aromatic cooking

Tonight I carefully slice into a red bell pepper, then a green one, and finally a cheerful purple onion. I cut a quarter wedge from each of these and slice as thinly as my patience will allow. I am exhausted, and I am trying to prepare a new dish. So I move slowly; but I do move. I heat up two types of tortillas (microwave under a damp cloth napkin) and wrap them in heavy foil packets into the warmed oven. Having pickled a jalapeño (while the others roast in oil and salt), I dice it finely and add to the marinade hosting thick tempeh slices. I halve cherry tomatoes into a bowl and gently combine them with a little oil, salt, sugar: set aside. I fry up the seitan chick’n strips – having pre-baked them dry and chewy in the oven – and add the peppers and onions and more pickled jalapeño. The kitchen warms brilliantly with the fragrance of peppers and onions and the family cheers a little. Finally: I slice avocado, bring out the lime cashew cream, and the purple slaw, my husband prepared earlier. We don’t set the table as my work is spilled across it, but join one another convivially on the couch to watch a quaint baking show before we go our separate ways again for the evening.

17th Anniversary

on staying married

17th Anniversary

I met Ralph when we were seventeen, in a church. At a word from my mother I shifted and looked back to see him at the head of the aisle; his head was turned. He had a long lean body and tousled red hair and thrillingly alternative sideburns and he was easily handsome. He had expressive hands; he was a drummer. It’s rather incredible I can remember this to the day, how I felt.

soak up like a sponge about to be wrung out again

The weather may be dipping into fall but it’s still plenty warm out, the sun is still hot on my skin and the heat catches and holds in my pigtails as my sponsor and I step out of the grocery store – carrying small packets from the deli and in my case, a quaint salad roll of basil, avocado, and cucumber – and travel to her car. She’s a far-parker, like my late father. It feels delicious outside.

An Intense Fellow

“It’s Complicated”

There is a perfectly lovely woman at a local shop who always greets me warmly, and makes genuine, caring conversation with my husband and I when she sees us. She is a homeschooler and so that, I feel, is why she reaches out to connect. But she is a very different type of homeschooler than we: she uses a strict curriculum (for her several children), and the family is an evangelical Christian. Today I got to have that conversation I’ve had so many times in the last few years:

Her: “‘Boys’? I thought you had a boy and a girl?”
Me, smiling: “We thought so too! But we were wrong.”

I wait a beat. It takes most people a second to process what I might be saying.

only – one day away from your arms!

I’ve been singing “Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa” over the last day, to myself. The Dusty Springfield version, of course; there is no other version. While I’m sewing or working her voice pierces my heart. I can sing as dramatically as I like, in front of my children. In front of no one else, in fact. Maybe I’ll grow a little less shy, or perhaps my children are just the most special people in my heart, and who can know the unvarnished Me.

“and the stars through his soul”

We’re at the checkout lane closest to the north door at the supermarket and I turn and ask my oldest child, “Is it time we look into top surgery?” “Yes,” he tells me simply.

Parenting a trans child is amazing. It’s nothing like what I thought it would be. But back in the day I didn’t think anything particularly well-informed or progressive and I didn’t think about it much at all, damn my eyes. Like so many, I was pretty ignorant and (I’m not proud to say) I didn’t see much relevancy in learning more. Since Beeps came out I’ve made up for lost time, sure.

I’m glad I did.

It’s like a gift because, even while we were raising this child as a girl, he still came to know the rules and routines of boyhood and manhood well. You’ve gotta learn that landscape or you risk great peril. It’s a man’s world, damn it all. So Beeps – just like I! – we know well and so much of a man’s way of things. We know their rules and their mores; we know their expectations and agreed-upon codes. We know how to do their laundry and find their haircuts and make their appointments and we know a lot of their body language and their often hostile landscape because unlike men, we couldn’t afford to be ignorant.

But now my child steps away from me, out of the aisle we walked side by side together. They are no longer watching men and caretaking men and protecting themselves – as I do! – they are a young man themselves and they get a little more freedom soon. To see my child reach out and claim this masculine world as their own, it’s indescribable. From those “little” things like his first binder and his shift to different underwear (“These are the best,” he tells me with those tiger eyes and that sedate smile as he pushes the legs of his boxer shorts – fruit prints, cheerful pineapples and lemons – deep into his jeans while dressing. Bent at the waist and efficiently adjusting himself in the same movements I’ve seen his father make and I look away and my eyes sting with tears), to the bigger things like shaving his head; like responding in public when I say, “boys” aloud to the two of my children.

I see those little pains too. He cannot yet enter a men’s restroom due to a (reasonable) fear of violence. We have to make different plans there, when out in public. The T will change that, is changing that – but it’s a process. He is not yet fully in the world or rather the world won’t give him a comfortable place although the world, too, is changing.

So there are some clouds that flit across the sky now and then but most days are absolute joy, it is like a playfield, and the world is very fresh and very special. This afternoon we’re standing in the aisle and examining the men’s deodorants. Names like “Wolfthorn” and “Power Fresh” and “Pure Sport” and “Iced Musk & Ginger”. Beeps is not at all embarrassed about second puberty – quite the opposite, he is frank and forthcoming and impressively educated. But he is and has always been so composed that he might ask for something special and you might miss it, might miss how important it is. And I have to pay a great deal of particular attention.

It’s so strange because when I think about this experience, and what’s ahead of us, I just feel so fortunate and at the same times it feels almost unreal. I guess I’m a slow learner. Or maybe the phrase is: slow to assimilate.

It’s a bigger change than I realized.

sleep, work, bike, yoga, eat, flop into bed; repeat

My children and I send one another memes all day long in Discord, and today my youngest forwarded one with an implied (and disrespectful) sexual reference. I was surprised and, as he and I thumbed through our phones next to one another, I mentioned my surprise to him. He was confused at my reference; from his comment I could tell he thought the image meant something entirely innocuous. I let the moment pass and I felt a small moment of gratitude.

Every day my children pass where they are safe, as they grow into adulthood, is a day I cherish.

I have for the first time a large enough set of orders I am setting up a waitlist for my works; In doing this I have been fiddling with my professional website and so it’s down at the moment. I think typically I’d feel irritable and anxious at this hiccup; I can’t afford to at the moment. I get up and work work work until it’s time to be with the family. I get my bike ride and my yoga in. I do my volunteer bit. I eat dinner. I clean up. I spend as much time with Ralph as I can. “It’s boring, but it’s my life”. Except, it’s not boring. It’s busy, and I have to make sure to have some mindful moments, and some play moments.

Beeps has a brand-new tablet we purchased thanks to a tax return and a great deal on Craigslist. The damn thing is so big we’ve given up our dining room table so he can do his work there. It’s lovely to have my child nearby and drawing away, even if they are often dug into headphones, they will still laugh aloud at my jokes or comment on my own music. I instruct Ralph to make twice as much dinner as typical, since the boys get up, fiddle on their phones, and then serve themselves large quantities of leftovers. Growing is hard work!

Tomorrow morning I have a Skype date with a pattern designer on jean fit; I hope to also finish the dungarees on my table before diving back into a crepe dress for a local client. I’ve also got to schedule – besides the waitlist for clients – something I haven’t scheduled myself in a good long while: a break.

A Smoothie

i waited for you but you were already here

A Smoothie
Children’s memories are incredible. As we drive out to the beach today they both tell me about the walks, the bike rides, the times we stopped for a trail hike or ate at a restaurant. I have the same memories, of course; but theirs seem so vivid, and they are obviously so fond retelling these events. Their affection for our beaches and our trails is humbling, too; these are places that Ralph and I selected, in effect building so much of their childhood. We don’t program our children like blank tapes but we do influence them so much.

It is sunny and warm – seventy degrees. We arrive to park and no one is near; we can see a few distant sea-gazers on the far-off overlook tower. The oldest child made and packed our lunch – hoagie sandwiches with red leaf lettuce and pickles and vegan lunchmeats and cheese, a side of chips. The dog is perched back of the Jimmy – excited, his expression absolutely jovial and alert. He can’t believe his luck! Once we lock the car and head to the jetty we are disturbed to discover he is finally too old to leap up the rocks and climp over into the hidden sandy beach. He tries many times, valiantly; but his agility is not there. We walk him a bit, then tie up him with a good deal of water, and leave him for a bit. My heart hurts to leave him behind; I also know it is better to have brought him than not at all.

Tide Pools
Today on social media – in a parent support group – I read parents complaining about their teen children, calling teens “assholes”, discussing whether a preteen child was old enough to decide ____ for herself. It hurt my heart; I closed my laptop. I wonder to myself how I avoided this fate, of feeling I was doing my children some kind of favor to care for them.

My children aren’t perfect; just last night one of them had a verbally violent outburst and today tempers are still tender. The child and I have a short conversation in the car today and I tell them that everyone has outbursts; no one in this family is judging, and we need to keep the family safe.

I ask if they know what set them off – were they worried about ___, were they feeling resentment toward ___? They tell me, “I have been asking myself the same thing,” and I am thinking: Job well done. I let them know that sometimes we don’t know why we lash out, and it’s okay not to know for a while. But by the same token, they also need to step back and reflect; it is their responsibility to figure it out. And there is always help available. It’s a conversation we have with our kids; keep it as short as possible, keep it thoughtful. Make sure to center myself first; and if possible discuss the issue after I’ve rested, meditated, and talked with my partner.

Because our dog party member is down for the count, we don’t stay at the beach very long today; long enough to find starfish, and chiton, and little snails and little crabs and large isopods. We stop on our way out of town at a coffee shop for tea lattes, and then home to Ralph who is cleaning the house and preparing dinner.

Before bed my eldest comes to be held and I kiss the top of their fuzzy shaved head; they still smell like the sea. They are soft and warm and content, that we had a day together, playing like children.

the needle that knows how to mend

I’m working on a small pile of mending for a client, and watching “Tennison” on the laptop. Repairs to an overcoat, damage from a cat’s ardent claws. Next re-twisting and looping yarns from a cotton crocheted overblouse, in a deep teal. Then: a thin acetate lining shredding at the underarm, in a heathered winter coat. For tomorrow: two pair of trousers with blind hems, a waist seam coming loose, a zipper top popped, and a sleeve unraveling.

I enjoy mending. I know many seamstresses complain they are expected to mend for their friends, but I am clever. I charge for my efforts and besides, I do enjoy giving clothes longer life. I dislike waste and we are particularly greedy and wasteful about clothes. So: repairs, then. Every project is it’s own challenge and this pleases me. The teal crocheted blouse, for instance: I mend the pull so well that when I move it to the ironing board to steam it one last time I can’t find where I’d fixed it.

I enjoy hand-work, besides. My mother was my first sewing teacher and one strength she had, and has to this day, is strong and consistent – if indelicate and highly-visible – handwork. Her handwork instilled in me the confidence to work at my own. My work is finer and more delicate but not always as confident and sturdy.

Later in the evening, after my volunteer work, I stop by a friend’s to pick up buttons. These she has had for years on a mostly-completed coat project. I will install these three – as a favor, sure, but also because the though of these lonesome buttons, waiting for installation for years, touches me in this small way. Tomorrow they will be united with their intended purpose. I am careful as I walk down the stone steps to my car, the buttons on a card nestled in my purse. It is very cold and very dark and I don’t need a fall.

The studio is still cold but I have music and my hot coffee and I remember to take breaks, to care for my home and my children. My children! Tonight my 13 year old asks to get into bed and he holds me against his chest and for the first time I feel smaller than he; whisper thin he may be but he is growing taller than I now. And we talk and I can hear and feel his heart thump under the clean white cotton of his t-shirt. Soon our children have birthdays; Ralph and I discuss how to pull together what resources we have and to make something very special for each of them. We have poured out ourselves for these children and it was such an intelligent parenting strategy! They are vibrant, and happy, and well-rested, and fierce. And I remain unmoored, now that they are so independent. Things are as they should be and I am semi-wrecked.

Yoga practice; my hips are opening up, and I am comfortable in a deep seated twist, cow-faced legs, my head rests over my shoulder. My yoga teacher, her online presence, has become so valuable to me for the postures she leads me through yes, but also for her humor and her invitations to gentleness, to patience. She gives me permission to let things go, things that hurt or “no longer serve”. After practice I take a hot shower and slip into my pajamas to join my husband in the kitchen. I finish a slip-stitch while we talk and he prepares dinner: a large green salad, spaghetti with a homemade long-simmering red sauce and lemon-roasted garbanzo beans. And garlic bread! A hot, delicious winter meal.

The oldest child sets the table and I put out mixers for mimosas (of sorts): lime seltzer water and a delicious ice cold orange juice. The children tell us stories and tease me while their father smiles at their jokes. I put my hand on his knee to ask him something, I can’t remember what but even now I can feel his warm thigh through the denim of his jeans. And I’m thinking while I sit there that I have got to keep focused on these things, these little bits of work and home and love and my avocation, my volunteer work. And daily keep writing my gratitude list and performing my practice. On my desk rest little notes on scrap of movie posterback and little bits of graph paper, notes that I need to put into the calendar or into my accounting system and then recycle these paper bits and there will be more notes soon. A woman’s work like the Updike novel, always moving matter from one place to another.

A bit of loveliness: knit chiffon painstakingly formed into small pintucks, an impossibly insubstantial garment that can barely be called one at all: 

 

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41

sitting backstage / someone’s plus one

41
In a few hours I turn 41. Of note: my mother brought me over a large floral arrangement today, along with a deep chocolate cake and three small houseplants each set in a simple copper tureen. Ralph and the children have been out on secret errands, happily procuring gifts. I am grateful to be loved so dearly by my little family.

I’ve spent the last two days practicing yoga, caring for family errands, volunteering, and doing those little business admin bits like invoicing and recording receipts and ordering and collating patterns. It is cold – cold in my studio, cold outside. Emerging from the bedroom this morning I find my husband stepping inside after the dog’s morning walk; Ralph is so cold he looks almost shocked. I pour him hot coffee and convince him to come to bed, where I hold him close. I steel myself as he slides his cold hands up my shirt, against the smooth skin over my ribs. The only one who’s touched me like this for two decades.

I’ve tried to stop judging myself how much it hurts my children are growing, are so independent. Every day they seek me out and hold me, and I am grateful for that. Every day they share with me. They can even be coerced to go on errands and I can always buy them a tea latte or lunch. What may be less obvious to my readers, unless you’ve been with me a long time indeed, is that at one time and for many years their company, their needs and laughter and tears and their words and smells and their hair against my cheek, always the sweetest straw-smelling against my skin, this was my world for fifteen plus years and even though things are as they should be I am bereft. For Ralph life is much as before; he’s had their lifetime away at his job, to come home in the evenings. For the children they have the security of their parents, as they rush off and bury themselves in work and play of their own.

All my life I remember people pityingly speaking of women who were too invested in their children, as if this were some mark of a pathetic, cramped nature, of an unimaginative woman to allow such a thing. One secret I have discovered: you can have a full life, you can have all these interests and a gorgeous career and a wonderful marriage and good friends and a meaningful avocation and a spiritual walk and a self-care regimen: and it can still hurt so damn much when your kids grow up.