The Hen House
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In winter, we are always counting. Six snowstorms, two with ice, four without. Two nights without power; three days without school. One early dismissal; one delay. Two pairs of snow pants, one purple, one black (never worn); three pairs of mittens. Five mornings spent shoveling; two trips to the town garage for sand. Six hats, none of them quite right. One canceled birthday party, forty guests for breakfast on Christmas Eve. Three colds; one blister pack of antibiotics; four bottles of Elderberry Syrup; sixteen boxes of Kleenex. Three batches of chocolate chip cookies, one botched attempt at homemade pudding (too much cornstarch, not enough heat); one divine lamb stew brought by friends on a snowy Sunday night.
For years, just moments before I expected Chris to walk in the door each evening I would set to work perfecting our woodstove fire. I would stack the firebox, sweep the hearth, fill the red ceramic steamer with water. I would read year-old articles from the pile of newspapers while waiting for the new logs to catch and when they did, I would close the damper and watch for a moment to make sure that the flames continued to dance. I did all this because I wanted Chris to come home and see that the fire was taken care of and needed nothing from her so she would be free to focus on helping me wrestle the children to the table, to the bathtub, to their beds. But every night without fail she would walk in the door, kiss me and the girls, and go to the fire. Check the steamer, open and close the damper, sweep a few grains of ash.
There is a new calf up the road. The girls and Chris have met her; they have seen her sleeping on a bed of hay in the tiny barn. Grace named her, as she has named all the cows who live in the field behind our house.
She is holding a book called In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco. I bought the book last year because I loved the title and I love Patricia Polacco and the idea that she would write a book about a two-mom family seemed too good to be true. As it turned out it was too good to be true, which is why I had shuffled the book into the middle of a stack on my desk. The book is filled with beauty: a deeply joyful and loving family, a rambling old house in the Berkeley hills, charming details about food, pets, first steps, tree houses, family dinners. At its core the book is a love letter from a grown daughter to her mothers.
Tomorrow Grace will turn six. Six years ago today I was waiting for my life to begin, although the life I was waiting for and the life I got turned out to be two entirely different things. Six years ago today I was watching my sister weed the garden and repaint an old family rocking chair for the baby’s room. I was napping and peeling beets and swimming in a clear and quiet pond until dark.
I can’t get pregnant. We try and we try and we try but it does not take. It simply will not work. There are only a few days in every month when there is something to be done, and I love those days. There is a day when I can call the sperm bank and then two or three days when I can pee on an ovulation predictor and fight with Chris about how purple the line is, followed by one day when we can take the liquid nitrogen tank to the midwife so that she can thread a tiny catheter filled with thawed sperm through my cervix and into my uterus. That’s it. After that, I must find something else to do.