“You read the questions, and I’ll answer them and tell me if I am wrong,” says our oldest daughter as she sits down to study for her science test.

“Ok, question one, define a trophic cascade,” I say.

“A trophic cascade describes changes in an ecosystem when a predator is added or removed from that ecosystem.”

“Wow. You are correct. Next question. Number 2.  What is a keystone species?”

“A species who helps define an entire organism.”

Me, “What? I’ve never heard of this. Can you give me an example?”

“Like an otter,” she says. I interrupt. “I love otters!! I love how they crack open oysters on their chest and I love how they play all day and I love their furry …

“Mom. Stay focused. I have a lot to study.”

“Ok, ugh, tweens!” I say inside my head.

“Otters are a keystone species because they eat sea urchins, controlling their population. If the otters didn’t eat the urchins, the urchins would eat up the habitats’ kelp.  And this would put the entire oceans’ eco system out of balance.   Mom, you are a keystone species.”

“Me?! I am?!”

“Yes. Without you our family would not be doing well at all….you know. ”  Her hands, with sweetly manicured nails, motion left and right showing an unwavering and I want to freeze time just for an instant. I know I don’t really look like this but in the moment, my eyes and face feel like a beanie baby, wide-eyed, sparkly and just elated!!!

So here we are at the end of another academic year.

There are presentations a plenty, books in a bag, graduations, end of year projects, parties and plays. There are pancake breakfasts, Kinder Olympics, end of year everything galore and oh so much to fill the calendar.   There are significant rights of passage to breath in, challenging commitments to complete and yes, with long summer days, really late bedtime to contend with too!

Remember parents. You are a keystone species. If you are anything like me, you are tired out.  Your mouth hangs open in wonderment of how you still manage to get pants on in the morning.  You are thrilled that your kids are thriving but heart-achy that the months of this school year seemed to soar over you like a pelican sure of its summer destination.

You both beam knowing you will be schedule-free soon and cringe wondering – How will this whole summer thing go with everyone home …the entire summer?!

But listen Keystone species. You have made hundreds of lunches and breakfasts and snacks, helped in various ways in your children’s academic and social and emotional growth this year and found yourself with moments so full of the very best in life you are breathless: beanie-baby-faced-perma-smiley, breathless.

You have supported little hands in forming their first d’nealian letters. You have patiently sounded out phonemes over and over to help your emerging reader.
You have run back to school with instruments, homework, lunches or projects left behind, or on the other hand, received the wrath from your child when you decided NOT to run back to school, with a huge brass instrument in hand and instead, took a short stop for coffee.   Natural consequences hold important lessons.  Kids need to learn these too!   You have helped make 3D projects and signed up to donate kleenex and wet wipes or classroom juice and popcorn.   You have reviewed essays, and college applications, school transfer forms and found yourself so often at one of your children’s’ campus’ or another, that you feel a pop tent in the back field would be a good idea, with a small satchel of snacks, this time, for you!  You have been there for pick ups and drop offs.  I mean, you have been there.


You have waited at a back gate or front door to hear how the math test went or how an English project was graded and hovered in the car during multiple after-school recreative activities for your children.

You, keystone species have had the island of after school flurry about you as you prepare a healthy snack, say yes to a play date and coordinate how to keep the homes’ eco system in check; even if just minimally.

Mom’s, you now have the waterproof mascara and dark sunglasses near the front door as part of your wardrobe and Dad’s, you don’t dare leave the house without a huge carafe of coffee each morning. You are flexing your work schedule to be at a myriad of school events every day!

A famous ecologist described humans as “Hyper-keystone species.”   I believe parents may very well be at the top of this hyper-keystone category!  If you disagree, just don’t tell me right now.   I need all the boosts I can get at this point in the year.


I have always loved the otter. Really loved their …(because our oldest isn’t around right now, I can continue my excitement about otters).  I have loved their furry faces, their strong and flexible bodies, their ability to stay together as a family in a massive and unpredictable environment, their playful ways and their whiskers. Oh, those whiskers!!!

If I were to transform into any animal, otter it would be.

But now, this body I am in and this life I am lucky to live has me as an otter counterpart.  The keystone species of mammals just working to keep the eco system going through yet another transition… school to summer.

And let it be known, momentous transitions are not easy for any keystone species!! This kind of adaptive management takes finesse, and I might be plumb out of this right now.

None the less, if a sweet, two-foot little ocean bobber can persevere, we can too, parents.  We can too.

Soon enough, parents, we will be floating in the cool Pacific or a slightly too-warm Kiddie pool.  We will be in pj’s late into day, enjoying cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles.  We will be relishing in family time, soaking in the long days of summer. We will delight in slowing it all down and find small windows of solo time to feel replenished.  Right?!  We will.

To all of you parents out there.  Hold your keystone position with reverence.  You have earned it.

May the transition from school to summer go smoothly for you and in case it should it not….call a friend who will indulge in oysters and a salt-water swim with you.  After all, this is what otters do.




2 thoughts on “Keystone

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s