The Wayward Home for Unfinished Youth

I suppose it was inevitable. You know, an “all signs point to go” kind of thing. But it dawned on me recently that we have cultivated a home for untamed creatures, every one of us varying degrees of feral.

There are, of course, those of us who live in this house. The Madhouse, we call it. Or the Shoe, as in, “there was an old woman who lived in a shoe” because we have so many children we don’t know what to do. Except it turns out we do. We do know what to do. It’s just not what I thought we’d do. Or who I thought we’d be. What it is is better. Better and weirder and wilder and more fun. And more risky and and more fulfilling and more breathless and more free.

Because somewhere along the way, increasingly intentionally like rolling a snowball down an avalanche-prone mountain and watching the chaos and power and concussive force of the fallout, we decided to abandon the trappings of “polite society” and live authentically. Our whole family. Deeply, uniquely, unapologetically our quirky selves. We decided to pick apart the ways we were trained to behave, heads down, making no waves, submitting to puffed-up, egocentric authority. We decided to critically assess who we were taught to accept and who we were taught to shun. We decided to look behind the curtain of the gross injustices like “love the sinner, hate the sin” which is cruelty cloaked as love, a way to belittle and degrade our queer beloveds, to pick them apart and set aside their fundamental makeup as flawed and wretched while pretending to embrace them. And we did it together. All of us, the parents and the children, panning for gold, sifting dirt and silt and rocky ground for that which is invaluable and precious. Looking, it turns out, for each other. And for those who were left behind and forgotten. 

Last week, I looked around this Madhouse and realized we’ve built the Wayward Home for Unfinished Youth. 

Listen. The most mature creature around here is Zoey the Golden Retriever. She’s the most compliant. The most gracious. The most darling and tender and sweet. But even she sneaks shit out of the kittens’ litter box and walks around with rank breath smelling of her misdeeds. That’s it, friends. She’s the most decorous among us. The most civilized. The most compliant and well-behaved. The fluffy senior dog with a literal shit-eating grin. 

The rest of us? We’re wild. We’re spicy. We’re loud. We can mimic polite society and we can be seen in public, but there’s a limit. We’re Cinderella at the ball; the clock will strike midnight and we will become our authentic, raggedy selves. We will flee. We will not know where we lost our shoes. We will arrive at home a mess. Except, instead of weeping in front of the hearth, we flop onto our couch, relieved to be home with the creatures we’ve collected.

Most of the creatures here are teens. Our home is open to them 24/7, although they’re mostly noctural, dying with the dawn like adorable vampires, allergic to the morning. They use the nighttime hours for vegging and bickering and Nerf fighting and, my personal favorite, baking. I’ll awaken in the wee hours–2am, 3–to the smell of cinnamon and brown sugar and the BOOMS of the cannons from the Pirates of the Caribbean, and I’ll smile as I drift back off to sleep because those are the sounds of home and happiness and ease and joy, and what else could I possibly want in my Shoe?

The teens bring other teens with them like precious rocks they collect at the store, all look at this one I found! And I admire them, every one, because they are, in fact, unique and beautiful and worthy of my attention. They’re wise and young and kind and sassy and squirrelly and an ever-increasing percentage is queer, in all senses of the word. The walk into my house between BLM and Pride Progress flags under overgrown wisteria past the rusty porch freezer where we keep unlimited Otter Pops and pizzas and fries. There are messes absolutely everywhere 98% of the time except when they inexplicably clean. I mean, there is one teen–ONE–who cleans constantly and who, to my delight, berates the others until they do, too, but the rest are far more gifted in creating entire disasters with their unlimited creativity and detritus. I love them. Every single one.

And then, of course, we have the foster kittens. And it’s these babies who made me realize who we are and what we’ve collectively become. We had mama cats and their sweet littles, and I love them. But in the past several weeks, the feline population we serve has shifted. It started with the BLT litter of five (Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato, Mayo, and Sandwich) and then some went while others stayed and the rescue contacted us, looking for a home for a couple random juveniles who, well, didn’t really fit anywhere else. We took them because of course we did. Who doesn’t want a Beanie and a Weinie? And Cyrus and Finnlay. And Kyra and Brownie. And so it went. Teens coming and going, drifting in and out like their human counterparts, making messes and leaving shit everywhere and learning they’re safe and loved to infinity and beyond.

So now what I really need is a plaque. A brass one that’s worn and dinged like the rest of everything around here. So when folks arrive past the welcome flags and the reaching wisteria–past the rusty freezer and the worn out mat–when they arrive at the door where no one knocks because why would you knock on the door of your very own home?, there’s a formal little sign in place of the doorbell announcing where they’ve landed:

The Wayward Home for Unfinished Youth

Because that describes all of us. Every one.

P.S. Our current kitten babies are Pillsbury Dough Boy who hitched a ride on a semitruck to a warehouse and decided to make biscuits when he was found rather than exhibit any fear or trepidation at all;

Maddie the multi-polydactyl with the extra EXTRA toe beans and wild tufts of ear hair who has a lot to say;

Elio the tuxedo kitten with the dramatic Phantom of the Opera mask who came from a feral colony but has learned she likes domestic living a whole lot;

Petey Pablo the tuxedo kitten who has the biggest, widest WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL eyes I’ve ever seen and who believes all people are the best friends he hasn’t met yet; and finally Tobias, the itty bitty teeny tiny baby tabby with the squinty eye who should not yet be away from his mommy but I shall snuggle him and snuggle him so he knows he’s not alone.

P.P.S. I am DELIGHTED to let you know I’ve begun planning retreats once more, despite being in the After Times and/or some sort of bizarre, plague-ridden alternate universe. Guess what, Alternate Universe? I CHOOSE JOY AND GATHERING ANYWAY. If you’re interested in respite and retreat with an inclusive, fun community, check out retreat offerings here. I’d love to see you there.

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11 responses to “The Wayward Home for Unfinished Youth”

  1. These are the best things, unfinished youth always needs a safe haven, and also dogs are going to eat poop. My childhood hound always rolled in hedgehog poo. Lord, that aroma is burned into my brain.

  2. Our sign, painted by a lovely and talented friend, says “Jones Home for Peculiar Children.” And Lordy are they! Thank goodness.

  3. Hi Beth

    Your home sounds like heaven to me. Whenever anyone rolls their eyes and says, “Kids these days, right?”, I smile hugely and say, “I KNOW! Aren’t they amazing? They’re gonna change the WORLD!”

    And they are.

  4. Hi Beth, I’m sorry I can’t be my sister’s plus one on the cruise – working as a public school teacher means vacations between September and May don’t happen. Someday maybe you can plan a summertime retreat! Kim

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