Friday, August 31, 2012

A Woman of Valor

In case anyone missed it, I was featured yesterday in Rachel Held Evans' Women of Valor series. Follow the link below to read the full essay.

Hulda Nite: A Woman of Valor

I always pictured her with leathery hands, fingers calloused and worn from years in the kitchen.  I pictured her in a blue dress with a full skirt, though in my mind her dress would be perpetually covered by an apron that started the day a bright white and became more and more bespeckled by the hour.  I pictured her measuring out the ingredients for her pound cake by hand, plunging her thick, German fingers into the flour bin and pulling out a fistful for the mixing bowl.

In my mind, she is always caught in that period between the wars.  Brought from Germany as a bride and a mother, the proud wife of a US soldier, then promptly abandoned and left to raise her children alone as the depression dug its claws into the land she had only just begun to call home.  To me, my great-grandmother, called Granny by everyone I ever heard speak about her, is an icon forged and frozen in the years after her husband Archie left her alone to raise their three children in his country.  Keep Reading...

Granny (Hulda Nite), Granddaddy (Ralph Nite), and my great aunt Gladys Nite

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Whispered Prophecies and Burning Bushes

Sometimes I get the feeling that something is coming, like change is on the air. I find myself stopping to listen, as if the wind is whispering prophecies, knowing all I will hear is the impersonal rustling of leaves. And I turn my face up, toward the open sky, and ask God: What is it? What now?

It’s not a burning bush. It’s quiet, nagging but tentative. It’s not a busting-down-the-door kind of thing; it’s more tossing pebbles at my window from the sidewalk below. I sense that a change is coming, but I don’t know from where yet, or when, or what it will mean. I feel I am being warned, primed, readied and steadied for something.

I get this feeling once in a while, this premonition. The sense that change is coming creeps in, like the smell of a new season, just a hint at first that begins to grow as each day goes by. It comes in on tiptoes and lingers at the door, quietly clearing its throat, waiting to be noticed. It happened just before I met my husband, all four times before I moved across the country, before I went back to school, before each pregnancy, before family members have died. I never know what it means, just that it means something is coming.

Its subtlety is unnerving because I work in a world of explicit warnings and demands. Children tugging at my pant legs, chanting mom, mom, mom, mom. Deadlines with email reminders. Legally required notices to tell you someone’s policy has changed. Ads that some product has been reformulated or some business is under new management.

And I pray for burning bushes because, let’s face it, sometimes talking to the sky feels crazy and it would be nice to have a clear answer for once. Go to Africa, my child, and minister to the sick. Or, take that job, it’s perfect for you. Just something loud and concrete, something unmistakable so you don’t keep yourself up at night wondering if you were listening to divine inspiration or the agitated burbling of some bad pork you ate.

This feeling, this sense that change is coming, has been lingering in the doorway a few weeks now, hardly more than a shadow, casting meaningful glances that I can’t decipher. And I’ve been looking around, sizing up my life like a realtor walking a property, adding up damages and sorting out the value of the thing. What’s going to stay and what’s going to have to go this time?

I used to think it was restlessness, this feeling. I figured it was because I moved a lot as a child. If I didn’t get a new house, new school, new people every 18 months or so, I would start to get restless. I wondered if I would grow up to be some kind of artsy nomad, wandering from place to place, writing bad poetry and doing sketches of the local architecture. I alternated between leaning into the feeling, trying to satisfy it by ginning up some new adventure, and bolting away from the feeling, clutching my sense of security like an old woman holding on to her pearls in a bad part of town.

By now I’ve learned that this premonition of coming change is a mercy, though its subtlety scares me. I think it is like the warning a nurse gives you before she sticks the needle in. You might feel a bit of pressure here. This might sting some. Prepare yourself.

This is not the time for knowing.  It is the time for asking, for talking to the sky and praying for burning bushes or even whispered prophecies.  It is the time for trusting, even when the only response is the rustling of leaves overhead.  It is the time for waiting and believing that in the active-passive exercise of waiting, you are doing something, doing enough, just sitting here learning to be patient enough for the bigger picture to be revealed.  And for now, until the rest of the picture is revealed to me, all I can do is close my eyes, take a deep breath, and wait for the needle plunge.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

I Try to Memorize Them

Lincoln wakes in the night and slips into our room.  "Ma," he whispers, standing by the bed and patting my stomach, "I need bed."

"Okay, buddy, let's get you in bed then."  He leads me to his bedroom, padding down the hallway in his glow-in-the-dark Cars pajamas.  "I need bed," he reminds me as he climbs up on his twin bed.  I grab his duvet, vintage airplanes flying across a cloudy sky, and tuck it up over his shoulders.  He is small and still there against the big bed.  "Goodnight, love," I tell him, and closing his bedroom door, block out the hum of his fan.

Lincoln is back again in a few minutes, and this time I elbow Sam.  "Sam, go put your son in bed." Sam groans, rises, and follows Linc down the hall to the chorus of his whispered incantation: "I need bed."

We don't know why he is waking in the night again.  Sometimes Lincoln goes through phases where he is up every hour on the hour.  When morning comes, Sam and I are red-eyed and fuzzy-headed, but Linc seems no worse for the wear.  He greets me with a happy cry of "Ma!" and hugs my leg. I am endlessly enamored with his smallness.  I lift him in my arms and chide him for waking us in the night, feeling the muscles in his back flex as he adjusts his weight.  He laughs, solicits kisses with puckered lips and eyes squeezed shut.  He takes my face in his hands and pulls it to his, pats my hair, and slides down out of my arms.

School starts on Tuesday, and I am suddenly aware of my boys as they are at this moment.  I try to take a mental snapshot of their size, of their careless hair and summer tans.  I try to memorize them this weekend, looking at every inch of them and feeling the heaviness of knowing this year will pass as quickly as the last and before I blink, it will be summer again and they will be hardly recognizable to me.  I try to hold on to them as they are now, at almost five and almost seven, even as they slide from my arms and move away from me.

Nico wakes next, wearing nothing but his Star Wars underwear and his glasses.  He is slower to wake, like his mama.  He lays on the floor of my closet in the fetal position while I get ready, wrapped tight in his early morning fog until he is ready to be engaged.  I ignore him until he emerges, fully hatched.  He starts to talk immediately, as if someone has wound the key in his back.  He picks up the story he was telling me last night as he went to bed, continuing as if there has been no break.

"Hey mom, who do you think would win in a battle between T-Rex and titanoboa?  I think the T-Rex would win, but there are really two theories about this.  If titanoboa caught the T-Rex in an ambush, it just might be able to take down the king of dinosaurs."  Yesterday, he found a documentary online about a recently discovered prehistoric snake called titanoboa.  It is an all consuming obsession now.  He mixes direct quotes from the documentary with earnest speculation about the giant snake.

I make pancakes for breakfast, and Nico pauses in his seamless dialog about titanoboa to request "shape pancakes."  I drizzle batter onto the griddle: an N and a heart and a snake shape.  When he gets his plate, he says, "Nico loves titanoboa! Good one, mom!"  We have to tell him to stop talking and eat.  He assures us he has time to eat and talk.  

Later, we have to go to the store for a few last minute school supplies.  The boys sit in the back of the cart together, flipping through a coloring book.  I mutter to myself about the mysterious last item on our list that doesn't seem to exist.  Stopping in the middle of the aisle, I look around at the other bedraggled, sleep deprived parents trying to find their last minute items and realize I look just like them.  It strikes me as funny, so I laugh out loud right there in the aisle, and the other parents look over at me, startled. 

Nico is talking all the while, snuggled in the belly of the shopping cart with his brother.  "Could it be that a giant alligator was actually a match for titanoboa, or did the enormous serpent only wound the beast and let it escape?  A digesting snake is easy prey for a predator."

The man in front of me in line has two dozen coupons, though only half of them seem to work.  Nico and Lincoln can feel the near end to our errand are trying to ooze out of the cart.  I tell Lincoln to sit down at least thirty times while we wait for the man to sort out his coupons.  Nico never stops telling everyone and no one about titanoboa.

Back at home, I sit down at the computer, and Linc comes over to me, urgently repeating something I can't quite make out.  "Uh uh buh buh," he tells me,  "Uh uh buh buh."  Pointing to the computer, he repeats the message and signs help.  "Help what?" I ask him.  "Want uh uh buh buh," he says, adamant, pointing at the screen.

"Good grief," I sigh, "Are you saying titanoboa?"

"Yeeeeaaah! Want uh uh buh buh!  Yeeeah!"  He raises his arms in glee and then tries to elbow me out of the seat.  Resigned, I move out of the chair and call, "Nico, can you find that video for your brother?  He's asking for titanoboa."  And together, they lean in to watch the documentary one more time. 

I watch them and snap a picture, and shake my head and sigh at their strangeness.  And wish I could save them forever as they are right now, at this moment.  I try, again, to memorize them, chest heaving with thanks for their lives and their health and their perfect, glossy innocence.

To another beautiful year, my sweet boys.  May the world be yours.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Crying Fire

They tell us, "Cry fire,
It's the only way to draw a crowd."
Guess no one wants to hear about
Another woman going down.

Been crying fire
For so many years now,
But we're still dropping like flies.
These fires are not going out.

You know women, they make these things up,
Crying rape, crying wolf, crying fire.
If all of their stories were true,
Then all of these men would be liars.
They're just crying fire.*

I like to use imagery.  I like to think in images, really, always trying to draw a picture with words.  But I can't use imagery when I talk about this because, as anyone who has experienced it will tell you, the memory of it is so visceral, so close, it can spring up and squeeze the air out of your chest any moment of any day.  I can't talk about what it looks like in my head without going back there.

So, I can't tell this story as I tell other stories.  This is not a story to me.  This is not legislation.  This is the truth lived out by 1.3 million girls and women a year in this country alone*.  Almost one in five American women will live through a rape in their lifetime.  Only about 15% of those women will have the decency to get themselves "legitimately" raped by a stranger.  The other 85% are attacked by someone they know at least well enough to be called an acquaintance.

This is not a theoretical crime.  Though its victims are often afraid to name themselves, they are all around us.  They are 20% of the female population, which comes to roughly 10% of the general population.  One in every ten people in line around you at the grocery store, one in every ten people in the movie theater, along the church pew, sitting around you in traffic.

Rape is built into the fabric of our society in a way that is so sinister and pervasive it has managed to terrorize and dehumanize a significant portion of the population while somehow still masquerading as a rare, isolated kind of crime.  Something done to women in dark parking lots.  Something done at gunpoint, behind a parked car, on oil-stained asphalt.  Not, as it so often is, something done in a familiar place, by someone you had reason to trust.

It happens to one in five women, and yet a curtain of silence hangs around it.  We splash murders across the news, murders, bombings, robberies, police car chases, drug busts, beatings.  But we don't talk about rape, not unless we're forced to address it in the context of an abortion story.  In fact, we are told that even if we are attacked in a parking lot and scream that we are being raped, no one will come to help us.  No, instead we need to scream that there's a fire because then someone might actually care enough to come to our aid.

And the women who have lived through it get the message: no one wants to hear about your rape.  No one wants to see the face of the crime. No one wants to stop it.  No one wants to fix the broken parts of society that make rape a daily reality for 10% of the population.

So those of us who have lived it find quiet ways to cope.  We swallow the violence against our bodies, and we swallow the vow of silence.  We swallow it like a piece of old charcoal smoldering in our bellies, filling our mouths with ash.  We swallow it and we cry in secret.  We turn the shower on as hot as it will go and try to blast the violence off our skin.  We hide in bathroom stalls.  We drink too much or run ten miles or try to eat away the bitter taste of being a victim of a crime that everyone wants to pretend doesn't really exist. 

And we're not man haters, but we can't help but see that the men who are in power, the men who say they stand for family values, belittle that struggle by saying things like "legitimate rape."  The men in our lives, even the ones who abhor rape, keep their mouths shut about it, too, not willing to be the one who shatters the silence on the subject.

People like me, they look at that, and they want to scream.  They want to kick at the walls and throw the TV.  They think about how the women in the bible would rend their clothes.  They think about cultures that keen and wish they had a cry of agony all their own that could come out of their ash-filled mouths.  They see the insidious spread of rape culture in their society and ask the sky: When is someone going to stand up and stop this?  When is someone going to speak out against this mentality?  When is someone going to finally put an end to the silence around rape and start a real conversation about how close and how prevalent this act really is?

They don't want to see the answer, even when it becomes unavoidable.  They don't want to admit they secretly knew all along who would have to stand up and clear the dust off their tongues.  They don't want to be the ones to start the conversation.

I don't want to start the conversation.  But it's becoming increasingly clear that no one else will.  And so today I will start here, start by saying that the issue of sexual assault deserves more attention and more respect than a clumsy afterthought to the abortion debate. Rape is happening to 1.3 million American women every year, all around us.  It's time to admit that women don't need more self defense classes.  Women need a society that says in no uncertain terms that rape is wrong all of the time, in all circumstances.  Women need to be told the burden of preventing rape falls not on the victim but on the rapist.  Women need the shame of rape to be taken off of the victims and placed squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrator. 

It's time for us all to sweep the veil of secrecy from our eyes and the ashy taste of shame from our lips. For me, the conversation starts here.  It's time to stop teaching girls to cry fire. 

*Various notes and explanations: The stats in this piece come from a 2011 U.S. government survey on sexual violence as outlined in this New York Times article.  The stories of coping mechanisms are all true, lived by me or told to me by other women I've known who have shared with me about their rapes.  The lyrics in the intro are from a song I wrote many years ago called "Cry Fire." For a gut-wrenching description of rape culture (and overall indictment of its prevalence in society) read Shakesville's Rape Culture 101. Finally, though I did not address it directly here, I do not in any way mean to discount the 1 in 71 men who survive rape in their lifetimes. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Grief, Revisited

I wrote earlier this spring about my miscarriage, and I tried to be as honest as I could because it seemed to me, as I was going through it, that there was a dearth of information out there about losing a pregnancy.  Before long, I moved on and began writing about everything else because I was ready to immerse myself in the gentle healing of day to day.  But as with any loss, the sadness of my miscarriage will sometimes bubble up and disturb the otherwise peaceful surface of things.  This week, the water has felt murky, downright agitated from the resurfacing of sadness that has hit me out of the blue.  So I thought, in the interest of opening this topic to the light, that I would be honest about the resurfacing as well.

Via Flikr

I am nowhere.  I am upside down and in between.  I am not really here and yet I am too much here, sitting on top of myself and breathing down my own throat.  But this me, this here and now, it's not me.

This here and now is just a bunch of jangled shards wedged together awkwardly, the edges never meeting where they're supposed to meet, the sharp points jutting out in all directions.  A mirror smashed and pieced back together clumsily.  How many years of bad luck?

But I am counting in months.  And I am counting in should be's.  I should be nearly eight months along now.  I should be counting the intermittent staccato of kicks landed against my elasticized uterine wall.

Just when I think my brain has moved on, I wake in the night to the urging of a body that has not forgotten.  I wake with my hands tingling, my classic late pregnancy symptom, and in the dark I sit up and shake my traitorous hands, shake off the pins and needles in my fingers and, when I can, the more hoary prickles in my mind.

Like a phantom limb, my body remembers the sensation of being pregnant.  Still wakes me at night with tingling hands, still craves pickles and sour lemon-flavored everything. Some days I feel like I will be forced to live out this phantom pregnancy in its entirety, like I am caught in third trimester of my grief and counting the days till I birth a shadow.

Though, if truth be told, I am the one who feels like a shadow these days, like the substance of me, the depth, has gone translucent.  So then perhaps I am the shadow, and time is carrying me in its belly.  Perhaps the ache of being in this muffled space, this cramped and confining place, is the age old ache of growth.  Perhaps caterpillars feel this in the hours between bug and butterfly, as the wings are knit together and begin to consume every millimeter of space left in the cocoon.

All I know is that if these are wings crushed up against me, these twisted and bent things, they are lifeless, bloodless things still.  They are useless weight now, taking up space, choking the air. And it hurts, crammed in here with my legs pinned beneath me and my hands tingling and my maybe-wings bent and twisted around me.  This doesn't feel like growth; it feels like the world is shrinking around me.  Because growth is supposed to be the opening up of the world around you, not this process of outgrowing your own space, of feeling your limbs press into the walls harder and harder until you bust it wide open. 

And though this doesn't feel like growth or rebirth, really, I am thinking about the nature of healing. I am thinking of scabs that heal the skin and yet sting when they peel off.  I am thinking that if a door closing means a window opening, getting to the other side may mean scrambling up to the second story and squeezing yourself through a dormer window.  I'm thinking how everything is always replaced with something; even when you empty a bottle, you really just fill it with air.  Then, if you take that empty bottle and submerge it, the air may come screaming out and the bottle may shudder, but the water will rush in and fill the empty spaces.

So I think about a newborn butterfly, with wings that appear so mangled they will never unfold.  I think how it must hurt as the blood goes pounding through those wings, how each tentative movement would sting like your foot gone to sleep and then kicked awake.  I don't know how long those wings must sting, how long it must hurt to be a butterfly before the ability to fly kicks in and erases the pain of transformation.

And I think about how using images of butterflies and birth to talk about the the process of growth and change seems cliche, but then I remember there is a reason we always go back to the cocoon and the womb to understand this process.  I wake in the night, shaking my hands, feeling the prickle of blood return to my fingers, thinking of the birth that will not come and the one that may, someday.  I wake wondering what I will be this time, when my cocoon splits open, rubbing an empty belly with tingling hands and hoping that the pain of loss will bring some glorious transformation for me, too.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Bob Cratchit, All the Way

There's a picture of me as a baby where my dad is holding me behind the head and his thumb is positioned in such a way that it appears I have one enormous (and by enormous I mean elephantine) ear.  This particular picture happened to be the one my grandparents decided to stick in a large frame full of various grand-babies that hung at the top of their stairs.  So, every time I climbed the steps, just past the point where I could look down over the railing and see the top of the grandfather clock that peppered the house with unexpected outbursts day and night, I would stop and see that big-eared baby picture and feel a surge of embarrassment.

Even though no one teased me particularly about the picture, even though everyone knew it was just my father's thumb, even though I don't actually have one elephantine earlobe, still I froze every time I saw that picture.  I hated thinking that was the image my mema and granddaddy had of me when I was away.  Since we only saw them once a year or so, and since they likely walked up those stairs several times a day, I knew they saw that big-eared image of me many hundred times more often than they saw my real face.

It never occurred to me that when my grandparents looked at that picture, they saw my smile or my dimpled cheeks or a certain resemblance to my father.  How could I imagine them smiling over that silly photo, beaming at the way their fourth grandchild was the spitting image of their fifth child?  When I looked at that picture, all I could see was the freakish visual effect on my ear.  It never occurred to me that someone else might look at that picture and see a beautiful baby girl.  All of the other grand-babies on that wall looked perfect and pink and proportional.  And I looked part Dumbo.

I guess you could say the habit of comparing myself to others started early.

I love the memories I have of my grandparents' old house.  I understood when it was time for them to sell it, but I have always regretted not getting to go back and see it one more time.  I can walk every inch of it in my mind, though, and I can still smell it so distinctly even sitting here three states away.  I can hear the way the back door swung closed.  I can see the gloss on the turtle shell that hung as artwork in the hallway.  I can see mema's easel set up in the room that was once great mema's bedroom, her half finished painting like a murky dream image coming into focus slowly.  

How sad, given the unrelenting fondness I had (and have) for that old Kansas City house, that I let one silly picture ruin even a small corner of that house for me.

Swinging with granddaddy in the back yard.

Theodore Roosevelt said, "Comparison is the thief of joy."  I wish that I could say I learned my lesson early on, that I let go of the big ear and embraced the big picture, but honestly the tendency to compare myself to others has followed me my entire life.  And for some reason, recently the comparison habit has kicked into overdrive.  Like a weed, it has crept in and wound its way around the roots of my thinking, soaking up the water, choking out the light and the air.

Finally, just this week, I realized how much ground I had lost to the infestation of comparison thinking.  I confessed to Sam, shameful tears gathering in my eyes, that I just couldn't get past the feeling of not measuring up.  Everyone I looked at seemed skinnier, prettier, more talented.  Everyone else has a weekly date night, I told him.  Everyone else has more help with their kids.  Everyone else has a bigger house and better towels and carpet that doesn't have holes in it.

Sam spoke sense, as he's wont to do, saying things like we're not everyone else and you are beautiful to me and who cares about the carpet.  Then he said, "Given the choice between being Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit, who would you rather be?"  Of course, he knew the answer I would give: Bob Cratchit, all the way.

I have been spending so much time and energy worrying about what I think I should have that I had almost forgotten to think about who I think I should be.  And the fact that he had to reduce it to such simplistic terms to get me to wake up is the ultimate indictment of the way I've been thinking.  Not only is this comparison thinking unhealthy; it's also misleading and inaccurate.  I don't really want to be the powerful, rich guy anyway, and I don't know how I let myself get wrapped up in the pursuit of an ideal I don't even value.  I don't believe my worth comes from the way I look or the square footage of my house or the number of digits in my bank balance. 

I am a broad shouldered, big mouthed woman in a world that wants women to be small and quiet and compliant, a world that is perfectly accepting of women who diet down to prepubescent size, shave themselves to look eight years old, and become obsessed with a Pinterest inspired home and wardrobe.  I am not capable of becoming that woman, not only because I like cheesecake too much, but also because I wouldn't want to be that woman.

I'm not some wannabe Barbie stomping her plastic heels because she was promised a dream house and a mate with a convertible and abs of sculpted plasticine.  I am not some callous business man trying to keep warm by counting and recounting my stack of coins, wrapping my success or my title or my bank statement around me for comfort.  And I am not some insecure little girl, pausing on the stairs to wonder how anyone could possibly see past that one big ear in my baby picture. 

My cousin Andee and I comparing, um, assets on the front porch of mema and grandaddy's house

I think of how many minutes I wasted staring at my big-eared baby picture, moments in my grandparents' house that I can never get back, moments spent feeling inferior in comparison to all the other pictures on that wall.  Time squandered on the thief of joy.  Time that could have been spent in the kitchen, sitting in my mema's lap, listening to my granddaddy tell his stories of the war while his grandfather clock chirped about the passage of time from the other room.  Time that should have been spent drinking in the truth I wouldn't ever find in that silly picture, the truth that I was loved and valued and seen even back then as more than the owner of perfectly proportioned features.

It feels like I've turned a corner today.  Nothing has changed about my life except the way I'm looking at it.  I'm remembering the reason I have two boys and two dogs is because I wanted my life to be full of life and mess and laughter and noise.  I'm remembering that I made a vow to always welcome people into our home because I believe in sharing our lives with people, not because I wanted to show off my pristine carpet and luxurious guest towels.  And I am reminded that the reason my husband loves me with an unflinching, unyielding love is not because I have movie star thighs but because I push myself, I challenge him, I insist on honesty and value integrity.  We've always been substance over style, and I don't know how I let myself forget that. 

Bob Cratchit, all the way.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Littlest Birds

I just got off the phone with my youngest, the defiant little cherub who has been reminding us that he will do things in his own sweet time and we can just go ahead and get used to it already because he will not be rushed thank you very much.  For years, his communication method has been a sort of pantomime, a series of simple gestures and modified signs that have served to communicate his basic wants and needs.  He loved to babble and would speak nonsense words all day, but the moment we urged him to repeat a real word, he would bristle and refuse and stomp his little foot in anger.

But today, I had a conversation with him over the phone.  This is big, folks!  Our conversation went something like this:

Lincoln: Hai!
Me: Hi, baby!  What are you doing?
Lincoln: {emphatic but unintelligible babble}
Me: Is that right?  Well, are you eating lunch? Did you eat a sandwich?
Lincoln: Yeah, I eat {mumble mumble}
Me:  You did?  And did you eat some fruit?
Lincoln: Yeah, I eat fwoooot.
Me: Wow, that sounds yummy!  Ok, listen, mommy has to go.  Love you! Bye!
Lincoln: Yo, maw! Bai!

Lincoln has abbreviated love you to "yo," which sounds like neither love nor you but is nonetheless the thing he says in response every time we say, "love you."  It's a terrible bit of verbal laziness, I know, but I catch that yo every time he hurls it at me, clasping my hands at my chest as if I've just caught a ball of light and can't imagine releasing it.  I tell him I love him over and over again just to hear him tell me "yo, maw."

I remember after Linc was born, we met our first set of parents of a child with Down syndrome.  I was scared and wanted reassurance, but this mom was more of a doom and gloom sort.  She told me once that her son was finally able to speak a few words.  I was ready for the furious cheer, the finally-my-baby-can-talk celebratory dance, but instead I got a bit of Eeyore looking for his tail.  She said, "Yeah, we had to wait until he was four years old to hear him say 'I love you.'  Can you imagine?"

"No, I can't imagine," I thought, "but I guess I better start imagining it."

Now, I can Eeyore with the best of them, but let me tell you, I did a little dance today while I was talking to my baby on the phone.  I stood in front of my office building, grinning like a dang fool, having a real conversation with my four year old on the phone for the first time.  My feet were stamping Hallelujah! on the pavement and my mouth was laughing Thank You Lord! into the wind.  The windows of countless unseen offices and conference rooms reflected my joy right back at me.  I watched myself as I stood there, iPhone to ear, realizing my little bird can sing.

And I thought about this song, how it tells me the littlest birds sing the prettiest songs...

He's always been our little bird.  He's always been small for his age, always seemed more of a baby than his peers.  And he always loved to be held, clinging to us like a little bird up on its first branch.

It's true there have been days when I have wondered if anyone besides his mamma and daddy would love his little bird song, his rough alto that does not pay homage to pitch or tune or tempo.  When music comes on, he lifts his little beak and raises his little wings, dancing and singing with complete abandon.  It's exuberant and oh-so-endearing to us, but not what most people would call singing.  It's more like happy yelling.

But I can't be worried about whether other people can hear it, the symphony we hear when he opens his mouth.  I can't be all Eeyore about this little guy, not when I can hear his husky voice saying "yo, maw" through the phone.  After all, that rough, halting speech is being funneled into a tiny microphone and ricocheting through space, bouncing off satellites and probably being converted into some digital code, yet still coming through my speaker sounding like the prettiest song I've ever heard.

I say you sing, little bird.  Get those possibly asthmatic lungs pumping, fill that tiny chest, and crow, crow, crow.  We've been waiting to hear your song, and I'm here to tell you that what they say about the littlest birds is true.