Phoenix

apologies: you can do better than how you were done by

Apologies have not come easy to me because growing up, the adults in my life did not apologize to me (or, as far as I could tell, to anyone else). They sometimes behaved remorsefully, but that is not the same at all. In fact, the remorseful parental behavior is rather damaging: because as a child, your parents’ distress and weakness (feeling sorry for themselves or embarrassed when they erred) will often precipitate a strong sense of your own culpability, and that is hard to recover from. If you are someone who had a childhood like this, my heart is with you. It’s a very difficult experience and it is hard to overcome.

“come downstairs & bring popsackles”

A cardboard box filled with kraft paper; I remove gifts, setting them on the counter. Wrapped in tissue: findings from another sea. Teas, candied ginger. A paper-wrapped parcel of fine chocolate. Two bolts of sumptuous flannel fabric – a pea green plaid, a yellow plaid. Set aside and I run my hands over them each; fine robes for Christmas.

A wooden box, masterfully if plainly constructed, with a fire-branded logo. A note. And opening the box: a plastic shark. I recognize it as nearly identical to the one my children used to play with in the bath.

Then when I call my brother – to thank him and his wife, for the package – he laughs about the shark. “Do you recognize it?” I am confused for a moment. He can’t mean my children’s toy, as he never gave them baths and wasn’t there when they were small.

He says, “It’s just like the one I gave you a black eye with!” He is gleeful.

I am thinking, Oh that’s right. A childhood fight – we were still living in the bus, so I was seven years old or younger. I am set back for a moment. I am blinking at the road ahead, the phone on speaker in my lap.

What I say is: “That’s the only black eye I’ve ever had.” But now I’m thinking of a man who beat me. He never gave me a black eye. I think when you’ve been terrorized it can come to you, visit at any time. On a sunny day, in a lighthearted laugh with your brother.

The shark is now installed in my bathroom, hovering above the glass bar lighting fixture. I cooked and cleaned today, instead of leaving it for my children and spouse. I am coming out of a state of living where I was caring for the children, the home. We are moving and growing; I am working more, and the children are learning how to run a home. They are willing participants, and they are strong.

Yesterday they waited at a bus stop and went to the dentist. The children were gloomy; I woke them up and scolded them when they did not do housework quickly enough. We sat in the living room and we talked about the challenges in the household now that I work. The children listened, and ate the simple breakfast I made – creamed wheat, coconut oil, brown sugar. They put the dishes in the sink and I cleaned the kitchen after they left, then moved to the studio to finish my work.

After their appointments, my mother returned them home – food in hand, of course. They quite circumspectly did not eat hot foods for a couple hours, as the hygienist warned them off. Once they were home we piled in the car and off to the beach; meeting with a new friend who was visiting from inland. I realized well into the meeting that I hadn’t taken a break for quite some time.

After a coffee date, we two women and our four children climbed the jetty down to a little partitioned beach. We showed the visiting girls the tidepools: anemone, barnacles, limpets, chitons, starfish – and the little crabs under any rock you overturn. Every size – from a pinhead to a few inches across, and every manner of color: white, blues, greens, deep purples. The anenomes we instructed – you could touch them. Be gentle! They are gentle to you.

I know I live in a beautiful place. I never forget it. But I don’t often see it as it can be seen to visitors. That itself, was quite a blessing.

no matter how I try to disabuse you of that notion

Nightmares.

They’ve plagued me since my procedure, eight days ago. Two hospitalizations and one visit from paramedics, in the space of four days. Dehydration, secondary infection, and constipation. All of these are resolved today, but the combination made me so very ill and so very quickly so, that I am sobered by the experience. Now I’m on a regular medication schedule and that has been very interesting; I’ve never before taken loads of ibuprofen.

So in the last few days I’ve been able to do some work. More importantly, I’ve stopped fearing a sudden onset of pain that cannot be remedied. During the worst bouts, I had very dark thoughts indeed. Amazing how easily we can be brought low.

So the nightmares – why? Medicine? Stress? Both?

My children have been mastering more household work. Surprisingly, my son seems more focussed. My daughter has trouble.

Last night I sit at the edge of her bed, in the dark, and I ask her. Why didn’t she take the dog on his walk earlier? Why didn’t she finish laundry? She tells me, I don’t know. The room is heavy with her sadness. I ask, “How can I help?” She tells me it’s her thing. Her problem. She needs to fix it. I ask her if she still wants to do what she signed up to do. She says Yes. Her voice is firmer, now. I tell her, It’s okay, just try again tomorrow. It can be hard to learn new habits. I sense her easing off. She feels better. I say goodnight.

Downstairs to my son who has snuck my laptop and is trying to procure a half-dozen starfruit through mail-order means. He arranges his time these days between playing outdoors until all hours, and gaming in his little studio (Minecraft, mostly), and doing his household work. And then piling on me like a bag of sticks. Watching a little television in the living room while I’m resting after a bout of pain. He tangles up and kisses me over and over. I ask him, “What would your friends think if they walked by and looked in the living room to see you kissing your mom?” He smiles and says, “If they teased me I’d just say, ‘Oh you don’t like your mama? That’s so sad.'” We are giggling and wrestling a bit and he is trying to crack jokes, to make me smile. He wants me to feel better. He’s a child so he thinks its his job to fix me. I can’t really make him not feel that but I can reassure my children whenever I can.

We’ve had a break from hot weather; balmy days with an ocean breeze, but a threat of heat. In the night when I wake to take medicine, I pad into the kitchen for a drink of water and there is Herbert Pocket our little tuxedo kitty, all curled up on top of the stove. I know I should shoo her off but I can’t. I have to pet her and she stretches and splays out her back toes and curls her spine, belly up, asking for some love. I don’t particularly like being up in the middle of the night and being ill, but I do love my house and the safety I feel, and that I have in some measure provided the same to a few other sentient beings. 

it’s like falling in love

My son is tall; his coat from last year, a favorite, reaches the top of his hips and the sleeves end above the wrist. His hair is growing out from a short cut; in the morning, there is invariably a disturbed cowlick on the left side. I’ve taken to calling him “Tufty” and when he comes in close to hug  me, he is fast approaching my height.

He calls my mother this evening and – although I can’t hear her end of the conversation – it is obvious she is asking him on a date. Good; as Phoenix will enjoy undisturbed study time. She has a very hefty Biology book  – the sucker must weigh several pounds! – and today we discussed isotopes, radioactive decay, covalent and ionic bonds. The material is familiar to me but the last time I studied it was two decades ago! The rhythm of s and p orbitals, however arcane and antiquated in my memory, is nevertheless a familiar one because that long ago, that was my world.

So strange to be discussing quantum physics with my “little” girl.

I enjoy a walk with a mama and her young son; he is happy and scampers about, mindless and with a runny nose. Then he falls and cries; inconsolable. No one can carry him except his mother, who is heavy with another child. Eventually he calms and he carries his little stuffed bear in a blanket; we retire to his home and he shows me how he puts the bear down for a nap. I’m unsure if there is anything more beautiful than listening to a two year old putting together sentences – crude but, if listened to, easily understood.

The day draws colder; now, with my family and another neighborhood moppet in tow, we head for a lunch of hot noodles and then ice cream for the younger children. Home and Phee and I will hit the books; Ralph will eventually make dinner.

And to bed anon.

A good Sunday.

Baking

Baking

Melting butter and chocolate in the double-boiler; a cake cools on the counter. In the living room: four teen/preteens stuff themselves on our couch and take to lunch with alacrity.

It isn’t so much that I want to be with the kids, goofing or playing. But providing them with a date, an event, food, a movie, a drive through the countryside: this, it seems, is my vocation. I can do maths and work and produce and write and all that but what I like best is making a home for these young people, their boundless energies, their optimism, their love of one another and of music and play and the physical world. I get completely irritable about the bullocks that grownups are up to and find the conversation of children immensely refreshing.

My studio is alive again – that is to say, a mess. Painting scarlet shapes on blood-red canvas, on wine-hued twill. Another project, another design. Washing dishes, leaning against the counter while my son is asking me something about his homework but I’m thinking of design: topstitching, how many underlayers for the quilted effect? Will this new project work out or be an awkward failure?

Outside the warm weather has changed to a more typical spring chill. My husband mows the lawn; the cats sprawl on furniture not even purring – dead to the world. Likewise, my children fold their lanky frame into corners of the loveseat or bed, chewing through another massive pile of library books their father has provided them. As the children grow into adulthood, my eldest especially, their babyhoods are more on my mind than ever. The age I think of my daughter most is when she was two; she so little resembles that blond, cherubic little presence but in other ways she is astonishingly similar. The same strength, the same scowl, and the same beautiful crooked smile. Her babyhood flowed through my fingers like sand, as much as I tried to enjoy every moment.

paradise is you

The kids are out of school for Spring Break. Don’t think I even get how I’m supposed to be this schooling parent. In fact I think I have given up trying. I am often at a loss as to schedules. I don’t fit in with the culture. My kids had conferences last week and it seemed like for all the haranguing about standardized tests and attendance, the school staff and admins are lost and jumbled about it all. One of my children had a low (for the child, anyway) grade in a class. Now last week the child and Ralph tried to get to the bottom of it, and the teacher had a bunch of assignments incorrectly allocated. But here we’d confronted the child the night before – and the child had cried – over this mess. I don’t know if I’m supposed to not give much of a shit, or if I’m supposed to bust in there and straighten everyone out. And it’s hard to get too excited about something, grades and such, that seem entirely meaningless.

So anyway, school is whack and I am amazed they like the good parts – of which there are many, they’re called “other children” – enough to tolerate the rest. But they are enjoying themselves and this gives me immense pleasure. I know they appreciate that we support their rights to do what they want.

So I figure my job is to keep them in school clothes, and try my reasonable best to support them in their extracurricular activities and social lives, and feed them, and provide a safe, loving home for them to rest and recover in.

My son’s birthday is tomorrow – he turns eleven. I am hardly prepared – mentally, emotionally, or any other way, really. I sound a mess and maybe I am.

This afternoon I picked up my car from the shop. Gotta rob some rent to pay for that. But that said the kids and I were grinning like fools to have the car back.

And we were driving home and laughing with my mom, talking about our cat, trying frantically to bury a slimy mushroom on the floor. And I realize that with the little ones by my side, I’m really at my best somehow. I don’t know I’ll ever do much better. It’s like a really small, ignoble little victory in my heart, that I’m really okay with this.

on the present moment

This afternoon I did not want to put aside my work (which had been delayed enough already), and pack children into the car – rowdy children, not all of them mine – and go to a few shops, and pick up groceries for a summer dinner, and come home and prepare that food. I did not want to pay for or organize a cookout meal next door at my mom’s, but I did it anyway. I did so because I knew my mother and the children and the dog would enjoy it. I knew it didn’t matter if I enjoyed it so much.

It was my job. I was that guy. I want to be that guy.

This morning I didn’t want to be honest with a suffering friend. I worried my honesty might hurt an already-hurting person. I worried I was wrong anyway. Why speak up, if I might be wrong? But I also know: I want to be that guy. I want to be that friend you say, “She always told me the truth.” I want you to know I meant what I said when I said it. It’s my job. “You’re not thinking straight,” is how I actually started the main part of the conversation. It went from there.

I have more than one friend suffering and suffering over shit that is real. As years go on sometimes it seems I can help so very little, although I often wish I could help a great deal more.

I am a Buddhist. When I am thinking straight, I know I don’t have big problems or little problems, I just have Problems. I soothe myself with gentleness. I don’t know if I was helpful today. I know I tried to be helpful. I don’t know if I harmed someone today. I know I tried not to. How can I task myself with doing anything perfectly – whether counseling a suffering friend, or offering assistance to someone homeless, or teaching children how to play charades, or organizing a hot dog roast at my mothers’?

It doesn’t feel like Doubt, it feels like sadness. It isn’t always easy to stay on the path. My foot slips and there’s that moment I wonder if my journey matters much at all.

But life is too short to take seriously. I remember that. I lift my chin. I realize I am not easily intimidated, and that I like the company of myself. When my day is rough, I am my own best friend. This is new; it happened sometime in the last few years. It is wonderful.

And that I have a boundless love. When I lose it, when I let the fire down in the damp, I put down my load and go look for it. Right away.

I keep my love alive.

stuff that happened

Opening Night!

Tonight is opening night for RHPS by the Driftwood Players, and I am so excited to go to the first official performance. I can tell you, if you are a local, you should check it out! (Or even if you’re not that local!) As for the bouquet, I am faithful to a local florist and I adore her. She continues to impress me both in quality of work, and in generosity. This little bouquet is fitted with lots of glitter, fishnet, exotic purples and reds, and shiny black boa-feathers. I love it!

Dinner Date

Last night, out late, very tired – but cheered immensely by the company of my family.

Meemerd

An inside joke between my Friday-date children and I. Little E. drew a “Meemerd”, and I adore it.

***

Last night we had a total of six “extra” kids in and out our home. I made a slow-cooked chili, honey cornbread, a fudge-frosted zebra-stripe cake, and served iced wild cherry Pepsi. At the end of a long night five of the six did not want to leave, and a few of them outright begged to stay.

Ralph and I are doing something right.

UNSCHOOLING PRODUCES UNNATURAL CHILDREN

one plus one. really?

Thanksgiving, we had our four family members and one lovely dinner guest. Ralph and I made – all from scratch:

A Michigander-style 16 pound turkey
Mashed potatoes & gravy
Sauteed green beans
Roasted lemon asparagus
Crescent rolls
Celery & butter stuffing
Fresh cranberry-orange sauce
Waldorf salad (with pears, apples, sour cherries and spiced pecans)
A pumpkin pie (from fresh-roasted pumpkin)
A dark chocolate / coconut custard cream pie w/organic whipped cream

The grocery bill for all of this, including the dinner and foodstuffs from the day before, came to a little over ninety bucks. That is PRETTY GOOD shopping considering I am not much of a Financial Panther. I was pretty relaxed and had a great time doing the shopping – and yes, it was during one of those intense shopping-mart rushes, and I had both kids, and had to park a full block away. And I was just, enjoying myself. In fact it was one of those wonderful, so-glad-to-be-alive and in-the-moment experiences. And I was also thinking of all the women I saw in their hustling-ass for their families. We need to give women more credit.

(I wrote it in the comments for a previous post, but I gotta write more about it here):

Yesterday, after swim team practice, my daughter is approached by a girl about thirteen. The girl asks,

“Do you go to school?”

“No,” Phoenix answers.

“What is one plus one?” the kid challenges.

“Stop bothering me with silly questions,” Phoenix retorts.*

I DIE A THOUSAND DEATHS AT HOW AWESOME MY DAUGHTER IS. I just… I can’t tell you. When I was my daughter’s age I was guarded about everything. I vacillated between being authentic and badass and brash – then shrinking up out of fear. I had no method of coping for condescension – let alone something as elegant as Phoenix’s straight-forward call-out. I wanted to be good at everything and I wanted to be liked, and I was easily shamed, especially by someone bigger than me or with more authority. If it were me I would have probably answered, “Two,” and felt humiliated, and that humiliation would have turned to anger, and I wouldn’t have known what to do different next time. Phoenix is the calmest and most centered girl. I take virtually no credit except I continue to learn to get out of the way, and listen deeply and give her the nurture she needs.

What is it with unschooling coming up more lately? I trust it will die down again. It goes in spurts. You know, spurts where we get to live our life without being commented upon or outright harassed. I am not complaining. No really! It is just odd it’s been coming up. Like while this thing was happening to my daughter, someone was telling her father how good it is Phee is on the swim team: “Oh that’s good, get her out of the house. Get her some socialization!”

No, really.

UNSCHOOLING PRODUCES UNNATURAL CHILDREN

 

Anyway so last night my daughter and I watch one of our favorite shows, “River Monsters” from Animal Planet (we are both HUGE Jeremy Wade fans). My kids are expert movie riffers.

“In order to catch this monster sting ray, I was going to have to do something I’d never done before -”

” – dress as a Sexy Lady Ray!”

then

“The residents were finding enormous bullsharks in the place they least expected -”

“a HOT DOG CART!”

… and so on. Many giggles into the night until we got too sleepy to watch and fell asleep all cuddled-up like.

***

* my daughter tells me she and this girl are now friends.