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  • Patty Ihm

Breaking Free



He plotted his escape, because he knew he had to go.


Forty years after first reading the beloved story, I am still learning the lessons of the Little Prince. He was right, after all, that it is the children who really understand what is important.


Before I became one myself, a beekeeper once told me that the first year of beekeeping is the easiest because the bees show you what to do. While I really hope that my first year was not my easiest, I understand why this wise person shared this with me. The bees do show you what to do, by showing you precisely what NOT to do. They let you know when you have upset them or when you have made a mistake. The truth can really hurt.


One of my first-year beekeeper lessons was that I should not have used a blade to whittle an entrance reducer when I had never used such a tool before. Eager to get to my next task, I sliced into my finger and damaged a nerve. Earlier this week, my little apprentice and I split our two hives to make four. I picked up my smoker by the wrong end, and it took time for me to realize that it was burning my finger, the one that had been deadened by the injury.


I didn't feel the pain; at least, I didn't feel it right away. My son didn't understand what was happening to him until one day, it was all too much. A lifetime of being the underdog, of needing support through his days, of playing his best part despite the push and pull of a neurological system that beats to its own drum...a lifetime of trying to stand tall from the bottom of the charts...took a harsh turn.


Most of the school year has been an impossible struggle for this child with a heart so big it is unfathomable how it can be contained in his tiny body. At school, he was barely recognizable as the boy who had been celebrated for his kindness the year before. It just wasn't working, and he knew it. After recovering with a few days of unlimited dirt bike rides and trips with me to my appointments which occasionally included detours for iced lattes, he shared his revelation...which must have come to him on our long car ride home from Trader Joe's: he thought it was actually good that he burst from the school when he was so mad; it was the only way to really let it be known what he needed. It was the only way to communicate that he was about to break.


Half an hour before, I had turned my head at the sound of a jar of pasta sauce that had slipped from someone's hand and smashed in the aisle. While I went back to filling my cart after that first glance, my son stepped up to assist with cleaning up a mess that he hadn't made. That is the version of this boy that I hope the world can see.


Through these trials of parenting, I have tried to listen to the voices inside my head, to fuel the fires for fear that my child's needs are misunderstood. Sometimes, though, it's not my voice that matters. It's the brave child that steps up to be heard, because he knows there is no other way. That's what matters. He is what matters.


I watched him today at one o'clock in the afternoon, his entire twelve-year-old frame folded up on one cushion of the couch as he slept. He had put in a couple of hours moving topsoil and driving the tractor with his dad before he worked on his school assignments, and he needed the rest as fuel for the journey...whichever journey is yet to come.


We don't know what's going to happen. We do know, though, that our child knows better than any of the rest of us what he really needs.


"I believe that for his escape he took advantage of the migration of a flock of wild birds."

--Antoine de Saint Exupery, The Little Prince


There were no wild birds involved in his escape, but he did come home to 27 chickens. And I really can use his help with the hives.




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