~summer shorts~ molting

I passed the tub of paid-for veggies to the outside of the sneeze guard and the customer turned sideways to me to pack them into her bag. I dipped my gloved hands in bleach again, looked around at the customers standing six feet apart, the colorful fabrics of their face masks. As I turned back towards her, her earring caught my eye – a beautiful piece, rose colored stones, the kind of earring with a tear drop shaped central stone and many little jingly bits of metal and beads dangling, like a musical feather. “What beautiful earrings,” I said.

“Thank you, they were my mother’s. When I was little, I would hear the sound of them, so now when I wear them, I hear that sound and feel surrounded by her, and by those happy memories.”

Hearing of mother connections is especially poignant as I grapple with separation, and her story came as an unexpected gift. I feel surrounded by my mom’s love when I am wrapped in one of her quilts. I have been delivering care packages in my own attempt to wrap my love around Quinn as well, as we approach five months of separation. Snacks, books, a box of seeds to grow, feathers.

It’s molting season for the birds. Every few days I look down during our bayou walks and discover a new feather shed by one of our local jays and once even a raven! This ritual shedding of items that are no longer useful seems apt. Mom and I have been talking about how we both base a lot of our worthiness on our usefulness. I am underproducing for work and powerless as a parent, so my usefulness is quite diminished. Perhaps it is time to molt, to let go of old ideas about worthiness, like feathers that need to retire from service. These feathers have done their gravity-defying work and have performed valiantly, but their ragged edges are no longer streamlined, no longer serving to decrease resistance to the flow.

The day I found an owl feather, I had really been missing Quinn, and it was a small comfort to find a trace of his favorite animal that I could pick up and hold in my hand. Its softness and lightness brought a lift I was needing. I held onto it for a week or so, but when the time came to deliver another care package, I tucked it in a ziplock bag with the latest stash of feather finds.

That same afternoon on my walk with Rich, I found one more owl feather, in the very same spot I had found the first one. This one I think I’ll keep.

Quinn will be the first to tell you that birds are dinosaurs. I would fill his care packages with live baby dinosaurs if I could, but feathers are the closest thing I can surround him with, my nestling who has fledged too soon. Of all the ephemeral things, a feather, when as a mother so much of my energy has been spent striving to overcome impermanence for him. He is a sensitive person who was a bit devastated when the peep we microwaved could not be reconstituted into its previous form – things that are fun for other kids cause him grief. He explained that he did not want to study the woolly mammoth, one of his all-time favorites, because he really wishes he could see a live one, and their extinction hurts too much. Change, transitions, extinction, impermanence. Throwing anything away is a struggle for him, so every week he went to his dad’s I carefully removed detritus from his room just beneath his limits of detection.

I have been realizing that my mom did this for me as a child, too. Thinking of birds and dinosaurs and peeps just reminded me that she once learned how to poke a pinhole in each end of an egg to blow the contents of the egg into a bowl, leaving a pristine egg surface for decorating that would not spoil. I have a feeling she might have been wishing she could just put her feet up, but she strove to overcome some impermanence for me when I grieved the demise of my colorful easter eggs.

Part of the devastation of this time is there is no protecting our children from these losses they are enduring. However, protecting our children from learning how to handle loss might be another idea that is ready to be molted, replaced with some new plumage. We will just have to trust that it will grow in brighter, stronger, readier for streamlined flight than that which it is replacing.

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