ornithology of gratitude

friday found me sandwiched squarely in the center of a kitchen full of women, two of whom are older than me (the three of us singing along in four part harmony to arlo, doing our part to end war) and two of whom are younger than me (an attentive young mother who parents by instinct in the most beautiful way, and a vibrant recent college graduate who shies away from tiny babies and cooking but is a loving auntie to toddler pancake, and will be a successful businesswoman before we know it).

thursday breezed by without much fanfare, though rich and his mom and i shared a ham and sweet potato dinner and some mini pies – leftover pie crust and leftover filling from the pumpkin and dark-chocolate-bourbon-hazelnut pies i had made for friday. (they needed to be taste tested, of course.) uno was played late into the night.

friday morning i picked quinn up from his dad’s, where he had eaten “turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy, and for dessert, ice cream with huckleberries in it!” he described dada’s house as his family of four people, and heading back to ours as “like a million people.” and then late morning, the rest of the pancakes arrived and we really got down to the business of feasting. first i fed the new arrivals leftover lasagna and ham for lunch, and then rich’s mom and i and our friend mary jo danced around the kitchen getting the rest of the meal ready. turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, cheesy cauliflower, green bean casserole, cranberries, carrots, apple cider, and lots of homemade relishes, chutneys and condiments. then we sat down! quinn’s favorite (excluding the all-weekend all-you-can-eat pie buffet) was the cranberry-orange sauce. he had third helpings of it, but he cleaned his plate of everything else as well, maybe motivated by all the pie he knew he’d get to eat if he did so. or maybe just caught up in all the happy eating people crowded around the table.

uno was played late into the night, by all but the very youngest pancake.

saturday featured pie for breakfast. the oregon state/university of oregon football game on the radio, and most of us opting out of leaving home base for even the most compelling reasons. saturday farmer’s market, televised options for the civil war game, and a memorial for our child psychologist’s wife who just passed away after a 12 year battle with breast cancer. i felt rather humbled by the priority that man placed on the appointments he had with us in the last weeks of her life. he mentioned his wife having health issues and that he had cleared his schedule except for a very few appointments he considered to be “crucial”, and somehow we made that list. he also let me know that our situation was one he felt very invested in, and in spite of the fact that we no longer have insurance to pay him and we are now in the hands of the county to handle “evaluations”, he wanted to remain in the loop and continue on in an advisory role until we can afford him again. it put things in perspective as far as what i have referred to as the glacial pace of progress in this process of getting quinn re-enrolled in school: hold on tight to this precious loved one while i have the chance.

saturday morning when quinn arrived from upstairs, he showed up without one of his teeth. he had been wiggling it throughout the uno game, but hadn’t wanted to pull it out, and carefully brushed around it at bedtime. we found it in his bed and he took it all in stride, remarking, “now i really won’t be able to eat corn on the cob!”

the tooth fairy brought him a wooden velociraptor puzzle, which, the tooth fairy overheard him telling mary jo, “is really special.”

before everyone left on sunday, rich’s mom and daughter executed a haircut on quinn. i was holding the baby and wandering in and out of the bathroom/salon, intervening to reinforce requests to sit up straight and hold still and admonishing the less-than-charming comments and complaints coming from the patient. then at one point i left to walk the baby around the rest of the house, and the hairstylists left, too. apparently quinn said something rude enough that they called a halt to the haircut. eventually rich got through to him that what he had said had hurt their feelings, and he managed an apology and the haircut resumed, after hugs and reassurances. i know it’s necessary for growth but dang it’s painful, backing off and letting quinn negotiate his own relationships (really, really ungracefully at first) with extended family members. thankfully, the ladies handled it all with extra grace, and while i think he found out he couldn’t say just anything to them and expect to get away with it, he also emerged knowing their love for him is solid and undaunted by his offense.

baby z pancake is starting to charm us with smiles, while b pancake was thrilled to play constantly with “kinn! kinn!” all weekend. she is good for him, gets him his quota of horseplay, and coaxes him outside to gallop around the house, when he is normally more inclined to stay in and play quietly. as playing quietly is not exactly b pancake’s default mode, i think kinn’s influence on her might eventually have a balancing effect as well.

on monday we were back to big boy pursuits involving tracing paper “stained glass” and doing “math homework” as requested by quinn after reading about homework in a baby blues comic strip. (this family is big on reading the comics, and it’s contagious. i am now very aware of days when we don’t manage to obtain a paper, because i might lose the thread with doonesbury or get fuzzy, and i might miss out on a pearls before swine pun. quinn has shown a lot of interest in having the comics read to him, and is a big fan of garfield. others he needs explained thoroughly, and oddly enough, comics lose a bit of their fun in the explanation, but the tradeoff is a good one, because of the garfield reenactments and math homework spinoffs that result. after math, we did “language” homework, which involved using letter stickers to fill in the blanks, and then quinn masterminded yet another worksheet which we co-created incorporating “both math and ornithology.”

once the crowd receded like a tide, my own ornithology project revolved around disarticulating a turkey carcass, simmering turkey stock, and then making turkey/shepherd’s pie. i did a mammal project on the side, involving ham bone- white bean soup that resulted from the other set of animal bones. by sunday i was tired to the bone, my ribs aching from the ridiculous cough i’ve had, and i was ready to stew my own carcass in a broth of my tears. i might have, too, if it wasn’t for the fact that inside that battered rib cage, beating like the wings of the happiest bird, is one very grateful heart.


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