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I leave the house to pick Renee up from preschool just after noon. It’s a ten minute drive with luscious winter sites: snow-spotted mountains hugging heavy gray clouds, a pinto-painted sky of brilliant blue and cloud-gray, sun-drenched fields, a salted highway. I am singing, filling up the space of my car and the vessel of heart with song:

My baby needs a shepherd
she’s lost out on the hill
too late I tried to call her
when the night was cold and still
and I tell myself I’ll find her
but I know I never will
my baby needs a shepherd
she’s lost out on the hill

My baby needs an angel
she never learned to fly
she’ll not reach sanctuary just by looking to the sky
and I guess I could have carried her
but I never even tried
my baby needs an angel
she never learned to fly

Toora loora loora lo
First the seed and then the rose
Toora loora loora li
My kingdom for a lullaby

It’s Emmylou Harris that sings with me, guides me through this song, through the dark forest of verse that she’s written. But I know something about the mother who is singing this song–she could very well be the mother of my oldest three children.

Oh I ran so far through a broken land
I was following that drummer
beating in a different band
And somewhere on the highway
I let go of her hand
Now she’s gone forever like her footprints in the sand.

And when I sing this song I can understand her a little bit better, understand how it is that she left her three children one day, never to return, understand her pain. It’s a weird song for me to sing, because I am the mother that found them left on the highway, so to speak, and I am the mother that brought them into my heart.  But it moves me, and it keeps me open, and free from judgment of her.

Renee climbs into the car. She’s had a great time today, I can tell, and as we pull away from the preschool, I start to sing the song again.

But there is no lamp in all this dark
that could chase away her shadow from the corners of my heart.
I pray shes ride a dolphin
But she’s swimming with the sharks
Out where none can save her
Not even Noah and his ark

I turn the music down for a second. I don’t exactly like singing this song in front of my little girl, because I know she’s might be listening, and listening well. What would she think of her mother singing this song? Though she knows that I did not birth her older three siblings, the emotional facts of that circumstance I am sure escape her. But something in me wants to sing this song today, to study the ache of it, to rejoice in the fact that, for all five my children the end was not so dire. So I keep on, thinking that perhaps Renee is lost in her own thoughts, as she is wont to do somethimes.

My baby needs a mother
to love her till the end
up every rugged mountain
and down every road that bends

Sometimes I hear her crying
but I guess its just the wind
my baby needs a mother
to love her till the end.

“Mom?” her trilling voice pipes after the song ends.

“Yes, love?”

“I don’t like that song. It’s very sad. Where is the hill that the girl is lost on?” she asks me, looking out at the rugged landscape.

And I answer her, “Oh, sweetie, she’s not lost anymore. Another mother found her, and she’s safe now, she’s loved.”

“Oh. Good,” she says, her small voice showing great relief. There is a pause, and then she says in her nearly five-year-old voice, “When I’m an adult, I want to be a superhero, and a singer. ”  She clicks her tongue against her teeth, just like I do when I’m speaking something that matters to me, as if my tongue has to release extra energy against my teeth.  The she adds,  “I want to sing magic songs.”   The Sun fills the sky, warming the bareness of early February, and the wind scatters the last oak leaves across the road. I look in the rear view mirror at my girl, who stares out the window with insightful eyes. The Sun kisses the top of her head.


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