Ella had been raised with humans since she was a wee calf, only two months old. She’d been abandoned by her mother, who simply walked away one afternoon while Ella was sleeping in the damp savannah heat under a baobab tree.

Perhaps the mother forgot her? Perhaps she walked off to check on a strange sound or find something to eat. Perhaps she didn’t want to be a mother anymore. Perhaps she was too young for the experience, or it was more than she’d anticipated.

Regardless of the reasons why, the “what” was that Ella was by herself for a day and a night before she was found by a safari full of New Zealand tourists. That area wasn’t on their tour, but her bellows aroused their curiosity so they rerouted.

Ella was fine for a few hours after she awoke. It wasn’t unusual for Mama to go away. Calves had to learn to be independent early on, so mothers didn’t coddle them. But when sunset came and Mama still wasn’t there she started to get a little anxious. That hungry feeling in her tummy got more insistent, which only worsened her anxiety. It was a terrible self-reinforcing loop.

Ella began to whine, quietly at first, feeling sad and alone. She didn’t want to call the wrong sort of attention to herself. There were plenty of animals in the Savannah who would love to make a meal of a young elephant left unguarded by her parents. But after a few hours alone under the stars, Ella started the bawl openly, no longer holding back. She no longer cared if some predatory animal was drawn to her cries. Death was better than this, this half-life of loneliness and fear.

What would she do? How would she care for herself? Her Mama had been her world, her constant companion. And now as far as she looked across the flat scrubland, she saw nothing but thorn bushes and trees stripped of their leaves by the giraffes. She was still awake, red-eyed and hoarse from her keening in the early morning when the safari group found her.

A young couple, Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Halverson, married just 6 1/2 months, decided to take her as their own. They’d agreed when they were engaged that they didn’t want children, both having been raised by abusive parents. They didn’t trust themselves to not repeat the pattern. It was as if they both chosen to be teetotalers after being raised by alcoholics. They decided it was safer for everyone all around if they didn’t even try. But an elephant was another matter entirely. And who couldn’t fail to fall in love with her? Her huge dark eyes with her long ashes locked into them like a tractor beam. There was no chance of escape.

However, there were a few obstacles to overcome. How to get her home? An airplane was out of the question. If airlines charge by the pound for luggage, there’s no way they can get her on board. Perhaps a combination of train and boat? It was the only way it seemed. However, the moment they put her on the train for the first time they knew there was going to be a problem. She began to bawl when Jake stepped out of the car. He and Margie quickly realized one of them would have to stay with her.

They hurried to get another ticket and had to pay extra for the “privilege” of riding in the animal car. It wasn’t meant for people, and Mr. Gruber, the engineer, had to pay off the station manager to keep him from grumbling. Fortunately the weather was good, because the animal cars weren’t air-conditioned. No use wasting heat and air on them, the company thought. But Jacob would have a hard time. Even though it was early summer, the speed of the train would mean it would be rather chilly while it was traveling. Margie gave him her mink coat that he’d given her as an engagement gift to soften the blow. The other animals kept away from him once they caught a whiff of it, unsure of what it, or he, was. It masked his aftershave, however, and that was good. He was grudgingly accepted as one of them at least long enough to get Ella to her new home.

Poem – Lost mothers, daughters


We all

are daughters

searching for our mothers.

We all

are mothers

searching for our daughters.

We all

are lost,

and have lost.


Sometimes our arms

have to wrap around the shoulders

of someone else, someone

we are not related to

to comfort ourselves

and to comfort them.


Sometimes we have to be

for each other

what we don’t have

for ourselves.

A Gentile mother’s faith.

Jesus traveled to the area of Tyre and Sidon. A woman who wasn’t Jewish approached him and kept crying out to him “Have mercy on me Lord, son of David! My daughter is tormented by an unclean spirit.” Jesus didn’t reply to her, but his disciples approached him and asked him to make her go away because she kept following them and yelling for help. Jesus said “I am called to help only the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

But the woman came and knelt before him begging him to drive the demon out of her daughter. He said “Let the children have their fill first, because it isn’t right to take their bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she replied “Yes, but even the dogs under the table eat the crumbs that fall.” Jesus answered “Your faith is great, woman. Because of how you answered you will receive what you have asked for.”

Her daughter was free of the demon that very hour.

MT 15:21-28, MK 7:24-30

Juggling children

I saw a lady with two young children at the library last week. It was obvious that they were in her way. This tableau happens a lot. She was in the computer area and she kept trying to tell them she was taking a test. The children were probably five and three. They kept trying to sit with her and ask her questions. She kept being very frustrated with him and telling him to stop bothering her.

I had a lot of questions and no answers. Where was the father? Or were there two fathers? Why weren’t the children in daycare, or with a relative? If this test was so important then why didn’t she make time to take it when they weren’t with her? Were they always with her? If she was taking a test to get a better job, where would she put the children while she was at work?

She had not brought anything for them to do on their own. She had not thought of what they could do to entertain themselves while she took her test. At that age, children have to have some direction. Meanwhile, the phone rings and she answers it. She has time to talk on the phone but not time to talk to her children. She finally gives the phone over to her son and tells him to talk quietly, reminding him that they are at the library. The library has a policy that you shouldn’t use the phone at all, not just quietly. Ideally, it would have been turned off.

It wasn’t the children’s fault that they were born or that they were there. That was the mother’s doing. She was treating them as if they were an interruption to her day and her life. Everything she was saying to them was in an impatient and unkind tone. The only time she talked to them was to tell them to stop bothering her and to shut up. Sadly, I see this a lot.

The mom kept getting more and more frustrated with her children and her children kept demanding more and more attention from her. Any attention is better than no attention, even if it is negative attention.

I felt that it was not my place to tell her how to parent her children. I felt that if I had done so she would have felt very embarrassed and threatened. Meanwhile she was getting further and further behind on her test and further behind on interacting with her children in a kind way.

I fear for the children of these mothers. They grow up angry and frustrated, just like their mothers. They grow up expecting to be yelled at for asking for help with their basic needs. They grow up thinking that they are worthless and meaningless. They grow up empty, having never really grown up at all. Meanwhile, they have children and they treat them the same way, and the cycle continues.