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Ice Milk

It may be gone as quickly as it came, but while it was there, it mattered, and it was meaningful.

I was a three year old ballerina. My sister, at five, could steal any show. She danced with confidence and grace. I did not inherit that gene. The home movies show me in a pink tulle tutu as a “boogie woogie piggy,” stiffly imitating (a few beats behind) the movements of my preschool classmates. Though my tongue was sticking out, I smiled with pride, oblivious to my own awkwardness.

My mom took us to Virginia James Dance Studio in suburban St. Louis. I remember sitting in a tiny wooden chair and coloring pictures (outside the lines) of fancy ballerinas at the barre. Virginia James expressed concern to my mom that I could not cut along the lines as the other children could. I can only imagine what she thought of my dancing.

Once, my mom was in charge of bringing the snack. My babyhood best friend was allergic to milk, so she was to get a special ice cream cup. The teacher called it “ice milk.” I, too, wanted to be special enough to have “ice milk.” My mom bought an extra cup just for me, and I felt special indeed.

When Virginia James passed out the ice cream cups that day, I watched, eyes wide with anticipation. I could feel my heart flutter as I looked at the cup, complete with a curious, tiny wooden spoon, that had been placed before me. It was not the same as the prized snack that had been given to my friend. I looked around, but no one else had the coveted “ice milk.” For a little while, I had been special.

The sunrise was breathtaking that morning. It was a momentary burst of glory so intense that it nearly hurt, and then it was gone, faded to a memory that could never be called forth with the same magnitude.

It seemed to come from nowhere, but they were enmeshed, and the enemy fought Wendell, my brave rooster, with a will that could not be undone. The aggressor was just a puppy; she only wanted to play. Wendell, though, was fighting for his life. For that tiny moment in time, Wendell was helpless, vulnerable, and a thing of pity, dragged by his tail feathers to the amusement of a dog.

I have met her just once, but her place grows like fire in my soul with each passing day. We met at the airport; both of our families were waiting for our baby girls to arrive from the other side of the world. Nervous conversation penetrated the air.

Her emotions were something of a tangible nature. They filled the room: swirls of what could only have been exuberance, relief, and untold joy, emanated from the veil of tears which shook the entire body of this young mother. I could almost hear her gentle, beautiful tears. Almost.

We exchanged addresses, and life got in the way. We are, though, part of each other’s stories. There is grace in social media when it reconnects two families that share the common bond of adoption, and that welcomed babies who traveled together on a plane across oceans to their new countries some eighteen years ago.

I can’t say precisely why I love her, but I know I do. Some might argue that I barely know her. The truth, though, is that she knows much about how I feel, and she understands. Across many miles and much of a lifetime, we are brought together by deep human emotion. Though our physical togetherness was momentary, there is much, much more.

I couldn’t see past the stars in my eyes to understand that things would be different from what I had envisioned. There was angst, tumult, blame, and fear. In the blink of an eye, even when the hours dragged on, we look out toward the last days of childhood, as the wings loom near, and we fall to our knees, weary but steadfast, hoping that we have given our best effort. And I know that my friend knows.

Sometimes he’s here. And then, though he may be brave and bold as a rooster, he is unable to fight against the demons deep within. During that spell when he is here, though, we are blessed with enough to carry us through the pain.

As fast as it came, it’s waning. Isn’t there more work to be done? If I look away, the end will close me in.

There is a tiny sunrise; it tells of what is to come. It represents hope for the brand new day. It dissipates to memory, but that does not mean it was not there. This parallels my children’s experiences with what has come before. You remember the good, the beautiful, but not how cold your hands were as you stopped, spellbound, to stare at the beauty of nature before you.

I don’t need an egg basket to gather eggs in winter. It is a good day when I can collect two eggs. It was early still, and one of my nest boxes already boasted two eggs. It might have been the day that I would gather at least half a dozen, just like a summer’s harvest. Somewhere between the chicken coop and the refrigerator, one precious egg slipped from my hand. Still, the hope had been there.

What I hope for, what has been given to me, and that which is to come…all give reason for my being. Maybe two families were brought together so long ago not for the children or the cultural connection, but for something which may be beyond our understanding, though certainly it was…and is…very much there.

The rooster that has fallen from grace, the cracked chicken egg, the parenting struggles, the magnificent transient sunrises, and even the lost ice milk offer lessons, but none as great as the road walked with another.

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