You know what people told you about having your ducks in a row? Line those suckers up and put them in size order, follow mama duck, and waddle those feathered behinds towards a pond of dreams. It would be fantastic if I could get those ducklings to stay still. Ever watch a toddler or have a toddler in your house? Then you know about the prospect of obedient ducklings.
It doesn’t matter anyway. The universe hates your ducks. It takes a sling shot to your mallards and sends them sailing over the horizon only to end belly up in a pile of rotting refuge of gold stars and inflated GPAs. And just forget the days of fail-safes. There’s no pass fails in the real world. Get in a fender bender, loose a duck. Didn’t claim enough on your taxes? The IRS takes your ducks. Procured a dream job only to find out you hate it and it’s making your life miserable? Uh oh. That last little duckling of yours, the one holding up the feathers of your once youthful hopes and dreams? Forget him, he packed his little suitcase and hauled it back to Fort Lauderdale to be with the more established snowbirds known as the boomers.
Man, how I wish I had the ability to travel back in time and tell my young and well rested, sans under eye circle self, to forge forward with my dream to be a writer and take as many English literature classes to my heart’s content, savor every sip of tea in the campus café, and stare out the library window facing the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in a state of new adult wonderment. Why? Because my well thought out plan of safety and comfort would be blown to smithereens in my twenties.
What younger me didn’t know was that my unhealed childhood wounds would drive my ducks away. The anxiety filled years of spending most of my precious youthful school days lost in the physical discomfort of irritable bowel syndrome and an undiagnosed case of interstitial cystitis would place my body into an ongoing state of distress. And a whole bunch of other experiences like bullying, ostracization, Regina George from Mean Girls kind-of-bullshit that followed me into the second stage of my life: motherhood and suburbia. With a failed career in education, because I could not live on the medication required to keep me functioning sanely in a classroom, I stayed at home to raise my daughter. And before it is said to me, I will say it aloud, yes, a privileged problem. But my generalized anxiety disorder and pelvic pain followed me, nonetheless.
Isolation, an inability to click with my peer group, and the Covid-19 pandemic left me in a state of depression. After moving over the bridge to New Jersey and leaving my family and established friends behind, I felt more alone than I did in my whole life. I read as much as I could, posted on Bookstagram, later joined Gen Z on TikTok, but nothing satisfied my craving for fulfillment. I had to admit what I feared most in life: I failed. Worse than that, I was a failure and my summa cum laude diploma laughed at me from the home office. My daughter was growing up, finding ducks of her own, and I would be left featherless and unable to fly.
I was at my lowest when I got sick with coronavirus in January 2022. Shivering and coughing and crying my eyes out with the images of an impending death. If I died today, I thought, what did I accomplish? My ducks abandoned me, and I was a naked mole rat ready to bury myself in the nearest hole.
But I thought of my mother, my grandmother, her mother, and all the mothers before me and the strength of the everyday resilience. The ability to pull yourself out of bed and try again even when the thought of the next day felt bleak. I took out a journal and asked myself what I needed. What did my heart want?
Like a modern-day miracle, no water turning to wine, I extracted the desires of my childhood self. She loved writing, she loved animals, and she wanted to take care of dogs and cats and birds. And all the fauna and flora. And then it dawned on me like one of those Disney princesses waking up and singing to the birds outside the window. I spent the entire day researching pet care providers. The second half of the day? Pulling out the old manuscript. My two loves combined: authoress and pet sitter. Unconventional, yes. But authentically me, yup.
And that’s how I survived my mid-life crisis and made peace with my former row of ducks. I now own and run a doggy bed-and-breakfast from my home, finished my manuscript, and followed the route of self-publishing. Was it easy? Heck no. Do I still have days of self-doubt and anxiety? Yes, I’ll never lie. But am I happy? Yes, yes, and yes. And when I want to visit my former ducks, I take a flight to Orlando. Because I know that they are all extras hanging out in Lake Buena Vista waiting for their chance to meet the elusive Donald. The duck, that is.
If you enjoyed Case of the Missing Ducklings, you’ll love the free chapter from my book, Don’t Go Over the Bridge, a coming-of-age poetry and short story collection. Visit www.jaclyncohen.com and sign up for my upcoming newsletter—I’ll send you the sample! Happy reading!