner all over the passenger seat of my car, scooped up a couple of ducklings and set them gently in the bottom of the bag. The rest came easily. They were very soft and did not appear frightened. The driver of the van struck out on foot to return the ducklings to safety and I headed home, texting my daughter to meet me outside.

I very much enjoyed the cute softness of the ducklings, the efforts of the passersby and the fact that no one seemed angry or frustrated by the delay the ducklings caused, but I think my favorite moment came when I handed my daughter a foil-wrapped package of tacos and a plastic container of salsa and said, "You have to carry your dinner--I had to fill the bag with ducks."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Yesterday morning over toast and jelly, my daughter said, "I'm going to write until noon and then I'll have lunch and take my math test before voice." And I wondered for the hundredth time why I'd waited so long to rescue her from a school system in which she didn't read or write voluntarily and believed that she wasn't good at math.

I've done some pretty crazy things in my life, and for the most part I have no regrets. But I've heard it said that it's the things you don't do that you regret, and I'm beginning to believe that it's true. I started thinking about home schooling when my daughter started middle school, but it wasn't until the middle of 8th grade that I actually pulled her out--and at that point it was more a reaction to untenable circumstances than an actual decision.

As I watch her crank out 1,000+ words on her novel every day, return to her music, return to reading voraciously and tackle math and science reluctantly but diligently and with a new confidence, I very much regret ever having sent her into the morass that is public middle school. And here's the thing: I knew she'd be better off out of school.

At the time, I thought that I was concerned about issues like socialization and how I could manage to home school with a full-time job and sending the wrong message, but in truth those were never my concerns. They were concerns that others voiced so often and so strongly that I started to believe they were real issues. I'm not usually one to substitute other people's judgment for my own, but when it was most important--probably because it was so important--I didn't trust what I knew to be true.

When I was finally making the decision and nearly everyone around me was against it--some to a degree that was outright abusive--I remembered a moment shortly after I separated from my husband. My daughter was understandably going through a rough time then, and everyone had a conflicting opinion about how I should be handling that. My then-husband took a ring my daughter had bought me for Mother's Day a few years earlier--a silver ring with a heart-shaped pink stone that said "Mom" in the band--and put it on my finger. And he said, "YOU are Tori's mother, and you know what's best for her. Don't let anyone make you question that."

Given what so many parents and children go through during separation and divorce, that vote of confidence was a bit emotionally overwhelming in the moment. It was also one I took to heart because it was coming from the person who had lived with us and watched me parent for eight years. But I forgot it, when the judgments started flying from all sides again, and I let myself be swayed by the opinions of people whose judgment I knew I didn't trust.

"Never again" is a big promise, and one that I think most of us make and break at one time or another. But right now, as I listen to my daughter singing while she's doing algebra, I'm trying to stamp those words on my brain and on my heart.